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Crackdown on Catholic Church continued, Indigenous groups condemned govt inaction on illegal settlers, and international actors urged release of political prisoners.
Ortega’s repression of Catholic Church continued. Authorities throughout month banned at least seven religious processions from taking place and attempted to stop at least three more across country as govt clamped down on religious gatherings. Public prosecutors 10 Jan started trial of Matagalpa Bishop Rolando Álvarez, accused of “conspiracy” and “spreading false news”; judge 16 Jan found priest Óscar Benavides guilty of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity and propagation of false news” and sentenced him to eight years in prison. In closed-door trial 23-26 Jan, authorities found six priests and one layman guilty of crimes of conspiracy and spreading fake news.
Indigenous communities spoke out against govt. Representatives of Miskitus and Mayangnas indigenous communities 5 Jan published open letter to President Ortega condemning state’s inaction regarding so-called colonos, or “settlers”, whom they accuse of invading indigenous lands, murdering members of local communities, causing environmental destruction and obstructing their communities’ access to food and shelter. Police 26 Jan arrested 24 settlers after they reportedly attacked Indigenous community as part of land dispute in Bonanza municipality, North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region.
International pressure to release political prisoners persisted. U.S. Assistant Sec State Brian Nichols 6 Jan said “there has been no communication” with Ortega’s govt but that U.S. was willing to engage if Nicaragua took “positive steps”, such as releasing political prisoners and restoring “minimum rights” for all citizens. Chilean President Gabriel Boric 24 Jan called for immediate release of prisoners during summit of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Meanwhile, Ortega 11 Jan withdrew ambassadors from Chile, European Union, Ethiopia and Belgium.
President Ortega’s crusade against dissent continued despite international condemnation; relations with Russia deepened further.
Crackdown on civil society and Catholic Church persisted. Interior ministry 1 Dec revoked legal status of 100 NGOs, 10 Dec revoked 100 more. News outlet Confidencial 7 Dec reported that govt had shut down over 40% of NGOs throughout country since 2018. Govt 14 Dec closed International University for Integration of Latin America. Meanwhile, authorities 11 Dec arrested communications chief from Diocese of Matagalpa (north) and journalist working for Catholic TV channel TV Merced; authorities 13 Dec charged Matagalpa Bishop Rolando Álvarez with “conspiracy” and “spreading false news” and ordered his house arrest.
International and local actors continued to condemn govt repression. U.S. 2 Dec added Nicaragua to list of countries that restrict religious freedom. President of Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights 10 Dec said that state’s attacks on population could no longer be described as systematic violation of human rights, but rather as “policy of extermination”. Group of 34 Nicaraguan and international organisations 15 Dec called on UN Human Rights Office to renew mandate of Group of Experts on Nicaragua to investigate human rights violations.
Relations with Russia strengthened. Russian journalists 4 Dec arrived in capital Managua to train “Sandinista media”. Ortega 13 Dec authorised his ambassador in Moscow to sign agreement on cooperation in customs matters with Russia. President of Supreme Electoral Council and her Russian counterpart 14 Dec signed protocol on electoral cooperation with aim of “strengthening electoral models” of both countries. Ortega 23 Dec said “if Ukraine wins war against Russia, fascism imposes itself in the world”.
Authorities continued to consolidate one-party state, holding local elections amid ongoing repression; relations with Russia and China deepened.
President Ortega secured full control of all municipalities in flawed elections. In another step toward establishing one-party state, authorities 6 Nov held municipal elections without participation of opposition parties and with little citizen engagement. Supreme Electoral Council 14 Nov confirmed victory of ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front in all 153 municipalities and set voter turnout at 57.5%, although independent Urnas Abiertas observatory 7 Nov estimated that 82.7% of voters did not participate. Number of international actors criticised elections. Notably, Chile’s President Gabriel Boric 9 Nov criticised lack of freedom and unreliable electoral justice; European Union 15 Nov said polls “can neither be considered democratic or legitimate”; and UN human rights office 17 Nov released report stating elections could not be considered transparent, democratic or legitimate.
Crackdown on civil society and political opponents persisted. Interior ministry 4 Nov shut down 100 NGOs, 10 Nov 100 more and 16 Nov revoked 100 more, bringing total number banned since Dec 2018 to around 2,900. Authorities 22 Nov detained renowned sociologist and govt critic Óscar René Vargas, 24 Nov detained opposition figure Guisella Ortega.
Amid deteriorating relations with regional partners, ties with Russia and China deepened. President Ortega 8 Nov accused Costa Rica of being “a terrorist base”, alluding to persecuted politicians who have requested refuge in country; Costa Rica’s President Rodrigo Chaves next day rejected allegations. Meanwhile, Beijing's ambassador to Managua 8 Nov announced equipment donations for National Police while China's top legislator, Li Zhanshu, 16 Nov held talks with president of National Assembly on strengthening bilateral ties. VP Rosario Murillo 15 Nov disclosed transport agreements with Russia, while authorities 25 Nov signed cooperation agreement with Russia on cybersecurity.
Govt crackdown on critics continued despite global and regional criticism; tensions with West intensified amid new U.S. and EU sanctions.
Crackdown on civil society and Catholic Church continued. Interior ministry 12 Oct revoked legal status of 100 NGOs, including 51 international organisations; 18 Oct revoked 58 more and 27 Oct 100 more, bringing total number of groups banned since Dec 2018 to well over 2,500. Crackdown on Catholic Church also persisted. Notably, authorities 13 Oct arrested priest from Santa Martha church in capital Managua; judge 14 Oct accused seven members from Diocese of Matagalpa of undermining national sovereignty and spreading false news. Meanwhile, National Assembly 13 Oct passed law giving govt-controlled National Film Centre authority to authorise all audio-visual productions made in country.
International and regional actors continued to denounce repression. Inter-American Court of Human Rights 4 Oct ordered immediate release of 45 political prisoners, citing health risks in “precarious detention conditions”. Argentinian justice ministry 5 Oct opened investigation against Ortega, first lady Rosario Murillo and their closest collaborators to determine whether they had committed crimes against humanity. Organization of American States General Assembly 7 Oct approved resolution calling for release of imprisoned opposition figures, cessation of repression against civilians and end to persecution of church figures. El Salvador, Honduras and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines abstained from voting.
Tensions ran high with U.S. and European Union (EU). Following expulsion late-Sept of EU Ambassador Bettina Muscheidt and severing of diplomatic ties with Netherlands, EU 10 Oct declared Nicaraguan ambassador in Brussels persona non grata; 13 Oct extended sanctions against 21 officials and three govt entities for another year. Meanwhile, U.S. 24 Oct imposed sanctions on country’s mining authority, along with another top govt official, and imposed visa restrictions on over 500 govt insiders and their families; Ortega 27 Oct said U.S. sanctions are forcing Nicaraguans to emigrate.
Despite international criticism, authorities continued crackdown on civil society as govt drew closer to China and Russia.Crackdown on civil society and political opposition continued. National Assembly 7 Sept revoked legal status of 100 civil society organisations, 19-21 Sept revoked 200 more, bringing total number of banned groups since Dec 2018 to around 1,968. UN rapporteur on right to freedom of peaceful assembly 5 Sept said he had never seen “such a number of civil society organisations declared illegal from one day to the next”. Authorities 12 Sept arrested at least two activists from opposition movement Unamos in capital Managua and León city (west), 15 Sept arrested brother of exiled Unamos leader in Jinotepe city (centre). Govt 22 Sept suspended cable news channel CNN's Spanish-language service from all cable channels in Nicaragua.International actors denounced repression. Colombian FM Álvaro Leyva 9 Sept told Colombian radio network W Radio that President Petro’s govt was trying to persuade President Ortega to release 21 political prisoners, including four former presidential candidates and some journalists. UN human rights chief 13 Sept presented report condemning “deterioration” of situation. European Parliament 15 Sept passed resolution condemning repression and arrests of members of Catholic Church. European Council President Charles Michel 26 Sept urged Ortega to “return the sovereignty of Nicaragua to the Nicaraguan people”; govt 28 Sept declared European Union Ambassador to Nicaragua Bettina Muscheidt persona non grata.Managua drew closer to Russia and China. Nicaragua participated in military drills led by Russia 1-7 Sept in locations in Russia’s Far East and Sea of Japan, only Latin American country to do so. National Assembly 8 Sept ratified “early harvest” agreement with China signed in July, considered precursor to free trade agreement.
President Ortega’s govt tightened grip on Catholic Church amid continued crackdown on civil society; tensions with foreign partners persisted. Hostilities against religious figures increased, notably targeting parishes and bishops in Matagalpa department (north). Police 2 Aug surrounded Divina Misericordia parish in Sébaco municipality, placing priest and some parishioners under siege until 4 Aug. Police 3 Aug surrounded Matagalpa diocese, blockading Bishop Rolando Álvarez, vocal critic of President Ortega, and some of his associates for two days. Authorities 5 Aug opened investigation against Álvarez for “promoting hate” and placed him under house arrest; 19 Aug forcibly entered Episcopal Palace of Matagalpa diocese, arresting Álvarez and at least seven associates. Authorities 12 Aug banned Our Lady of Fatima procession, organised by Catholic Church to take place 13 August in capital Managua, citing “internal security” concerns. In Mulukukú municipality, North Caribbean Autonomous Region (north east), police 14 Aug arrested Priest Óscar Benavides. Govt continued to shutter civil society organisations and media outlets. Notably, authorities 1-25 Aug shut down television channels RB3 and Nueva Guinea TV and 15 radio stations, including ten belonging to Matagalpa diocese; notably, 25 Aug shut down “Radio Stereo Fe” Catholic radio station, belonging to diocese of Estelí, after that diocese 23 Aug criticised govt for persecution of Church. National Assembly 9-11 Aug revoked legal status of 200 NGOs, 24 Aug revoked 100 more, bringing total number of NGOs closed since 2018 to over 1,450. Organization of American States (OAS) 12 Aug adopted resolution condemning “harassment and arbitrary restrictions placed on religious organizations” and urged govt to “cease harassment and intimidation of the independent press”. Meanwhile, Inter-American Court of Human Rights 19 Aug demanded immediate release of Álvarez and others “arbitrarily” detained in Nicaragua; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet same day condemned raid of Episcopal Palace of Matagalpa and “new wave of harassment” against members of Catholic Church; Pope Francis 21 Aug expressed concern over situation and called for dialogue.
As crackdown on opposition leaders and civil society organisations persisted, new figures showed dramatic increase in number of Nicaraguans heading for U.S. In ongoing crackdown on President Ortega’s rivals, security forces 2-4 July raided five town halls headed by Citizens for Freedom opposition party, whose legal status govt revoked in August 2021. Authorities ousted democratically elected mayors and councillors from ruling Sandinista party took control of municipalities. In response, opposition organisation Blue and White National Unity 6 July called for boycott of November municipal elections. Meanwhile, UN Committee against Torture 14 July said Ortega’s govt had “systematically violated human rights” during 2018 protests and called on authorities to investigate allegations that members of political opposition were tortured. Govt continued closures of civil society organisations (CSOs) and media outlets. National Assembly 13-14 July revoked legal status of 200 CSOs and 27 July revoked 100 more, bringing total number banned since Dec 2018 to around 1,168. Police 6 July arrested two drivers from La Prensa media outlet and then raided homes of other staff who were covering expulsion from country of 18 nuns belonging to Mother Teresa’s order (which lost its legal status late June); La Prensa 21 July said its staff had fled country for fear of being detained but that its work would continue. Amid crackdown, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans continued to flee country. U.S. border authorities 18 July reported apprehension of 84,055 Nicaraguans at U.S. southern border between January and June 2022, 358% increase from same period in 2021. On international front, Nicaragua and China 12 July signed agreement on preferential tariffs for agricultural products, raising prospect of free trade agreement in near future. Ortega 19 July ruled out any possibility of dialogue with U.S., saying it would be like “putting a noose around your neck”. Govt 28 July withdrew its approval of Washington’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Managua, Hugo Rodríguez, whom it accused of making “interfering and disrespectful” remarks. U.S. State Dept 20 July included 23 Nicaraguan judges and prosecutors in its list of corrupt actors in Central America, known as Engel list.
Crackdown on civil society organisations continued apace, U.S. and EU took further steps to condemn govt, and parliament authorised entry of Russian troops to combat illicit activities at sea. National Assembly 2 June cancelled legal permits of 93 NGOs, 10 and 13 June 26 more international NGOs, 15-16 June 191 national NGOS, 26 June 101 more NGOs, bringing total number banned since Dec 2018 to around 760. National Police 10 June raided and closed media outlet “Trinchera de la Noticia” in capital Managua. Persecution of religious leaders increased. Notably, police 1 June arrested Catholic priest Manuel Salvador García in Nandaime town, Granada (centre), on charges of aggression against woman, becoming first Church representative detained since Ortega returned to power. After said woman refused to press charges against García, judge 22 June sentenced him to two years in prison for aggression against five others. Govt 28 June ordered closure of Catholic radio station in diocese of Matagalpa (north), making it second Catholic Church-owned station to be banned from broadcasting in last two months. U.S. and EU took additional measures to pressure govt. Notably, European Parliament 9 June approved resolution condemning systematic repression of opposition; U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken 13 June announced visa restrictions on 93 individuals accused of undermining democracy, including judges, lawmakers and govt officials. U.S. Treasury 17 June sanctioned state-owned mining company Empresa Nicaraguense de Minas (ENIMINAS) and its president, Ruy Delgado López. Meanwhile, National Assembly 14 June ratified authorisation for entry of 180 Russian troops into country to participate in operations against illicit activities in Caribbean and Pacific Ocean.
Govt’s crackdown on opponents continued amid growing international isolation, and senior Iranian oil official pledged support to country. Authorities continued to repress civil society organisations. Notably, authorities 4 May effectively shut down 50 NGOs, another 44 on 18-19 May, and 83 on 31 May. Number of organisations closed in 2022 has now surpassed 250. Govt also increased persecution of religious leaders. Notably, Matagalpa bishop Rolando Álvarez 19 May announced hunger strike in protest against govt surveillance; and govt 20 May shut down catholic TV channel handled by Episcopal Conference. U.S. media outlet The New York Times 5 May reported that Laureano Ortega, son of Daniel Ortega, and Rosario Murillo quietly reached out to U.S. “shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”. Meanwhile, during visit to Nicaragua, Iranian oil minister Javab Owji Hom 6 May announced that Iran would supply country with oil and would look into possibility of reactivating investments in refinery called “Bolívar's ultimate dream”. However, Nicaragua remained largely isolated from international community, with foreign leaders throughout month denouncing Ortega’s repressive tactics. Notably, EU High Representative Joseph Borrell 4 May described Ortega’s regime as “one of the most repressive on the planet”, adding “we will do everything we can to isolate Ortega”. Permanent Council of Organization of American States (OAS) 13 May passed resolution with 29 votes calling on Nicaraguan authorities to return OAS offices seized in late April.
Amid widespread condemnation of crackdown on dissent, Managua broke relations with Organization of American States, and authorities scored victory in maritime dispute with Colombia. Govt 24 April expelled representative of Organization of American States (OAS) in capital Managua, withdrew its representatives to regional body and said it will no longer participate in any OAS-related activity. Govt also expropriated building where OAS embassy was located, and announced creation of “Museum of Infamy” on site instead. Sec Gen Luis Almagro 27 April said Nicaragua’s move was unprecedented, including during times of worst dictatorships in the Americas. Move follows widespread international condemnation of country’s human rights record, as 38 European Parliament members 4 April sent letter to President Ortega expressing concern about human rights situation, demanding “immediate and unconditional release of the 169 political prisoners”; OAS Sec Gen Almagro same day had also urged international community to “increase diplomatic pressure” on Ortega to end “system of repression and torture”. U.S. State Department 12 April published 2021 Report on Human Rights Practices, denouncing how Ortega “awarded himself a fourth consecutive term” and arbitrarily imprisoned “nearly 40 opposition figures”. Despite international condemnation, repression continued during month. Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners of Nicaragua 5 April said at least 181 political opponents still held in prison for political reasons, some since 2018; regional civil society network Voces del Sur 13 April reported at least 103 attacks on press freedom during March; Parliament 20 April cancelled legal credentials of 25 NGOs; at least 164 have been cancelled since Nov 2018. Meanwhile, Managua scored victory in maritime dispute with Bogotá after International Court of Justice 21 April ruled Colombian activities in Nicaraguan marine zone violated Nicaraguan sovereignty, ordered Colombia to stop interfering in Nicaragua’s waters. Govt 7 April voted against UN General Assembly resolution suspending Russia from UN Human Rights Council (see Ukraine).
Crackdown on opposition leaders continued amid widespread international criticism over human rights record and state representatives abroad speaking out against govt’s moves. Trials of opponents continued with over 35 sentenced during last two months, including court 1 March convicting Sandinista dissident Irving Larios of conspiracy to undermine national integrity, and 3 March sentencing seven opposition leaders to between eight and 13 years in prison on same charge. Court 11 March also sentenced for misappropriation and money laundering presidential hopeful Cristiana Chamorro and former lawmaker Pedro Joaquín Chamorro to eight and nine years’ imprisonment respectively. Political prisoners 28 March held protest from their cells in El Chipote prison, demanding better detention conditions and release. Meanwhile, crackdown on civil society persisted: National Assembly 17 March cancelled operating licences of 25 NGOs. Internationally, several voices raised the alarm. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet 7 March identified “serious violations of civil and political rights” in 2021 Nicaragua report; EU 14 March warned sentencing of political prisoners in closed-door trials “violated due process and Nicaragua’s own penal code” and urged govt to “immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners”. International isolation also deepened. Notably, Vatican representative, Msgr Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, who remained one of few diplomatic channels open, 6 March left country; Vatican 12 March said it regretted that Ortega’s govt had basically requested Sommertag to leave, qualifying it as a “grave and unjustified” decision. Govt 24 March also expelled representative of International Red Cross Committee. U.S. State Dept 9 March added nine Nicaraguan officials to list of “corrupt and anti-democratic actors”; Authorities 10 March withdrew Nicaraguan ambassador to Spain for alleged “pressure and interference threats”. Arturo McFields, Nicaragua’s ambassador to Organization of American States, 23 denounced in public forum Ortega govt for its unfair treatment of political prisoners; govt immediately argued McFields was not its representative, and proceeded to remove him one day after. Lawyer Paul Reichler, Nicaragua adviser before International Court of Justice for decades, 2 March also curbed ties with govt in letter published 27 March by news outlet Confidencial.
Authorities continued trials of dozens of opponents in closed-door trials and cancelled status of several universities and NGOs sparking international condemnation. Public prosecutors 1 Feb resumed trials of around 40 opposition figures and activists arrested in run-up to 7 Nov 2021 presidential election; at least 26 found guilty of conspiracy and undermining national integrity after closed door trials, including three presidential hopefuls. Death of former Sandinista guerrilla fighter Hugo Torres in prison on 12 Feb put conditions of political prisoners in spotlight. While officials said Torres’ death resulted from illness, prisoners’ relatives had previously raised concerns about his poor detention conditions; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 13 Feb said Torres had been subjected to “criminal trial without guarantees” in “inhumane” conditions; EU 14 Feb called for independent investigation, and U.S. same day called for all political prisoners to be released; Organization of American States 18 Feb passed resolution denouncing “human suffering” and requested release of political prisoners. Prosecutor’s office same day granted house arrest to three other political prisoners with precarious health conditions, and 24 Feb to another two. National Assembly 2 Feb cancelled legal status of five Nicaraguan universities and 11 NGOs for allegedly contravening transparency norms; 15 Feb cancelled status of six more NGOs and 16 Feb of six international NGOs; 23 Feb cancelled licenses of two more universities. National Assembly 7 Feb approved creation of three state universities, from assets of cancelled universities. Interior ministry 3 Feb said seven foreign academic programs shut down. Economist Investigative Unit 9 Feb released Democracy Index showing Nicaragua as one of most undemocratic countries after falling 20 places. Coalition comprising 16 national and international organisations, Collective 46/2, 25 Feb called on UN Human Rights Council to establish accountability mechanism in Nicaragua. Nicaragua 6 Feb denounced violation of maritime space by El Salvador naval force in Gulf of Fonseca, deemed it provocative; El Salvador next day affirmed space under its sovereignty.
Amid growing international isolation, President Ortega’s govt continued authoritarian rift, operated rapprochement with China, and initiated steps toward dialogue with private sector. Daniel Ortega sworn in 10 Jan for fifth time (fourth consecutive) as president of Nicaragua following Nov elections widely perceived as rigged, and widespread criticism by international community. Those attending ceremony included Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and Honduras’ outgoing president, Juan Orlando Hernández; former Salvadoran Presidents Mauricio Funes and Sánchez Cerén, both nationalised Nicaraguans and accused of corruption in their country, also joined; Iranian Mohsen Rezai, searched by Interpol for his role in 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires AMIA Jewish centre, also attended, prompting condemnation by Argentine and Organization of American States (OAS) 11 Jan and 19 Jan respectively. U.S. Treasury Department 10 Jan sanctioned six officials and revoked 116 visas. Costa Rica, Panama and Dominican Republic FMs 11 Jan labeled Nicaraguan crisis “urgent priority” for region. EU 10 Jan sanctioned seven officials and three state institutions including family members of Ortega and VP Rosario Murillo, police and Supreme Electoral Council; Switzerland 24 Jan joined EU sanctions. OAS Sec Gen Almagro 19 Jan reported to Permanent Council that govt did not respond to requests to allow visit of OAS delegation. In face of growing international sanctions, Nicaragua strengthened relations with China; notably, 10 Jan signed four bilateral cooperation and diplomacy agreements with Beijing. Meanwhile, some 70 opposition organisations, inside and outside the country, 9 Jan appointed seven-member National Council for the Democratic Transition. Govt continued to stifle dissent. National Assembly 19 Jan cancelled legal status of three university associations, and Chinandega criminal district judge 18 Jan sentenced for first time Nicaraguan citizen for violating cybercrime law. Judicial authorities 26 Jan reactivated trials of several political prisoners charged with “treason law”. Meanwhile, VP Murillo 19 Jan announced govt will meet with private sector representatives; business association COSEP 27 Jan asked Ortega to establish dialogue with no preconditions.
Amid ongoing stifling of dissent widely condemned internationally, President Ortega sought rapprochement with China and Russia. After Episcopal Conference in late Nov offered to mediate possible dialogue between govt and opposition, Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, Silvio José Báez (who went into exile in 2019), 5 Dec said “it is impossible to dialogue without re-establishing civil liberties”. Over 35 representatives of opposition and civil society organisations exiled in Costa Rica 7 Dec said conditions for dialogue with Ortega’s “illegitimate” govt not met. Meanwhile, authorities 13-14 Dec shut down 11 NGOs. As Ortega’s govt faced increasing international isolation, delegation comprising sons of Ortega and VP and first lady Rosario Murillo 6 Dec met Russian Deputy FM Sergei Ryabkov in Russia’s capital Moscow to seek to expand bilateral cooperation; Murillo same day asked U.S. and EU to lift sanctions on officials. Govt 9 Dec cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, said People’s Republic of China “is the only legitimate government” as “Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory”. Attorney General’s Office 26 Dec seized Taiwan’s embassy premises and handed them to China. Organization of American States (OAS) 8 Dec approved resolution urging Ortega to release all political prisoners and mandating OAS Sec Gen Luis Almagro to lead diplomatic efforts to convince govt to accept OAS good offices mission; Almagro 17 Dec requested extension of deadline until mid-Jan to report on progress; OAS mission would seek to facilitate implementation of comprehensive electoral reforms, repeal all legislation restricting political participation, and launch inclusive dialogue on new elections. EU Parliament 16 Dec adopted resolution notably calling for EU sanctions on Ortega. U.S. President Biden 21 Dec announced Nicaragua will only receive humanitarian and trade-related aid in 2022.
Country’s international isolation reached unprecedented levels after President Ortega secured fourth term in elections widely condemned as sham. Supreme Electoral Council 10 Nov said Ortega had won 75.9% of votes in 7 Nov presidential election; also said turnout reached 65.3%. However, NGO Urnas Abiertas, which deployed 1,450 observers to 563 polling stations across country, 7 Nov estimated turnout much lower at 18.5%. Vote drew widespread international condemnation, further isolating country. U.S. President Biden 7 Nov condemned election as “sham” and 10 Nov signed into law “Renacer Act”, expanding sanctions on key members of Ortega’s govt and restricting multilateral bank lending. U.S. Treasury Dept 15 Nov sanctioned Nicaraguan public ministry and nine senior govt officials, and Biden next day banned all members of Nicaraguan govt from entering U.S. Meanwhile, Organization of American States (OAS) 12 Nov passed resolution stating elections “were not free, fair or transparent, and lacked democratic legitimacy”. Govt 19 Nov announced Nicaragua’s withdrawal from OAS. Inter-American Court of Human Rights 22 Nov declared Nicaragua in “contempt” for refusing to comply with court’s recent orders to release 21 political prisoners; warned it will refer Nicaragua’s decision to OAS General Assembly. Meanwhile, repression of opponents continued. Urnas Abiertas 12 Nov reported arrest of 35 opponents around polling day, including 23 on eve of election. Unidentified armed men 22 Nov arrested former Ambassador to OAS and outspoken Ortega critic Edgard Parrales in capital Managua. New head of Episcopal Conference, Bishop Carlos Enrique Herrera Gutiérrez, same day stated Church’s readiness to mediate talks between govt and opposition.
Amid continued crackdown on dissent, President Ortega’s controversial fourth term bid in 7 Nov general election risks worsening country’s political instability and isolation in coming weeks and months. Several attacks against opposition activists reported in Nicaragua and neighbouring Costa Rica. Notably, police officers 7 Oct temporarily detained opposition activist Kicha López at her home in Madriz department over allegations of plotting against govt; López’s mother reportedly injured during raid. In second attack recorded since Sept against Nicaraguan political activists in Costa Rica, armed individual 2 Oct assaulted and injured civil society activist Raiza Hope, who had fled to Costa Rica in 2018, in capital San José. Authorities 21 Oct arrested President and VP of lead business chamber, Superior Council of Private Enterprise, Michael Healy and Álvaro Vargas, on conspiracy and money-laundering charges. Authorities 4 Oct also removed Managua Appeals Court President Gerardo Rodríguez, apparently for admitting appeal filed by opposition Citizens for Freedom (CxL) party against cancellation of its legal status. Ortega same day officially launched campaign for fourth term. International actors continued to denounce Ortega’s authoritarian drift. U.S. State Dept 14 Oct said “electoral process has lost all credibility” due to Ortega’s “undemocratic and authoritarian actions”, and U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 22 Oct accused Ortega of trying to establish “authoritarian dynasty”. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell 18 Oct said Nicaragua is “one of the worst dictatorships in the world” with Ortega and his wife, VP Rosario Murillo, preparing “fake elections” to stay in power. Organization of American States (OAS) 20 Oct passed resolution calling for immediate release of political prisoners, condemning govt’s “efforts to subvert the electoral process”, and threatening to take further actions during OAS General Assembly in Nov.
Repression against opposition leaders continued ahead of legislative and presidential elections due in Nov. Prosecutor’s Office 8 Sept issued arrest warrant against award-winning novelist Sergio Ramírez on charges of “money laundering”, “incitement to hatred” and “conspiracy” to destabilise country; Ramírez has been living in exile since June. Police 20 Sept arrested sociologist Irving Larios in capital Managua over conspiracy accusations. After authorities 31 Aug-3 Sept for first time allowed families to visit detained opposition and civil society figures in “El Nuevo Chipote” prison in capital Managua, relatives of 19 prisoners 7 Sept denounced mistreatments, including isolation, hunger and lack of medical care. Inter-American Court of Human Rights 9 Sept requested Managua’s authorisation to enter country to assess situation of group of detained opposition and civil society leaders. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet 13 Sept urged govt to cease “persecution of the opposition, the press and civil society”; in joint statement to UN Human Rights Council, 50 countries 14 Sept questioned legitimacy of elections set for 7 Nov. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 15 Sept said Ortega’s govt was taking Nicaragua “down the grim path of authoritarianism”; U.S. govt late Sept pulled its Defense Attache Lt. Col. Roger Antonio Carvajal Santamaria out of Nicaragua after he made comments complimentary of Nicaragua’s military. Meanwhile violence against civil society activists continued to run high. Unidentified gunmen 11 Sept shot and seriously injured Joao Maldonado, political activist and well-known figure of 2018 anti-govt demonstrations, in neighbouring Costa Rica; attack came one day before planned protest against Ortega in Costa Rica’s capital San José. Advocacy group Global Witness 13 Sept said country had highest reported per capita rate of violence against environmental activists in 2020, with 12 killed – rising from five in 2019.
Despite govt’s growing international isolation, crackdown on opposition and independent media continued ahead of Nov general elections. Authorities targeted opposition party Citizens for Freedom (CxL): notably, police 3 Aug placed under house arrest CxL VP hopeful in Nov polls, Berenice Quezada, for allegedly “inciting hatred and violence”; Supreme Electoral Council 6 Aug removed CxL’s legal status, de facto disqualifying party from presidential contest; interior ministry 8 Aug annulled passport of CxL president, Carmella Rogers Amburn (alias Kitty Monterrey), who 10 Aug said she had left for Costa Rica; police 9 Aug detained CxL figure and former diplomat, Mauricio Díaz. Police 20 Aug arrested opposition movement Blue and White National Unit official Roger Reyes for allegedly undermining country’s sovereignty. Space for independent media and NGOs also under attack as authorities 13 Aug raided offices of main independent newspaper La Prensa, allegedly as part of investigation into “customs fraud and money laundering”, next day detained one senior editor. Govt 16 Aug also cancelled operating permits of six international NGOs for allegedly violating transparency law, and 26 Aug banned another 15 national NGOs accusing them of “failing to meet their legal obligations”; moves bring to 49 total number of NGOs prohibited to work in Nicaragua since 2018. Internationally, EU 2 Aug sanctioned eight public officials and govt allies, including VP Rosario Murillo (who is also President Ortega’s wife) for human rights violations or undermining democracy or rule of law; U.S. 6 Aug imposed visa restrictions on 50 relatives of Nicaraguan lawmakers, prosecutors and judges reportedly allied with Ortega and Murillo; U.S. Senate same day passed RENACER act, which calls for stronger sanctions on govt. Govt 9 Aug said it had recalled its ambassadors to Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica and Argentina for “consultations”; move comes after all four countries recently recalled or suspended appointment of their ambassadors to Nicaragua to protest against crackdown on dissent. Costa Rican authorities 9 Aug said they had received 10,077 refugee applications from Nicaraguans in June-July, highest number since 2018 protest movement.
Despite new sanctions against President Ortega’s close allies, detentions of opposition and civil society leaders continued ahead of Nov general elections; tensions mounted within opposition. Security forces 5 July arrested three rural (campesino) leaders, including presidential hopeful Medardo Mairena, and two student activists for allegedly undermining country’s sovereignty; 24 July placed another presidential hopeful, Noel Vidaurre, and journalist Jaime Arellano under house arrest; 27-29 July arrested opposition umbrella organisation Blue and White National Unity leader José Antonio Peraza, former FM Francisco Aguirre Sacasa and human rights defender María Oviedo. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 6 July threatened “more restrictive” measures against Ortega’s govt, while EU Parliament 8 July approved resolution asking for immediate release of all political prisoners, calling on EU Council to expand sanctions against Ortega and his inner circle. U.S. State Dept 12 July imposed visa restrictions on 100 members of National Assembly and judicial system for allegedly “undermining democracy”. Canada 14 July imposed economic sanctions on 15 govt officials in response to “systematic human rights violations”. Meanwhile, friction mounted among opposition forces. Citizens for Freedom (CxL) party, allied with other opposition group Civic Alliance, 26 July said it will appoint its own VP, Óscar Sobalvarro, as presidential candidate (which it did 28 July). Following announcement, several prominent Civic Alliance figures, as well as Civic Alliance local chapters, said they will not run for parliament for CxL.
Govt launched unprecedented wave of arrests of political and business representatives ahead of Nov general elections. Authorities 1-2 June charged prominent opposition presidential hopeful Cristiana Chamorro with “money laundering” and “ideological falseness” and placed her under house arrest. In following days, police launched wave of arrests of opposition politicians, businessmen and journalists under controversial “Treason Law” passed in Dec 2020; at least 20, including four other presidential hopefuls, detained by month’s end. As of 25 June, three journalists (including head of independent news outlet Confidencial and Cristiana Chamorro’s brother, Carlos Fernando Chamorro) and a former ruling-party official now in opposition had fled into exile. Spate of arrests sparked international outcry. U.S. Treasury 9 June sanctioned four more public officials for “supporting [President] Ortega’s efforts to undermine democracy, human rights, and the economy”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 10 June firmly condemned spate of detentions, and Organization of American States’ Permanent Council 15 June approved widely-backed resolution condemning arrests and calling for “immediate release of all political prisoners”. U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee 22 June approved “Renacer Act”, calling for greater international pressure to ensure fair elections in Nicaragua.
President Ortega tightened his grip on electoral process by filling electoral authorities with loyalists and barring opposition from running. Ahead of general elections scheduled for Nov, govt-controlled National Assembly 4 May elected Supreme Electoral Council (CSE)’s magistrates, mostly members of ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front; same day amended electoral law, de facto restricting opposition participation and limiting international electoral observation. U.S. State Dept, Organization of American States and EU 6 May all condemned appointment of new CSE magistrates and changes to electoral law; U.S. State Dept also warned it will continue to use diplomatic and economic tools against Ortega’s govt. In response, Ortega 18 May accused U.S. and European diplomats of election interference. CSE 18-19 May withdrew legal status of Democratic Restoration Party, electoral vehicle of opposition bloc National Coalition and Conservative Party. Attorney General’s Office 20 May said opposition presidential hopeful Cristiana Chamorro is under investigation for alleged financial irregularities and money laundering; police same day raided premises of Chamorro’s NGO and independent news outlet Confidencial, run by her brother, in capital Managua. U.S. State Dept 21 May condemned “another alarming step away from democracy”. Attorney General’s Office by 26 May had summoned at least 16 journalists in relation to case. Meanwhile, opposition remained divided, with National Coalition and Citizen Alliance failing to form electoral alliance by 12 May deadline set by new CSE.
Govt continued to restrict political space in lead-up to Nov general elections. Ahead of presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 7 Nov, govt-controlled National Assembly 12 April opened process to select new magistrates for Supreme Electoral Council (CSE); ruling party National Sandinista Liberation Front same day introduced electoral reform project prohibiting anyone who has been involved in “coup attempts” – a wording used by govt to describe 2018 anti-govt protest movement – from participating and tasking police with granting permission for electoral rallies. Over 50 organisations, including civil society, private sector and political parties, 22 April decried project as “repressive”, arguing it goes against electoral reforms suggested by Organization of American States in Oct 2020 resolution to improve prospects for free and fair elections. Meanwhile, national and international actors maintained pressure on President Ortega’s govt to cease human rights violations and release political prisoners. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Commissioner Antonia Urrejola 14 April denounced “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of political prisoners. On occasion of its third anniversary, opposition movement Blue and White National Unity (UNAB) 16 April staged rare protest in capital Managua to demand release of political prisoners; police reportedly assaulted journalists covering protest. Civil society organisation Civic Blue and White Observatory 23 April reported 382 violations of human rights against govt opponents 15-20 April.
President Ortega continued to face domestic and international pressure to cease crackdown on dissent and carry out electoral reforms. UN Human Rights Council 23 March passed resolution calling on govt to “release all those arbitrarily or illegally detained”, halt repression against dissidents and adopt “electoral and institutional reforms” ahead of general elections scheduled for Nov. Chair of EU Parliament’s delegation for relations with Central American countries 15 March expressed concern over lack of conditions for free and transparent elections, citing recent “adoption of new repressive laws” and absence of electoral reform. Six U.S. Congress members, both Democrats and Republicans, 25 March introduced bill to increase sanction pressure on Ortega’s govt to ensure that electoral reforms are carried out. U.S. State Department report 30 March said govt “continued to hold 106 political prisoners as of Dec 2020, nine of them in solitary confinement”; U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken same day said Ortega’s “corrupt” govt “passed increasingly repressive laws that limit severely the ability of opposition political groups, civil society and independent media to operate”. On occasion of National Journalist Day, around 500 journalists, editors and photographers 1 March called on govt to immediately cease attacks against media; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Pedro Vaca same day denounced “very sophisticated censorship mechanisms” and “significant erosion of the rule of law”. Ortega 8 March accused civil society organisations of laundering money “to develop destabilising terrorist activities”.
Authorities continued to clamp down on dissent, hamper work of NGOs and restrict civil liberties ahead of Nov presidential election. Govt-controlled National Assembly 2 Feb passed bill to amend Penal Procedure Code, extending maximum pre-charge detention from 48 hours to 90 days. Assembly next day approved “customer protection” law prohibiting banks from denying services to anyone, including state officials under international sanction and their relatives, in violation of international standards; business organisation COSEP immediately said law heightens risk of Nicaragua landing on inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force’s black list. After govt late Jan said all individuals and organisations receiving foreign funds had to register as “foreign agents” at interior ministry before 5 Feb or receive fines of up to $500,000, NGOs Nicaragua Chapter of PEN International and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation 4-5 Feb announced they ceased operations; U.S. 8 Feb denounced govt’s move, underpinned by Oct 2020 “foreign agents” law, said President “Ortega is driving Nicaragua toward dictatorship” and urged him to “change course”; Nicaraguan Platform of NGO Networks 15 Feb reiterated Dec call on Supreme Court of Justice to rule law unconstitutional. UN human rights chief Bachelet 25 Feb urged govt to “end arbitrary detentions, undue restrictions to free circulation, threats and other forms of intimidation” and adopt electoral reforms to guarantee “free, fair and transparent” election; also reiterated request to enter Nicaragua.
Govt continued to harass political opponents and opposition remained plagued by divisions ahead of Nov general elections. Police 2 Jan besieged group of political opponents from Citizens for Freedom (CxL) party and cut off drinking-water supply in their refuge in capital Managua. Police 3-9 Jan raided homes of several opposition leaders and journalist Aníbal Toruño, head of Radio Darío, in Managua, Masaya and León cities. Govt 11 Jan said it was open to national dialogue with opposition and civil society, but only after elections. National Assembly 18 Jan ratified constitutional amendment to introduce life sentence for hate crimes; amendment entered into force 25 Jan. Meanwhile, opposition groups Civic Alliance (which withdrew from opposition platform National Coalition late last year) and CxL 13 Jan agreed to join forces to “transition from the current dictatorship” in Nov elections. CxL President Kitty Monterrey same day said National Coalition platform and its founding member Blue and White National Unity “do not exist”. Appointments in National Assembly’s committees also deepened fractures within opposition Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC). Five PLC deputies 14 Jan opposed redesignation of four parliamentary committee seats to PLC members; party 25 Jan expelled two of them, along with two other party members.
President Ortega took further steps to muzzle opposition and free speech ahead of 2021 presidential election. Congress 21 Dec passed law essentially banning opposition candidates from running in presidential election scheduled for Nov 2021; bill gives Ortega unilateral power to declare citizens as “coup plotters” and “terrorists” – labels which he has often used to describe opposition – and ban them from standing for election. Organization of American States and EU immediately condemned move; U.S. Treasury same day sanctioned three public officials – Supreme Court VP, National Assembly deputy and police chief in second largest city León – for their support toward undermining “Nicaragua’s democracy”. Govt 23 Dec confiscated properties of media outlets 100% Noticias and Confidencial and of two NGOs which had been shut down after 2018 protests. Local militia 6 Dec killed member of Mayangna indigenous group in Bosawás natural reserve, Jinotega region (north). Following devastating hurricanes last month, residents in Bilwi town, North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (north east), 4 Dec demonstrated against govt, accusing authorities of withholding aid delivery to those who do not identify as sympathisers of ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2 Dec reported that govt imprisoned over 1,600 anti-govt demonstrators between April 2018 and May 2020. U.S. 7 Dec extended Temporary Protected Status for Nicaraguan nationals, which allows them to live and work in U.S., until Oct 2021.
Authorities continued to pass repressive laws and harass opposition. Following Oct “foreign agents” and “cybercrime” bills, govt-controlled National Assembly 10 Nov approved constitutional amendment to allow life sentences for hate crimes; human rights group Nunca Más immediately denounced move designed to “persecute opponents”. Govt crackdown on opposition continued. Police 1 Nov raided opposition platform National Coalition (NC) meeting in Matagalpa city (centre) and 8 Nov reportedly prevented several NC leaders from leaving their homes to attend commemorations for killed protesters and political prisoners in various cities including Jinotepe, Carazo department (centre). U.S. 9 Nov sanctioned former President Arnoldo Alemán (1997-2002) for corruption, including “misappropriating millions of dollars of public funds for the benefit of himself and members of his family” during his time in office, barring him and his family from entering U.S.. Hurricanes Eta and Iota, latter being most powerful ever recorded in country, made landfall 3 and 16 Nov respectively; VP Murillo 17 Nov said over 48,000 had been displaced, next day reported 16 deaths; meanwhile, residents in Peñas Blancas Massif area, Jinotega department (north) said at least 30 died in landslide 17 Nov. Finance minister 24 Nov reported 3mn people affected by hurricanes and estimated economic damage at $742mn.
Amid new round of international sanctions against President Ortega’s rule, authorities dramatically scaled up crackdown on opposition and media ahead of 2021 presidential election. Govt-controlled National Assembly 15 Oct passed “foreign agents” bill, which increases scrutiny of citizens and organisations receiving funds from abroad and bans them from participating in politics; 27 Oct passed “cybercrime” bill that criminalises spreading “false and/or misrepresented information” online. Ahead of votes, European Parliament 8 Oct condemned proposed legislations as “repressive tool to silence” critics. Police 11 Oct surrounded building where members of opposition platform National Coalition were holding meeting in Masaya, south of capital Managua, and govt supporters threw stones at journalists covering event, injuring two. Relatives of political prisoners 3 Oct reported at least 53 of 113 detainees at La Modelo prison near Managua had begun hunger strike, and three had sown their mouth shut, in protest at incarceration; relatives and members of opposition Blue and White National Unity next day demonstrated in Managua to request prisoners’ release, while Permanent Commission on Human Rights 20 Oct was denied access to La Modelo prison to verify detention conditions. Opposition group Civic Alliance 26 Oct announced they were leaving National Coalition they co-created, notably to protest alleged lack of representation of youth movements. International actors increased pressure on govt to abide by rule of law and carry out electoral reforms. U.S. 9 Oct imposed sanctions on two Ortega allies and govt-linked bank for helping govt “undermine Nicaragua’s democracy”, while EU 12 Oct extended framework for targeted sanctions against officials involved in human rights violations including repression of civil society and democratic opposition, and actions undermining democracy and rule of law, for another year. In resolution adopted 21 Oct, Organization of American States expressed concern over “deterioration of democratic institutions” and urged govt to agree with opposition on electoral reforms by May 2021.
Judicial moves sent chilling message to opposition and media. In capital Managua, judge 3 Sept issued arrest warrant for three relatives of opposition platform Civic Alliance leader Juan Sebastián Chamorro over alleged tax arrears; judge 11 Sept ordered seizure of independent broadcaster Canal 12’s assets as part of tax arrears case. President Ortega 15 Sept said he would seek to impose life sentences on those convicted of hate crimes; comment followed 12 Sept killing of two girls in Mulukukú municipality, North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, but some in opposition including ex-vice minister José Pallais interpreted it as threat to opposition representatives; govt 17 Sept began gathering signatures to ask Supreme Court of Justice and National Assembly to introduce tougher sentencing guidelines. Police 25 Sept raided headquarters of feminist organisation María Elena Cuadra in Managua. Govt-controlled National Assembly 22 Sept started discussing bill that would increase scrutiny of citizens and organisations receiving foreign funds – dubbed as “foreign agents” – and ban them from participating in politics. Opposition same day strongly objected to proposal. International actors expressed concern over intensifying state repression. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 10 Sept reported 45 govt opponents arrested by police since early Aug. UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet 14 Sept denounced persistent attacks against opposition and press, while U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo next day accused Ortega of “doubling down on repression” and becoming “a dictator”. NGO Amnesty International 30 Sept said govt was “preparing for a new phase of repression” in light of new draft laws that “attempt to silence those who criticise government policies”.
Attacks on opposition, press and clergy increased, while internal divisions continued to plague opposition platform National Coalition. Media association and civil society group Violeta Barrio de Chamorro Foundation 7 Aug reported 30 attacks on press in July and identified police as main perpetrator, while police 15 Aug temporarily detained eight members of opposition Blue and White National Unity (UNAB)’s political council in Estelí city, Estelí department (north). At least five churches late-July to early-Aug denounced acts of vandalism, thefts and assaults; notably, Episcopal Conference 1 Aug condemned assailants who previous day set chapel of capital Managua cathedral ablaze. After National Coalition member Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) 6 Aug sent letter to Organization of American States Sec Gen Almagro demanding joint control of Supreme Electoral Council with ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front Party, major coalition members UNAB and Civic Alliance 11 Aug suspended their participation in coalition’s working committees; U.S. State Department same day called for unity in virtual meeting with UNAB, Civic Alliance and campesino (peasant) movement; Civic Alliance official 25 Aug accused campesino movement of allying with PLC to control coalition. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, concerns grew over incidents at southern border with Costa Rica, with reports of Nicaraguans attempting to return home through illegal crossings after govt mid-July introduced stricter conditions for entering country. Govt continued to receive criticism for reportedly downplaying and mismanaging COVID-19 crisis, with NGO Citizens’ Observatory reporting death toll 20 times higher than officially admitted as of 19 Aug.
Political tensions and infighting remained high amid preparations for presidential election scheduled for late 2021. Family sympathetic to opposition in Masaya department (west) 3 July said strong contingent of police same day raided their property and occupied their land. Police 5 July raided and ransacked house of opposition member and university student Jerry Urbina in Waslala municipality, North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (north). UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet 2 July reported “persistent impunity had eroded trust” in govt and “together with the lack of legal and institutional reforms, increased the risk of new human rights violations”. U.S. 18 July imposed sanctions on Jorge Mojica Mejía, President Ortega’s close collaborator, and Ortega’s son Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, as well as two media companies, accusing both men of using these platforms to distribute propaganda and launder money. Supreme Electoral Council 14 July set presidential election for 7 Nov 2021 and extended deadline for parties to register for vote from Nov 2020 until June 2021, citing delays due to COVID-19 pandemic; opposition National Coalition immediately rejected change and demanded full electoral reforms. Internal divisions continued to plague National Coalition; coalition member Civic Alliance 21-30 July suspended participation to discuss several issues including alleged lack of participation of youth movements. Divisions also emerged within main private-sector association COSEP over organisation’s leadership, with several members early July calling for president to leave post in Sept elections. Opposition and civil society continued to accuse Ortega’s govt of concealing information about virus’ spread; celebrations of anniversary of 1979 Sandinista revolution held virtually 19 July.
President Ortega’s management of COVID-19 crisis continued to come under scrutiny, opposition created united front and govt faced further international pressure to ensure accountability for human rights abuses. Opposition platform Blue and White National Unity 6 June sent letter to UN Sec Gen Guterres requesting special representative be sent to Nicaragua to help with political and public health crises; relatives of political prisoners 11 June said 45 political prisoners suffering from COVID-19 still jailed. NGO Citizen Observatory, whose members include health workers, continued to dispute govt’s account of low number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, counting 1,688 possible deaths against govt-reported 64 as of 17 June. Major opposition parties and civil society organisations 25 June signed agreement creating National Coalition to “fight for justice, democracy and against the dictatorship” ahead of general elections scheduled for next year; signatories include Blue and White National Unity and other opposition platform Civic Alliance, whose hesitancy to sign agreement created internal rifts, with several figures announcing departure 17-25 June. International actors maintained pressure on govt to ensure accountability for human rights violations, including repression of opposition and civil society since 2018 protest movement. U.S. Senate 16 June passed resolution encouraging President Trump’s administration to hold Ortega and allies accountable for human rights violations and to couple pressure with diplomatic efforts; at Organization of American States’ Permanent Council meeting 24 June, Sec Gen Almagro suggested organisation declare rupture of democratic order in country; Switzerland same day imposed sanctions on six high-level officials sanctioned by EU in May in response to ongoing human rights violations and curtailment of democracy and rule of law, and urged authorities to uphold national and international laws on human rights.
Opposition and civil society continued to voice concern over President Ortega’s management of COVID-19 crisis, while govt faced mounting international pressure over human rights abuses and money laundering. Media and NGOs, notably Citizen Observatory whose members include health workers, repeatedly questioned govt’s account of low number of COVID-19 cases and deaths; in Confidencial newspaper mid-May, ministerial source said govt was lying about figures. In response, Ortega govt accused opposition of spreading fake news, with VP and first lady Murillo calling opposition “hate promoters” 13 May. Relatives of 38 political prisoners showing COVID-19 symptoms 14 May urged govt to release them. Opposition attempts to create cohesive front suffered new setback: several student organisations 13 May withdrew request to join opposition platform National Coalition created in Feb, accusing it of excluding student voices. EU and U.S. increased pressure on Ortega over accusations of human rights violations, including repression of opposition and civil society since political crisis erupted in 2018, and money laundering. EU 4 May imposed sanctions on six high-level officials, including four police commissioners and presidential adviser Nestor Moncada Lau, and 7 May added country to money-laundering blacklist; U.S. 22 May placed army top commander and finance minister on sanctions blacklist.
Govt faced mounting international and domestic pressure to take action against COVID-19, and continued to harass opposition. After business associations 1 April called for cross-party action to tackle virus, head of National Assembly Gustavo Porras next day ruled out possibility of taking strong confinement measures. International agency Pan American Health Organization 7 April expressed concern over govt’s handling of crisis, citing “inadequate” prevention and control. In televised speech 15 April, President Ortega reiterated lockdown would prompt economic collapse. Opposition movements repeatedly called on population to self-quarantine; joint opposition platform National Coalition 19 April condemned govt’s “lack of willingness” to address emergency. Govt repression of opposition continued unabated. Notably, police 19 April reportedly detained at least three people in town of Moyogalpa in south who were peacefully commemorating anniversary of 2018 uprising, prompting residents to capture police officer; next day, police allegedly raided community, freed officer and arrested two other people; police denied sequence of events. After govt 8 April announced release of 1,700 prisoners ahead of Easter celebrations, NGO Amnesty International 16 April called on govt to also release “those detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.
Political deadlock persisted while govt continued to harass opposition and U.S. increased pressure on President Ortega over human rights abuses. Papal nuncio Waldemar Sommertag – one facilitator of 2019 dialogue between govt and opposition Civic Alliance to resolve crisis that began 2018 – 3 March ruled out possibility of talks resuming soon, said priority was electoral reforms ahead of Nov 2021 presidential election. Following Feb launch of joint opposition platform “National Coalition”, Francisca Ramírez, peasant (campesino) leader in exile in Costa Rica, 9 March criticised coalition for not adequately representing social and student movements that were crucial to 2018 protests against govt. Harassment of opposition continued; govt supporters 3 March stormed poet and opposition figure Ernesto Cardenal’s funeral service in capital Managua, reportedly clashing with attendees and attacking journalists outside church. Media organisations Confidencial and CONNECTAS 2 March accused security forces, including military, of 30 extrajudicial killings of campesinoOct 2018-Dec 2019; security forces denied accusations. U.S. govt 5 March imposed sanctions on National Police force, including three commissioners, over accusations of human rights abuses; U.S. House of Representatives 9 March passed resolution calling on Ortega’s govt to comply with March 2019 agreements with Civic Alliance, halt repression and implement electoral reforms; resolution also urged U.S. administration and international community to hold Ortega govt accountable for human rights abuses, including through considering additional sanctions, and restrict access to foreign financing until it allows for free and fair elections. UN 10 March said over 100,000 Nicaraguans had sought refuge abroad since crisis started in 2018. Opposition criticised govt for failing to take action against COVID-19. Govt 14 March organised march in Managua in support of those affected.
Under international scrutiny for human rights abuses, govt alternated between harassment of opposition and good-will gestures, while opposition sustained efforts to create united front. Customs authorities 6 Feb released paper and ink belonging to La Prensa newspaper, critical of govt, which had been held since late 2018. Authorities 13 Feb released 1,000 prisoners including eight political prisoners; opposition said 61 political prisoners remain in jail. Govt continued to harass opposition: after Central American University students 3 Feb staged protest requesting release of all political prisoners, govt supporters threatened them and police 6 Feb temporarily detained some; govt supporters 10 Feb pursued and threatened members of opposition platform Civic Alliance holding meeting in Chontales, reportedly firing gunshots. Following late-Jan attack on indigenous community in North Atlantic region that left at least four dead, UN human rights office 7 Feb called for investigation of attack and 40 other murders of indigenous peoples in region since 2015. National Assembly 11 Feb approved creation of four national suppliers of energy and fuel reportedly in attempt to replace U.S.-sanctioned Albanisa and DNP Petronic. Ahead of 2021 elections, opposition platforms and parties 13 Feb released joint statement calling for electoral reforms, as Organization of American States and govt’s 2017 MoU on electoral reforms expired 28 Feb with no progress made. Opposition platforms Civic Alliance and Blue and White National Unity 25 Feb officially launched “National Coalition”, involving four political parties and peasant movement.
Govt sought to ease growing international condemnation of human rights abuses, while opposition struggled to create cohesive front. In meeting with foreign diplomats 6 Jan to present outlines of govt’s foreign policy for 2020, FM Denis Moncada said govt aimed to strengthen international cooperation, while defending principle of non-interference in domestic affairs. National Assembly (NA) 9 Jan announced eight focus areas for parliament including electoral reforms which will involve consultations with political parties but not opposition platforms such as Civic Alliance and Blue and White National Unity (UNAB). Govt 10 Jan launched “human rights and reconciliation” plan under which 7,500 local peace commissions reportedly created in 2019 would be used as arenas for reconciliation. Opposition gave contradictory signals as to its future unity. UNAB 4 Jan elected new political council. After UNAB founding member Civic Alliance 6 Jan reiterated it is separate from UNAB, both organisations 9 Jan said in joint statement they would continue to work together to defeat govt in upcoming 2021 elections, and 17 Jan announced formation of “National Coalition” open to civil society groups and political parties. Coordinadora Universitaria grouping of four university associations 15 Jan left Civic Alliance for UNAB. Harassment of opposition continued including govt supporters 2 Jan throwing dye and stones at house of opposition activist Amaya Coppens in city of Estelí. Armed assailants 29 Jan killed at least two indigenous Mayangna people in attack reportedly linked to land disputes, on nature reserve in north.
Situation remained tense as govt threats and attacks on political opponents and churches continued, and domestic and international pressure on govt mounted, including new U.S. sanctions. Govt nevertheless released 91 political prisoners 30 Dec and moved them to house arrest following mediation efforts by papal nuncio Waldemar Sommertag; according to local human rights bodies, a further 65 remain in prison. Domestically, opposition organisations Civic Alliance and Blue and White National Unity worked to create more cohesive front, 12 Dec presenting joint proposal for electoral reforms. At least 70 civil society organisations 10 Dec denounced systematic violation of human rights. President Ortega’s brother Humberto 11 Dec released letter directed to his brother calling for release of all political prisoners before Christmas. Ortega’s international isolation increased; U.S. 12 Dec imposed another round of sanctions, targeting another of Ortega’s sons and three Nicaraguan entities including DNP Petronic, national fuel provider managed by Ortega’s family; Legislative Assembly 14 Dec approved its nationalisation. Russia meanwhile thanked Nicaraguan govt 12 Dec for its support in UN. Legislative Assembly 10 Dec approved 2020 budget, foreseeing just $22.5 million in aid from five countries, compared to $386.4 million from 21 countries when Ortega returned to power in 2007. Govt maintained domestic repression. Police 3 Dec gave awards to officers who participated in raid which left five people dead, including two officers and three civilians allegedly involved in 2018 protests. Catholic church 8 Dec denounced police detention for twelve hours of priest accused of disrupting public order. Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH) 10 Dec said it had received around 3,000 complaints regarding allegedly state-sponsored human rights violations. Police 12 Dec charged on opponents and journalists attending presentation of opposition’s electoral reform plan in Managua, reportedly wounding at least six.