Statement On Repression In Nicaragua

. . . . Congressional Record

Mr. LEAHY.  It has now been more than four months since Daniel Ortega’s police arrested and subsequently disappeared political opposition leaders Félix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastián Chamorro in Nicaragua.  On June 8, police stopped Maradiaga’s vehicle, forcibly removed him, and took him away.  Later that day, over 40 police officers forced their way into Chamorro’s home and arrested him as well.  For nearly three months, they were held in undisclosed locations, without access to their lawyers, doctors, or families, and without being charged with any crime. They were reportedly kept in solitary confinement, subjected to frequent interrogations, deprived of sleep, and they have each lost 20 to 25 pounds.

In August, they were indicted for operating an international conspiracy to funnel foreign resources “to provide logistical support and create favorable conditions to harm the supreme interests of the nation.”  These charges, which are blatantly political, were brought before an unnamed judge in a secret hearing in which their lawyers were not permitted to be present.  This is what is called “justice” in Nicaragua today.  Nothing more than a sham process intended to silence Daniel Ortega’s political opposition, and it is yet another example of the flagrant repression and abuses of human rights that have become a trademark of his government.

This summer alone, more than 30 other opposition leaders were subjected to similar abuses, and the government is reportedly currently unlawfully detaining more than 150 political prisoners, including former Ambassador to the United States Arturo Cruz who is known to many of us.  He was kept in solitary confinement for approximately 80 days, has reportedly lost 40 pounds, and is even denied access to reading material so he has almost no way of learning about current events outside the prison walls.    

There is only one explanation for such blatant injustices and cruelty inflicted on individuals who have done nothing that would remotely amount to a crime under international law or in most countries of the world, and that is that Daniel Ortega is afraid.  He knows that if he allows a free and fair election, he and his wife Rosario Murillo, the Vice-President, would almost certainly lose. 

The sad reality is that it did not have to be this way.  Ortega could have chosen a different path, and won the support of the Nicaraguan people by trusting them and treating them with respect, and allowing those with different views to speak freely.  Instead, he chose repression, and has held onto power through force and by blaming everyone but himself for Nicaragua’s chronic under-development.  On November 7th, with the opposition silenced and hidden away, he and his wife will likely be victorious in another sham election, a farce that will fool nobody. 

I join those in condemning the repressive tactics of the Ortega government, and in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, and the many other political prisoners falsely accused or imprisoned without charge.  I urge the Nicaraguan government to end the repression of dissidents, the shootings of peaceful protestors, and the crackdown on press freedom and voting rights.

It is no secret that the United States and Nicaragua have had a difficult history.  The United States was the primary benefactor of the dictatorial Somoza family, which ruled the country for more than four decades, enriching themselves and their cronies, and brutalizing their opponents.  Daniel Ortega had the opportunity to be different, but to many Nicaraguans and international observers, he and his wife are even worse. 

The Biden Administration has already responded to this summer’s arrests by imposing sanctions on four members of the Ortega government, and has denied access to visas for 169 Nicaraguans in response to the political crackdown.  The U.S. actions encouraged the EU and Canada to also impose targeted sanctions on Nicaraguans complicit in politically-motivated crimes.  

I commend the Biden Administration, the EU and the Canadian governments for standing up for the rule of law and the rights of the people of Nicaragua.  I urge the White House to investigate the assets and holdings of the Nicaraguan Armed Forces in the U.S., and to consider appropriate actions to hold its leadership accountable for their role in the gross violations of human rights in that country.  I encourage President Biden to use every diplomatic tool, and every form of targeted sanctions, to obtain the release of Daniel Ortega’s prisoners and to create the conditions for a genuinely free, fair, and transparent election in Nicaragua. 

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