In total, at least half a dozen likely presidential contenders have been arrested ahead of the vote, including former diplomat Arturo Cruz, political scientist Félix Maradiaga, journalist Miguel Mora Barberena, and rural labor leader Medardo Mairena Sequeira.
Dozens of other prominent critics and opposition leaders have been detained and investigated for alleged national security concerns, according to Nicaraguan law enforcement — moves that much of the international community has criticized as political repression.
‘A parody of an election’
The Ortega government’s tactics to stifle competition have prompted condemnation from democracies around the world. At the height of the presidential candidates’ arrests this summer, Mexico and Argentina recalled their ambassadors for consultations, citing “worrying legal actions by the Nicaraguan government.”
“The event that’s about to take place on November 7 is a parody of an election,” echoed Canadian representative Hugh Adsett.
Earlier, on November 2, the European Union’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell had described Nicaragua’s election as so “completely fake” that it would not be worth sending independent observers.
“We are not going to send any electoral observation mission there because Mr. Ortega has taken care to imprison all the political contenders who have stood in these elections,” Borrell said, speaking in Lima, Peru.
Ortega came to power as part of the Sandinista rebels who overthrew the Somoza dynasty in 1979, and fought against the US-backed contras during the 1980s. First elected in 1985, he has since demolished Nicaragua’s presidential term limits, allowing him to run over and over again.
Over the years, the pair have inexorably consolidated power, appointing loyalists to top government roles and exerting an increasingly tight grip on the country’s social and political spheres. Local press describe a climate of fear and intimidation.
“They’re fearful of losing their grip on power,” said Julie Chung, the Acting Assistant Secretary for the US Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs in June. “As such, that fear of democracy, I think, has contributed to triggering these kinds of actions, repressive actions, because they have no confidence in their own ability to have the people support them.”
Hundreds killed in protests
At least 322 people were killed then, according to rights groups, with thousands injured and hundreds detained. At the time, UN human rights experts accused the government of human rights violations against protesters. Ortega said the UN report was “nothing more than an instrument of the policy of death, of the policy of terror, of the policy of lying, of the policy of infamy.”
Anti-government protests were subsequently banned. Even waving the country’s flag in public — a key symbol of the 2018 demonstrations — was criminalized.
Previous reporting contributed by CNN’s Taylor Barnes, Claudia Rebaza, Matt Rivers and Natalie Gallon.