MANAGUA – The United States has slapped visa restrictions on 50 immediate family members of Nicaraguan officials who have been involved in or benefited from President Daniel Ortega’s growing repression, the U.S. State Department said Friday.
The officials include lawmakers, prosecutors and judges. Over the past two months, Ortega’s government has arrested nearly three dozen opposition figures, including seven potential challengers for the presidency.
Nicaragua is scheduled to hold national elections Nov. 7. Ortega is seeking a fourth consecutive term and this week the government placed an opposition vice presidential candidate under house arrest.
“Ortega and (Vice President and first lady Rosario) Murillo once again demonstrated that they are afraid of running against anyone who they feel might win the support of the Nicaraguan people,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
On Friday, Nicaragua's electoral council, which is packed with Ortega's allies, barred an antigovernment conservative coalition from running in the Nov. 7 elections.
The conservative Citizens for Liberty coalition on Monday registered as its presidential candidate Oscar Sobalvarro, a rancher and former commander in the U.S.-backed “Contra” rebellion against Ortega’s government during the 1980s.
Its vice presidential candidate, Berenice Quezada, has been charged with inciting terrorism, but was released pending trial.
Among those arrested in recent weeks was former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa. The 76-year-old was arrested after border police stopped him from leaving Nicaragua to enter Costa Rica. He had planned to fly to Houston for back surgery, two of his children said Friday.
Since his July 27 arrest, the family has received no information about his whereabout or condition.
“There are no details, there is no information, we know absolutely nothing,” said Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, one of the former diplomat’s sons.
“The lawyer says he can’t do anything because the case doesn’t exist,” said Georgie Aguirre Sacasa, the ex-diplomat’s daughter.
They said their mother visits the Managua prison known as El Chipote every day, because they suspect he is there, but his name does not appear on the list of prisoners. She takes food, water and medicine, but the guards only sometimes take the water without ever confirming if he is there.
Aguirre Sacasa was arrested by police on the highway back to Managua from the Costa Rican border where guards had confiscated his passport. When his wife arrived at their home she found police searching it. They seized computers and documents from Aguirre Sacasa’s home office.
Nicaraguan authorities released a statement after the arrest saying he would be held for 90 days as an investigation proceeded into allegations that he had committed crimes against Nicaraguan society.
“They say they are following the law, but if that were true he would be on the list of prisoners, he could talk to us, they could visit him,” Georgie Aguirre Sacasa said. “But none of those human rights is being respected in Nicaragua.”
The State Department announcement of visa sanctions against 50 Nicaraguans Friday follows similar actions taken against 100 others on July 12. The U.S. said they were “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy, including those with responsibility for, or complicity in, the suppression of peaceful protests or abuse of human rights, and the immediate family members of such persons.”
The Nicaraguan government did not immediately comment on the new restrictions. In the past, Ortega and Murillo have maintained that widespread protests that began in April 2018 were an attempted coup with foreign backing.
Also Friday, Marcos Carmona, a lawyer and executive secretary of the nongovernmental Permanent Commission on Human Rights, said in a news conference that police had stopped him from boarding a flight to Miami and taken his passport.
“This is another abuse by this government that is violating my constitutional rights and protections,” Carmona said. He said he was trying to travel for medical attention and to visit relatives.
On July 29, police arrested María Oviedo, a lawyer with the commission. She remains jailed and is being investigated for alleged crimes against the state.
Carmona did not rule out that he too could be at risk of arrest.
“We are all exposed here,” he said.
AP writer Gisela Salomon in Miami contributed to this report.