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Nicaragua: Key opposition figure placed under house arrest

June 3, 2021

Cristiana Chamorro, a potential challenger to President Daniel Ortega, has been detained on money laundering charges. She rejected the allegations as an effort to keep her out of the presidential race in November.

Cristiana Chamorro
Cristiana Chamorro does not belong to a political party but is widely seen as a possible unity candidate to take on President Daniel OrtegaImage: Diana Ulloa/AP Photo/picture alliance

Nicaraguan police stormed into the home of opposition figure Cristiana Chamorro on Wednesday evening, a day after formally filing money laundering charges against her.

The police had raided her house in the capital Managua for more than five hours, and finally placed her under house arrest "in isolation," her brother Carlos Fernando Chamorro said on Twitter.

He added that the police remained in her home. Photos and videos on social media showed police using force to keep her friends and family, as well as journalists, away from the scene.

Chamorro has emerged as a possible challenger to President Daniel Ortega in the upcoming November elections.

Earlier on Wednesday, a Managua court had ordered her detention on accusations of "abusive management, ideological falsehood" and "the laundering of money, property, and assets, to the detriment of the Nicaraguan State and society," it said in a statement.

Who is Cristiana Chamorro?

Chamorro is a 67-year-old journalist and daughter of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, who defeated Ortega in 1990 to become the first female head of state in the Americas.

She does not belong to a political party but is widely seen as a possible unity candidate who could rally a fractured opposition against Ortega, who is yet to confirm that he will seek a fourth term.

Chamorro is also the vice-president of Nicaragua's biggest newspaper, La Prensa.

What is she accused of?

The charges against Chamorro arise from her role as the head of a foundation for press freedom.

The Nicaraguan government has alleged financial irregularities related to the foundation which Chamorro quit in February, refusing to comply with a new law that required any person receiving money from abroad to declare themselves to the government as a "foreign agent."

Prosecutors launched an investigation against her at the request of the government in late May.

Chamorro has rejected the charges against her, which she said are trumped up to keep her out of the presidential race.

A court on Wednesday granted a request from prosecutors to bar her from contesting the November elections or holding public office, citing the ongoing criminal proceedings.

The country's electoral council, however, has not yet made a ruling on her eligibility.

Criticism from the opposition, abroad

Soon after Chamorro's detention, the Nicaragua's opposition parties issued a joint statement accusing Ortega of "unleashing a witch hunt" against candidates because he "fears going to a free, transparent and observed" election.

The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights condemned the police raid, calling it a "violation of human rights."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is on a visit to Latin America, denounced the Ortega government's move against Chamorro, shortly before police entered her residence.

"Arbitrarily banning opposition leader (Cristiana Chamorro) reflects Ortega's fear of free and fair elections. Nicaraguans deserve real democracy," Blinken said on Twitter.

The Organization of American States also put out a statement warning that Nicaragua was "heading for the worst possible elections."

"This process of systematic and repeated violations of the rule of law and of fundamental freedoms delegitimizes the electoral process even before it takes place," it said.

Ortega, an ex-guerrilla who led Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, returned to power in 2007 and has since won two reelection bids.

Since 2018, His government has faced a political crisis triggered by massive protests against the policies of his government. 

adi/rs (AFP, AP)