Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who has been in power this time around since 2007, has been around since his Sandinista Liberation Front overthrew the U.S.-backed Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza dictatorship in 1979 (Ortega remained in power that time until he lost an election in 1990). His wife, Rosaria Murillo, is currently his vice-president.
In 2018, Ortega, once a Marxist revolutionary, proposed to slash pension benefits, an action that sparked protests throughout Nicaragua and ended with roughly 450 people killed, thousands more injured, and 25,000 citizens fleeing the country.
La Crisis, as that period is called, prompted the United States and European Union to impose sanctions against Nicaraguan officials and institutions. The United Nations accused the Ortega administration of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.
Although Nicaragua was once one of Latin American’s fastest-growing economies – helped in part by lots of money from Venezuela – the economy had spiraled downward and was in trouble even before the country was hit hard by two hurricanes in 2020, then by the pandemic, which Ortega didn’t take seriously.
Taken together, all these events have caused Ortega’s approval rating to crumble, and several pro-democracy opposition movements have emerged in advance of the Nicaraguan elections scheduled for November 2021.
However, things have suddenly taken a dark turn. After passing a law that sanctions life sentences for people involved in “hate crimes” – a law that his opponents always feared Ortega could use against them – he has done exactly that. Soon after announcing her candidacy for president, Ortega’s government arrested Cristiana Chamorro on charges of money-laundering and something called “ideological falseness.” In March 2022, she was given an eight-year sentence after being found “guilty” of the charges.
Another presidential candidate, Arturo Cruz, was detained for “conspiring against Nicaraguan society” and three others were confined to their homes with no official charges filed against them at all.
Well, that’s certainly one way to win an election!