The Stream

Is political freedom in Nicaragua under threat?

On Monday, July 12 at 19:30 GMT:
The arrest by police of several politicians, student activists, and farming leaders in Nicaragua has human rights groups concerned that the government led by President Daniel Ortega is trying to stifle opposition in the run-up to a general election.

In the most recent arrests of high-profile figures on July 5, police detained three farming leaders, accusing them of murder, kidnap and armed robbery during anti-government demonstrations in 2018. The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) government says the protests were part of a coup attempt supported by foreign powers.

One of those detained, Medardo Mairena, had been considering a bid to run for president in elections on November 7. The Nicaraguan Peasant Movement condemned what it calls the ‘arbitrary’ arrest of the three men, while demanding their immediate release.

Two leaders within the Nicaraguan University Association (AUN) that has opposed the government for months were also detained. Police say Lesther Lenin Aleman Alfaro and Max Isaac Jerez had a role in criminal damage to two universities during the 2018 protests.

Mairena is the sixth person with presidential aspirations to have been detained of late by police. Since early June, candidates Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Félix Maradiaga, Miguel Mora Barberena and Juan Sebastián Chamorro have been arrested. Several other activists have also been held.

Some former allies of Ortega who broke with him during the 1990s have also been apprehended on charges of “inciting foreign interference”, including ex-Sandinista general Hugo Torres and former commander Dora Maria Tellez.

The UN’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet and the European Union’s High Representative Josep Borrell have led international criticism of the arrests. Human Rights Watch says Nicaragua’s government is leading an “intensifying campaign of violence and repression against the opposition and civil society”. Ortega has rejected that opprobrium, saying that the Defence of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self- Determination For Peace Law that was recently passed by the FSLN-dominated congress is being applied “by the book” against “enemies of the revolution”.

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll look at the impact of the recent arrests in Nicaragua and ask what they mean for the country in the run-up to the November elections.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Tiziano Breda, @TizBreda
Central America analyst, International Crisis Group

José Miguel Vivanco @JMVivancoHRW
Americas Director, Human Rights Watch

Leonor Zuniga, @LeonorNica
Documentary filmmaker and sociologist