Nicaraguan banker arrested in widening crackdown

Observers accuse President Daniel Ortega of targeting opposition leaders and other figures in advance of November elections.

President Daniel Ortega governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and returned to power in 2007, winning two successive re-elections since then [Cesar Perez/Presidencia Nicaragua via AFP]

Police in Nicaragua have arrested a leading banker as a crackdown on opposition political leaders and would-be presidential candidates seeking to challenge President Daniel Ortega continues before a planned election later this year.

Luis Rivas Anduray, executive president of the private Banco de la Produccion (Banpro) – one of the country’s largest – was arrested on Tuesday for “inciting foreign interference,” a police statement said.

Police said Rivas is under investigation for “proposing and managing blockades of economic, commercial and financial operations” and for backing sanctions against Nicaragua.

Banpro said in a statement that it has adhered to Nicaraguan laws and was “confident” that Rivas’ “situation will be clarified”.

He is the latest of more than a dozen opposition leaders and other figures detained this month, after authorities first raided the home of presidential hopeful Cristiana Chamorro, a journalist and daughter of ex-President Violeta Chamorro, on allegations of money laundering.

Chamorro, who was later placed under house arrest, rejected the accusation.

Observers have decried the wave of arrests – at least 14 people, including opposition party leaders, have been detained so far – as an attempt by Ortega to clear the way for his re-election in the November polls.

On Tuesday, the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution expressing alarm “at the recent deterioration of the political climate and human rights situation in Nicaragua”.

It accused the government of engaging in “the misuse of legislation and actions to intimidate and threaten members of the opposition and the press and to restrict political participation” – and called on Managua to implement measures “to promote transparent, free and fair elections”.

But the Nicaraguan government has defended its recent actions, accusing “usurpers” funded by the United States of seeking to topple Ortega.

Five more opposition figures were detained on Sunday, including four from the Unamos opposition party, formerly known as the Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS), which is made up largely of dissidents who split from Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

The government accused party leaders of “inciting foreign intervention” by the US and said they had received “millions of dollars in cash from the American public though USAID”, the US aid agency.

Unamos had rejected the arrests in a statement on Sunday, saying that they were “part of escalation of repression from the Ortega regime against the democratic opposition”.

Under legislation passed in December, Ortega’s government has the power to unilaterally declare citizens “terrorists” or coup-mongers, classify them as “traitors to the homeland” and ban them from running as candidates.

The law punishes those “who lead or finance a coup … encourage foreign interference, ask for military intervention … propose or plan economic blockades, applaud and champion the imposition of sanctions against Nicaragua or its citizens”.

Ortega governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and returned to power in 2007. He has won two successive re-elections since then. Now 75, he is accused by the opposition and NGOs of increasing authoritarianism.

He is widely expected to seek a fourth term, but has not yet confirmed his candidacy in the upcoming elections.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday urged the Nicaraguan government “to change course” and “allow the Nicaraguan people to fully exercise their rights – including their right to choose their leaders in free and fair elections”.

Blinken welcomed the OAS resolution passed a day earlier, which he said “sent a clear message of support for the Nicaraguan people and their fight for free and fair elections, respect for human rights, and accountability”.

The US on June 9 imposed sanctions on four Nicaraguan officials who support Ortega, including the president’s daughter, accusing them of undermining democracy and abusing human rights.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies