Nicaragua places former first lady under house arrest

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FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2017 file photo, Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramirez speaks during a press conference in Managua, Nicaragua. Ramirez has been called on Tuesday, June 1, 2021, to testify as a witness in a supposed money laundering case against presidential hopeful Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of Nicaraguas former president Violeta Chamorro. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File)

MANAGUA – Nicaragua police announced late Monday they had placed former first lady María Fernanda Flores Lanzas, wife of ex-President Arnoldo Aleman, under house arrest for alleged crimes against the state.

There was no mention of Aleman or his whereabouts. The police statement said she would remain under guard while the allegations against her were investigated.

Even before her arrest, writer and former Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramírez said Monday there was “zero possibility" of holding free elections in Nicaragua Nov. 7 and that opposition forces who participate would only be “legitimizing" President Daniel Ortega's re-election.

In an interview with The Associated Press from the United States where he was receiving medical treatment, the author of “Divine Punishment” said the 75-year-old Ortega had imposed a system of “terror” that prevents people from freely taking to the streets and that he will not tolerate any opposition electoral campaign.

“There is zero possibility (of free elections) and the political force that goes to the end will do a lot of damage to Nicaragua, it will be giving democratic credibility to a process that is corrupted beforehand,” said Ramírez, winner of the Miguel de Cervantes Prize in 2017.

“Elections where the majority of candidates who can oppose Ortega are in jail cannot be elections,” he said, referring to the arrests of five pre-candidates, among the nearly 20 arrests of leading opposition figures in recent weeks.

The government has also excluded an opposition party that was going to be the vehicle for the National Coalition, a broad opposition to run against Ortega in the elections.

“The parties that go to the end, that accept electoral defeat and the seats they're assigned in the National Assembly, are those that are going to give strength to Daniel Ortega to claim legitimacy in the elections,” Ramírez said. “It is a very serious step.”

The repression has raised the fear level throughout the country.

“A lot of people are leaving the country in a massive way, like hasn't happened since 2018 and there is a lot of fear among people,” Ramírez said. “Nobody knows if they're going to be the next one (detained by police), nobody knows whose house is going to be raided.”

After his defeat to Violeta Chamorro in 1990, Ortega would never consider handing over power again, he said. That means not allowing a candidate like her daughter, Cristiana Chamorro, who could potentially unite the opposition and has been under house arrest for the past three weeks.

Late Monday, journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Cristiana Chamorro's brother, said via Twitter that police had raided his home. He demanded they respect the well-being of his sister-in-law and others with her.

“They will not be able to silence journalism,” he wrote. In May, police raided the offices of his online news outlet Confidencial. The government seized the outlet's old offices in December 2018.

There was no immediate comment from authorities.

“The idea of always (holding) power is what guides this repressive process, power under any circumstances,” Ramírez said. Like others, Ramírez sees the government's political prisoners as leverage to bring to bear in any negotiation that could emerge, though he doesn't expect Ortega to entertain that possibility until after his re-election .

The 78-year-old writer was Nicaragua's vice president during Ortega's first government from 1985 to 1990. But in the mid-1990s he distanced himself from Ortega, founding along with other intellectuals and former guerrillas, the Sandinista Renovation Movement, or MRS by its Spanish initials. It has since become the political movement, Unamos, or Unite. Ramírez retired from politics in 1996, but continues to be an important voice in the country.

His comments came the same day that Mexico and Argentina recalled their ambassadors to Nicaragua for consultations, a day after Ortega's government arrested yet another presidential contender.

Mexico and Argentina had broken with others in the region last week in not voting in favor of an Organization of American States resolution condemning more than a dozen recent arrests in Nicaragua of key opposition figures.

Both countries want to consult with their ambassadors about “the worrisome political-legal actions taken by the Nicaraguan government in recent days that have put at risk the well-being and freedom of various opposition figures (including presidential pre-candidates), activists and Nicaraguan businessmen," their foreign ministries said in a joint statement. They want to promote a dialogue with Ortega's government.

Late Sunday, Nicaraguan police arrested journalist Miguel Mora for alleged crimes against the state, similar to the announced charges against others arrested during the past month. Mora was previously arrested in December 2018 and held for nearly six months before being released.

Mora led the news outlet 100% Noticias until 2020. Police searched the home he shares with his wife, fellow journalist Verónica Chávez.

Mora is the fifth potential presidential candidate arrested since late May. Ortega is running for a fourth consecutive presidential term. Other arrests have included opposition leaders, prominent businessmen and former government officials.

Mora had registered as a pre-candidate for Democratic Renewal Party.

The government has accused most of those arrested with accepting foreign funding and working for the overthrow of the government. Ortega has characterized a popular uprising in April 2018 that led to months of street protests as an attempted coup with foreign backing.

Ramírez said the leader with revolutionary ideals that might still attract some loyalty from leftists overseas is gone. “That doesn't exist anymore, what exists in Nicaragua is a dictatorship like any other dictatorship, beyond any ideological color,” he said.