The European Union’s foreign policy chief has blasted Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega as a “dictator” who is overseeing “fake” elections, as the vote on Sunday comes after a months-long crackdown on opposition leaders and presidential hopefuls.
Josep Borrell on Tuesday described the electoral process in the Central American nation as “fake”, adding that it only aims to “keep the dictator [Ortega] in power”.
“Mr Ortega has occupied himself imprisoning all the political contenders who have presented themselves to run in these elections and we cannot expect that this process will yield a result we can consider legitimate,” Borrell told reporters from Peru’s capital, Lima.
Borrell, who is on a tour of Latin America, added that “the situation in Nicaragua is one of the most serious in the Americas at the moment”.
The comments come amid rising criticism of Ortega’s handling of the November 7 elections, in which the longtime leader is seeking a controversial fourth consecutive term in office.
Some 40 opposition figures – among them seven presidential hopefuls – have been detained since June in what rights groups and international observers have decried as a campaign aiming to guarantee Ortega’s re-election. Some have been charged with treason or money laundering.
The Nicaraguan government has defended its actions, saying “usurpers” backed by the United States were seeking to topple Ortega.
But critics say the charges have been trumped up and designed to sideline them from running in the election. Many other activists have been forced into exile in Costa Rica.
Cristina Chamorro, 67, who was widely seen as a favourite to defeat Ortega, was detained on June 2 as part of an alleged money laundering investigation.
In a report (PDF) published last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said the circumstances in Nicaragua are not conducive to “free, fair, transparent and plural elections”.
“The IACHR has noted the intensification of the repression of the political opposition, social leaders, human rights defenders, and journalists, especially through arbitrary arrests and criminalization on baseless charges,” the report stated.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also has accused Ortega of presiding over a “sham election devoid of credibility”.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Facebook said it shut down a “troll farm” made up of hundreds of accounts run by the Nicaraguan government that had been spreading pro-government and anti-opposition content.
Nicaragua also is scheduled to hold regional and municipal elections on November 21. Borrell said he hoped opposition parties would be able to participate.
The EU is expected to send observers to monitor Sunday’s elections – the first time in 15 years.