The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Ortega kidnapped our husbands. The world must act to save them and democracy in Nicaragua.

Juan Sebastián Chamorro, left, and Félix Maradiaga, right. (INTI OCON/Photos by AFP via Getty Images a)
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Berta Valle is the wife of Nicaraguan presidential candidate Félix Maradiaga. Victoria Cárdenas is the wife of Nicaraguan presidential candidate Juan Sebastián Chamorro. Both men have been held as political prisoners since June 8.

Today marks 23 days since our husbands, Nicaraguan presidential candidates Félix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastián Chamorro, were arrested and disappeared by Daniel Ortega’s regime. Since June 8, they have not had any contact with their families or lawyers, and we worry constantly for their safety, health and well-being. Our days are balanced by hope and despair. The arrests of our husbands are just two in a broad campaign by Ortega to crush any opposition to his rule before the presidential elections in November: Five presidential candidates are among the at least 16 opposition leaders who have been jailed.

Ortega has tightened his iron grip on power to ensure that no credible candidate can oppose him. Under these circumstances, free and fair elections cannot take place. We are urging the international community to do more to advocate for the release of our husbands and the more than 130 political prisoners currently held in Nicaragua.

Our husbands have committed their lives to improving the lives of the Nicaraguan people. After war forced Félix to flee to the United States as a child, he returned in 1990 to rebuild our country. In the United States, he studied nonviolence, citizen engagement and democracy. In Nicaragua, he rose to be secretary general of the Ministry of Defense and later ran a prominent think tank. Later he became a leader of an opposition group formed in response to Ortega’s massacre beginning in April 2018 of hundreds of nonviolent protesters. Félix has dedicated his professional life to public service and civil society.

As an economist, Juan Sebastián has always envisioned a more prosperous Nicaragua for all. After completing his studies in the United States, he returned to Nicaragua, ran its Millennium Challenge development project and served as deputy minister of finance. He then ran an economic think tank and was a leader in a major opposition group. He has been a vocal advocate for government accountability, democratic reforms and justice for victims of human rights abuses.

Both Félix and Juan Sebastián announced their campaigns for the November presidential elections in February. Despite being competitors in the presidential primary, both men are united and driven by their shared vision for a better Nicaragua. Most fundamentally, they want our country to be a flourishing democracy where human rights and respected and upheld, where the Nicaraguan people can freely choose their leaders and where all citizens can thrive. The opposition’s unity has only strengthened since Ortega launched his most recent campaign of terror.

Our lives were turned upside down on June 8. That morning, after being summoned for an “interview” at the Public Ministry, Félix’s vehicle was pulled over by the police, who forcibly removed him, beat him and took him away. Later that same day, a group of more than 40 armed police agents forced their way into Juan Sebastián’s home in Managua and took him away.

Since then, their most fundamental rights have been violated. Despite not being charged with a crime, both were presumed guilty and sentenced to 90 days in jail in secret hearings with puppet judges. We know that their lawyers weren’t told of the hearings in advance. There is no legal basis for their detention and both remain disappeared, continuing to be held without access to their families or their lawyers.

We have been moved by the outpouring of support for our husbands and the other political prisoners in Nicaragua. But with every day that passes without word from our husbands, our worry grows. We know all too well that Nicaragua’s prisons are rife with violence, physical and psychological torture, and disease — all of which have been exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic. And without access to Félix and Juan Sebastián, we cannot help but fear the worst.

We are calling on the international community — including the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the United States and other democratic governments in the Americas and around the world — to demand and act to secure the release of Félix, Juan Sebastián and the more than 130 political prisoners held by Ortega’s regime. As wives and mothers, we did not choose political lives. But we must speak out for our detained husbands whose voices have been silenced. We stand in solidarity with the families of all our country’s political prisoners.

And we will not rest until our husbands are free and their dreams for a democratic Nicaragua have been realized.

Read more:

Frida Ghitis: Ortega is obliterating what’s left of Nicaragua’s democracy

The Post’s View: In a pandemic, Nicaragua’s president refuses to put his people first

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