(AP) — Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega
's government detained five opposition leaders on Sunday in what appears to be a widespread roundup of anyone who might challenge his rule.
The moves over the weekend indicate that Ortega has moved beyond arresting potential opposition candidates in the November 7 elections
, and has begun arresting any prominent member of the opposition. The arrests on Sunday bring the total number of opponents detained since June 2 to 12.
“It’s not just potential candidates any longer; it’s political leaders,” former general and Sandinista dissident Hugo Torres told The Associated Press
over the phone before his arrest, adding, “This is not a transition to dictatorship; it is a dictatorship in every way.”
Dora Mara Téllez, a prominent ex-Sandinista dissident, and Ana Margarita Vijil, another opposition leader, were arrested on Sunday.
Tellez's arrest is a significant step forward: she was a key Sandinista militant who led an assault
on the National Palace in 1978, holding dictator Anastasio Somoza's congress
hostage in exchange for the release of Sandinista prisoners.
Following Somoza's overthrow, Tellez served as health
minister in the first Sandinista government, which ruled from 1979 to 1990, but she later split with Ortega, as did many other former guerrillas.
On Saturday, police
arrested Tamara Dávila, a member of Unamos, a movement formed by former Sandinistas who were enraged by Ortega's autocratic ways, nepotism, and perpetual re-elections, and on Sunday, police arrested Suyen Barahona, the movement's leader.
Police said they arrested Dávila on treason charges related to a recently enacted law
that defines support for sanctions
against Ortega regime officials as treason; the US has sanctioned dozens of officials.
Davila is also a key figure in the opposition coalition Blue and White National Unity, which formed in the aftermath of Ortega's repression of mass protests in 2018.
Ortega's government now has the authority, under a law passed in December, to declare citizens "terrorists" or "coup-mongers," label them "traitors to the homeland," and prevent them from running for office.
The law penalizes those who “lead or finance a coup... encourage foreign interference, request military
intervention... propose or plan economic blockades, applaud and champion the imposition of sanctions against Nicaragua or its citizens.”
Those accused "will be traitors to the homeland and may not run for public office as a result." Treason is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Ortega has already arrested four potential opposition candidates who could have challenged his bid for a fourth consecutive term, and many Nicaraguan opposition leaders fear that it is only a matter of time before police arrest them as well.
Torres reported seeing drones of the type used at Tellez's house flying
around his neighborhood in recent days.
“This may be my last interview
,” Torres said, adding, “I am here, waiting for them to come get me.”
Police stormed Torres' home and arrested him several hours later.
The four opposition candidates were apprehended earlier this month by Nicaragua's National Police.
They arrested Félix Maradiaga, a candidate for the opposition coalition Blue and White National Unity, and Sebastián Chamorro, a former director of the opposition coalition Civic Alliance, on June 8.
Authorities had detained Cristiana Chamorro, Juan Sebastián Chamorro's cousin, and Arturo Cruz Sequeira, a former ambassador to the United States
, the previous week.
Following the Sandinista revolution that deposed Somoza, Ortega led Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, returning to the presidency in 2007 after three failed election attempts, and winning reelection in 2011. He then sidestepped term limits to win reelection in 2016, and packed courts and government agencies with allies.
According to Torres, Ortega has imposed a more suffocating dictatorship than Somoza, who faced opposition from the church, intellectual circles, and universities.
“I think Ortega has outdone Somoza,” Torres said, adding that “he has subordinated all power to himself in a way that Somoza never could, and he has a bigger repressive apparatus than Somoza ever had.”
The arrests, according to Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary of state
for Western Hemisphere affairs, "confirm without a doubt that Ortega is a dictator, and the international community has no choice but to treat him as such."