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U.S. Sanctions Nicaragua: Accuses Leftist Government Of Undermining Democracy

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

In the past week, Nicaraguan police have jailed as many as seven opposition activists, including four who were hoping to run against current President Daniel Ortega. The rapid roundup of opponents has been condemned by the U.S., which yesterday slapped sanctions on four top Nicaraguan officials. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Ever since police placed leading presidential hopeful Cristiana Chamorro under house arrest last week, videos like this one have been popping up on social media.

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JUAN SEBASTIAN CHAMORRO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: They're filmed by opposition figures anticipating an imminent arrest. This one was recorded by Juan Sebastian Chamorro before police came to his home Tuesday night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHAMORRO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Looking solemnly at the camera, with the Nicaraguan flag behind him, he says, "sometimes in the struggle for true freedom, you have to lose it temporarily."

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FELIX MARADIAGA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Another potential presidential candidate, Felix Maradiaga, made his video before his arrest Tuesday.

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MARADIAGA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "It's clear by my arrest," says Maradiaga into the camera, "that President Daniel Ortega is afraid. He won't allow for a free and fair electoral process. He won't even let us go through with one that he can manipulate," he adds. Ortega, now 75, is set to run for a fourth consecutive term in November. He's steadily cracked down on Nicaragua's opposition since winning the presidency in 2006. In 2018, police brutally attacked student and other protesters; more than 300 were killed and hundreds jailed. The U.S. was swift in condemning the latest arrest. State Department spokesman Ned Price demanded the opposition leaders be immediately released.

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NED PRICE: There are costs for those who are complicit in the regime's repression. The United States will continue to use diplomatic and economic tools against members of the regime engaged in this wave of repression.

KAHN: The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned four Nicaraguan officials, including an army brigadier general and one of Ortega's daughters. According to statements by the national police, Maradiaga, Chamorro and the five other opposition leaders are facing multiple charges, including subversion, aiding foreign governments and acting against the sovereignty of Nicaragua. Berta Valle, Maradiaga's wife, says her husband denies all the allegations.

BERTA VALLE: He was very clear about what the regime was going to do, and he just decided to walk the path with nothing to hide, the - only with the conviction that Nicaragua can be free.

KAHN: Valle and the couple's 7-year-old daughter are in exile in Miami. When NPR sought comment from the vice president, Rosario Murillo, who is also Ortega's wife, she answered only, thank you for your interest.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLDTWIG FEAT. LIME KAIN'S "DUNES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.