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Nicaraguan government arrests opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro

Opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro was arrested Wednesday on charges of abusive management and money laundering. (Jorge Torres/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Police on Wednesday arrested Cristiana Chamorro, the leading opposition candidate for president, in the latest in a string of moves that have curtailed any challenge to President Daniel Ortega in the November election.

Chamorro, 67, a scion of one of Nicaragua’s most storied political families, was accused of abusive management and money laundering, according to a communique issued by judicial authorities. Police searched her residence in Managua for several hours and placed her under house arrest, according to her brother Carlos, a well-known journalist.

The detention was assailed by human rights advocates in Nicaragua and abroad. “The Biden administration and the European Union should condemn, in unison, this plan to impede free elections,” tweeted José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch.

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Chamorro’s mother, Violeta Chamorro, defeated Ortega in the 1990 presidential elections, putting an end to the 11-year reign of his leftist Sandinista movement. Ortega returned to power in 2007 and has been reelected twice since then in elections marred by irregularities. He has gradually concentrated power and grown more authoritarian, with his police killing more than 300 people during anti-government demonstrations three years ago.

The U.S. government has slapped financial sanctions on more than two dozen Nicaraguan officials it accuses of undermining democracy, including Vice President Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife.

Nicaragua’s Interior Ministry said last month that it had found evidence of money laundering during the period from 2015 to 2019 at a freedom of information foundation formerly led by Cristiana Chamorro. The candidate rejected the allegation as “macabre.” The attorney general’s office has asked that she be barred from running for office while under investigation.

Ortega and his allies have taken steps to sideline potential challengers, including stripping the legal registration from one party and passing a law allowing authorities to disqualify candidates as “traitors to the homeland.”

Chamorro is vice president of La Prensa, an opposition newspaper formerly led by her father, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro. His 1978 assassination prompted many Nicaraguans to support the Sandinista rebels, who eventually toppled the dictatorship of President Anastasio Somoza.

Sheridan reported from Mexico City.

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