Nicaraguan authorities have detained a third potential presidential candidate amid a deepening crackdown by President Daniel Ortega in the run-up to elections later this year.
Felix Maradiaga, 44, was held on Tuesday after appearing at the public ministry where prosecutors were investigating him for alleged acts against sovereignty, terrorism and backing international sanctions against the government.
Maradiaga is the leader of the Blue and White Alliance, a group that arose after widespread protests against Ortega’s rule in 2018. He testified about government repression at the United Nations Security Council that same year.
Last week, two other opposition politicians planning to run against Ortega were detained.
Cristiana Chamorro was placed under house arrest on government allegations of money laundering, while Arturo Cruz was held in pre-trial detention so prosecutors can investigate allegations of “provocation … and conspiracy to commit harm to national integrity”.
Police said Maradiaga “is being investigated for carrying out acts that undermine independence, sovereignty, and self-determination, inciting foreign interference in internal affairs, and calling for military interventions”.
He is also accused of using “financing from foreign powers to carry out acts of terrorism and destabilisation”, the police added.
These would likely make the charges against Maradiaga the most serious of those brought against Ortega’s challengers.
The charges are related to a law approved by the legislature, dominated by Ortega’s allies, in December that the lawmakers said aimed to defend Nicaragua’s “sovereignty” against hostile foreign influence.
But critics said it is aimed at preventing opposition politicians from standing in the election.
Sponsored by leftist Ortega, it bars “those who ask for, celebrate and applaud the imposition of sanctions against the Nicaraguan state”.
Ortega, a former rebel fighter who governed from 1979 to 1990, returned to power in 2007 and won two successive re-elections.
But he has been accused by the opposition, NGOs and the United States of authoritarian rule and the brutal suppression of demonstrations.
Both the European Union and the US have applied sanctions against Ortega and his government.
“Presidential candidate Felix Maradiaga’s arbitrary arrest … should resolve any remaining doubts about Ortega’s credentials as a dictator,” said Julia Chung, the top US diplomat for Latin America.
“The international community has no choice but to treat him as such.”