HAVANA TIMES – The year 2021 in Nicaragua was marked by the ravages of a second wave of COVID and the resulting deaths. It was also marked by an escalation of the police siege, including the imprisonment of opposition leaders. Finally, it was noteworthy for illegal raids on independent media outlets, and an electoral farce through which Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo assigned themselves a new term in power.
Despite the fact that the independent media persisted with warnings to the public about the need for social distancing, the government insisted on maintaining in-person classes in the public schools. They also organized hundreds of crowd activities, despite the world alert for the Delta variant, which was three times more contagious than the original virus. Within months, infections and deaths due to COVID-19 skyrocketed.
Amid the public health crisis, Nicaragua’s Health Ministry (Minsa) inaugurated maternal care shelters, a diabetes center and a center for those addicted to alcohol and drugs. Not only did these put people into close contact, the buildings they were in had been illegally confiscated in 2018 from the independent news outlets Confidencial and Esta Semana, 100% Noticias, and from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh).
The siege of the independent press escalated as well. The National Police raided and confiscated the provisional site of Confidencial and its television news broadcast Esta Semana. They also raided and occupied the site of Nicaragua’s oldest newspaper, La Prensa. The same police summoned media directors and journalists to be interrogated at the Public Prosecutor’s office, as part of an investigation of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro foundation for unproven allegations of money laundering.
In this past election year, Ortega manipulated conditions to assure himself a fourth consecutive term in office. He utilized punitive laws, passed the previous year, to incarcerate the principal opposition candidates; and he later cancelled the legal status of the two political parties that could have served as electoral vehicles for the opposition.
Between May and the end of November of 2021, the regime added 67 new prisoners of conscience to their jail rosters, including seven presidential hopefuls. They joined at least 100 political prisoners who were already locked up in the regime’s prisons.
Among the aspiring presidential candidates detained were Cristiana Chamorro, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Felix Maradiaga, Arturo Cruz, Miguel Mora, Medardo Mairena and Noel Vidaurre. In addition, the regime locked up student leaders, journalists, political activists, business leaders and former diplomats.
With the uptick in repression and selective detentions, at least 35,000 Nicaraguans sought asylum since June in the neighboring country of Costa Rica, according to Ana Quiros, a human rights activist and advocate in that country.