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Ortega Targets Opposition Figures As Nicaraguan Elections Approach

Cristiana Chamorro is seen outside Nicaragua's Ministry of the Interior after being accused of money laundering on Thursday. She has said she'll run against President Daniel Ortega in this year's presidential election.
Inti Ocon
AFP via Getty Images
Cristiana Chamorro is seen outside Nicaragua's Ministry of the Interior after being accused of money laundering on Thursday. She has said she'll run against President Daniel Ortega in this year's presidential election.

National police in Nicaragua have raided the offices of two prominent opposition figures, both children of a former president, in the latest move by President Daniel Ortega to crackdown on critics ahead of presidential elections this November.

Thursday, as police surrounded the offices of a nongovernmental freedom of information organization named after former President Violeta Chamorro, her daughter and the foundation's former director, Cristiana Chamorro, was accused of money laundering. In a statement, Nicaragua's Interior Ministry said it was calling in Chamorro to answer the allegations.

Cristiana Chamorro, 67, ran the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy until January when she stepped down. The foundation closed its doors a month later after refusing to comply with a new law passed by the Ortega government requiring all organizations receiving funding from international sources to register as a foreign agent with the Interior Ministry.

Cristiana Chamorro has publicly announced her intention to run against Ortega, who is trying for a fourth consecutive term in November.

Nicaragua's Interior Ministry says an investigation has been launched into "inconsistencies" in financial reports the foundation filed with the government between 2015 and 2019. The Ministry alleges that the group did not comply with "obligations" and an analysis shows "clear indications of money laundering."

Chamorro tweeted before the meeting at the Ministry that the people of Nicaragua know who is corrupt and that she has always been honest and transparent in her foundation's accounting. She also tweeted, "I'm not and we aren't afraid," referring to the opposition.

National police also raided the offices of Chamorro's brother, longtime opposition journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro. In 2018, police confiscated equipment and took over the offices of his independent news outlet Confidencial. He went into exile for a year in neighboring Costa Rica, returning in 2020.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro was not at the offices at the time of the raid and later tweeted that equipment had been confiscated and one of the outlet's cameramen had been detained. Defiantly, he tweeted that journalism cannot be confiscated.

The police raids and the allegations of money laundering against Cristiana Chamorro are the latest moves by Ortega to quash the opposition and close avenues for valid candidacies in the upcoming presidential race. Anyone under criminal investigation cannot run for political office, potentially disqualifying Chamorro if the government's charges are upheld.

Also, this week the Supreme Electoral Council canceled the Democratic Restoration Party's legal status. The PRD, as it is known by its initials in Spanish, was expected to be the party used to run an opposition coalition against Ortega in November.

Since the spring of 2018, Ortega has cracked down on critics, especially nongovernmental agencies and independent press outlets, as being part of a failed coup attempt. In April of that year, following the government's attempt to revamp the nation's social security system, large scale protests were violently shutdown by Ortega. Hundreds were imprisoned and more than 300 were killed.

The Chamorro family and Ortega have a long history. The Chamorro patriarch, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, a leading journalist and opponent of Nicaragua's dictator Anastasio Somoza, was killed in 1978. His murder galvanized opposition forces that ultimately overthrew the dictator a year later with a revolutionary force known as the Sandinistas, led by Ortega.

Ortega was elected Nicaragua's first post-revolution president but was defeated in 1990 by Pedro Joaquin's wife, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro who held the office until 1997. Ortega returned to power in 2007 and has been reelected three times in contests clouded by allegations of corruption and judicial manipulation including amending the constitution to allow him to run for president without term limits.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.