Now, a week after his arrest, his wife says she has no idea where he is or what the police have done with him.
“As a family, we fear for his safety and for his life,” Victoria Cárdenas, 46, told The Washington Post. “I know absolutely nothing about him. I worry about his life, his physical well-being, his emotional well-being. I worry about everything.”
Chamorro was one of four pre-candidates arrested by Nicaraguan authorities in the past two weeks as President Daniel Ortega’s government moves to detain a wide swath of his opponents. In all, a dozen of Ortega’s opponents have been detained this month, raising questions about the future of the Nov. 7 elections.
Many of their families echo Cárdenas’s complaints. Four other relatives of those being detained told The Post that authorities haven’t told them where their loved ones are held and have refused visits from relatives or attorneys. Two other family members, meanwhile, said they have learned where their relatives are being held but are denied visits.
Many of the prisoner’s families spend days dropping off food and water at “El Chipote,” a Managua jail where they presume the opposition leaders are being held. They worry about the prisoners’ emotional and physical well-being, noting some like José Bernard Pallais, the former vice minister of government and foreign affairs during the Violeta Chamorro administration and Ortega challenger arrested on June 9, suffer from serious health conditions, including diabetes and hypertension.
Ortega’s government has made many of the arrests under a new law passed in December granting it the right to declare citizens “terrorists” or “traitors to the homeland” and ban them from running in elections. It could charge them with treason, which carries up to 15 years, the Associated Press reported.
A spokesperson for Ortega did not immediately respond to messages from The Post by early Tuesday.
Félix Maradiaga, an academic and political activist with hopes of challenging Ortega in the Nov. 7 election, was arrested on June 8, the same day as Chamorro.
For months, his wife, Berta Valle, told The Post, her 44-year-old husband was regularly followed by police in squad cars who monitored his every move, often pulling him over to search him. He was only allowed to travel inside the capital and police had to approve wherever he went, said Valle, who has lived in Florida since 2018. But the situation rapidly escalated in January, when he was placed under house arrest and later sneaked into a hotel to announce his pre-candidacy.
Shortly after the federal prosecutor’s office summoned him for questioning, Maradiaga called his family, including his young daughter, to tell them he would probably soon be cut off from contact.
“They are coming after me,” he told his wife.
Maradiaga’s car was later intercepted by police as he left a hearing, his wife said. Police allegedly beat him and put him inside a squad car before driving off. Valle has not heard from him since.
“I want a proof of life because I do not know how he is. No one has seen him, nor his lawyers or his family members,” Valle said. “During the day, I can be chatting and show a strong face but at night, it’s terrible. I do not sleep. I have days without properly sleeping.”
It’s been more than two weeks since María Consuelo Céspedes has seen her husband, Walter Gómez, a former financial administrator at Fundación Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting press freedom. (The organization shut down earlier this year after a new law required those who receive international funds to minutely report the source and expenses to the government. The lack of proper disclosure could lead to imprisonment and fines.) Cristiana Chamorro, another pre-candidate recently arrested and the daughter of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, was the organization’s director and founder.
Gómez, 54, was arrested at home on May 28, Céspedes told The Post. Police took him away without saying where he would be held, she said.
But unlike many other relatives, Céspedes has confirmed that her husband is being held at “El Chipote” jail and his attorney was recently allowed to see him. The attorney told his wife that Gómez said he is being held alone inside a cell and that he has not been beaten.
Pablo Fletes, the brother of Marcos Fletes, a former Fundación Violeta Barrios de Chamorro accountant who was also arrested on May 28, told The Post the family has confirmed Fletes is also being detained at “El Chipote,” but said authorities have not granted any family visits.
Both Cárdenas and Valle said their husbands had been taken to “secret hearings” where a judge had dictated they be held for three months without allowing their attorneys inside the courtroom.
Chamorros’s wife said the detentions have taken away any hopes of fair and democratic elections in the nation.
“The electoral process ended the moment the government arrested [four] pre-candidates,” she said. “Who is going to run against him?”