Police in Nicaragua has taken opposition politician Arturo Cruz into custody, detaining a second presidential hopeful in less than a week and escalating the battle ahead of November elections in which President Daniel Ortega seeks to maintain his grip on power.
Cruz, an academic who was Nicaragua’s ambassador to the United States between 2007 and 2009, was detained at the Managua airport upon arrival from Washington, DC, on Saturday, according to his aides.
The prosecutor’s offices said in a statement that Cruz was being investigated by the national police based on “strong evidence that he has attacked Nicaraguan society”.
It did not give details of possible charges against the 67-year-old or say whether he will remain in custody or under arrest.
Cruz’s detention came three days after opposition figure Cristiana Chamorro – also a possible challenger to Ortega in the November elections – was placed under house arrest after government claims that she was guilty of money laundering.
Cruz, a former ally to Ortega, is a candidate for the Alianza Ciudadana or Citizen’s Alliance, a coalition of right-wing parties supported by prominent businessmen, for the November presidential elections.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights called his detention a “perverse strategy” on the part of Ortega’s government to silence people he considers political enemies.
“These are not criminal investigations, this is political persecution,” it said.
The US called for Cruz’s “immediate release”.
“The international community has spoken: under Ortega, Nicaragua is becoming an international pariah and moving farther away from democracy,” Acting Undersecretary of the US State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung said on Twitter.
The Organization of American States also urged Nicaraguan authorities to free Cruz.
“Manipulating security forces and the judiciary to imprison opposition candidates is unacceptable … these actions are contrary to free and fair elections,” OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro said on Twitter.
Ortega, a former guerrilla fighter who governed from 1979 to 1990, returned to power in 2007 and won two successive reelections. The 75-year-old aims to be re-elected in November for the third consecutive term.
International organisations, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, have accused Ortega’s government of fabricating false accusations against opponents.
The electoral body has already eliminated two opposition parties.