Police in Nicaragua have stormed into the house of a prominent opposition leader, one day after formally filing money laundering charges against her in what was seen as an attempt to stop an electoral challenge to the autocratic leader Daniel Ortega.
Cristiana Chamorro, 67, was detained at her home south of the capital Managua on Wednesday, 15 minutes before she was scheduled to give a virtual news conference to reporters.
Live footage on local television and social media showed police entering and surrounding the home of Chamorro, and then forcing away journalists who had arrived to cover the scene.
Chamorro, the daughter of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro had been expected to run in presidential elections on 7 November. But on Tuesday, prosecutors announced that they had lodged charges against her, and asked the country’s electoral tribunal to bar Chamorro from running or holding public office.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state said on Twitter: “Arbitrarily banning opposition leader [Chamorro] reflects Ortega’s fear of free and fair elections. Nicaraguans deserve real democracy.”
The head of the Organization of American States warned that Nicaragua was heading towards “the worst elections possible” and said the moves against Chamorro removed all political credibility for the country’s government and electoral system.
Cristiana Chamorro, the former director of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. Photograph: Inti Ocón/AFP/Getty Images
In a statement, Luis Almagro criticized the politicized use of the country’s legal system, adding: “This kind of systematic and repeated violations of the rule of law delegitimizes the electoral process before it has even begun.”
The Nicaraguan government has said Chamorro is under investigation for alleged financial irregularities related to the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy – the nongovernmental group named after her mother. Chamorro has said the allegations were trumped up to keep her out of the race.
In January, Chamorro stepped down from her role at the foundation. A month later, it closed its operations in Nicaragua after passage of a “foreign agents” law designed to track foreign funding of organizations operating in the country.
In late May, police raided the offices of the foundation, as well as the offices of Confidencial, the opposition newspaper edited by Chamorro’s brother.
Chamorro’s mother beat Ortega to win the presidency in 1990 and served until 1997.
Her husband, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, had run his family newspaper La Prensa and was jailed and forced into exile multiple times by the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. 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 he has grown increasingly isolated internationally. In 2018 police and paramilitary groups crushed a nationwide civil uprising demanding his resignation.
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