Nicaraguan police stormed the home of a prominent opposition leader a day after formally filing money laundering charges against him in what was seen as an attempt to stop an electoral challenge to autocratic leader Daniel Ortega.
Cristiana Chamorro, 67, was arrested at her home south of the capital Managua on Wednesday, 15 minutes before the scheduled date to give a virtual press conference to reporters.
Live footage on local television and social media showed police entering and surrounding Chamorro’s home, then forcing journalists who had arrived to cover the scene.
Chamorro, the daughter of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, was expected to run in the November 7 presidential election. But on Tuesday, prosecutors announced they had brought charges against him and asked the country’s electoral court to bar Chamorro from running or holding public office.
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State said on Twitter: “Arbitrarily banning the leader of the opposition [Chamorro] Ortega’s fear of free and fair elections. Nicaraguans deserve a real democracy. “
The head of the Organization of American States warned that Nicaragua is heading towards “the worst possible elections” and said that the movements against Chamorro take away all political credibility from the government and the country’s electoral system.
In a statement, Luis Almagro criticized the politicized use of the country’s legal system, adding: “This type of systematic and repeated violations of the rule of law delegitimizes the electoral process before it has begun.”
The Nicaraguan government has said that Chamorro is under investigation for alleged financial irregularities related to the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy, the non-governmental group named after his mother. Chamorro has said the accusations were fabricated to keep her out of the race.
In January, Chamorro resigned from his position at the foundation. A month later, it closed its operations in Nicaragua after the approval of a “foreign agents” law designed to track external financing of organizations operating in the country.
In late May, the police raided the foundation’s offices, as well as the offices of Confidencial, the opposition newspaper edited by Chamorro’s brother.
Chamorro’s mother defeated Ortega to win the presidency in 1990 and served until 1997.
Her husband, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, had run the family newspaper La Prensa and was imprisoned and forced into exile several times by the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship. He was assassinated in 1978. Cristiana Chamorro is the vice president of La Prensa.
Ortega returned to power in 2007, ruling the country alongside his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, even as it has become increasingly isolated internationally. In 2018, the police and paramilitary groups crushed a civil uprising across the country demanding his resignation.