Nicaragua Accuses Opposition Challenger of Money Laundering

Published: 03 June 2021

Cristiana Chamorro

Cristiana Chamorro (Photo: Confidencial, Wikimedia, License)

By Isobel van Hagen

Police in Nicaragua raided the home of President Daniel Ortega’s main challenger and placed her under house arrest on Wednesday, a day after prosecutors brought money laundering charges against her and requested that she be banned from running for or holding public office.

Journalist Cristiana Chamorro’s house arrest was announced by her family. The move is effectively eliminating Ortega’s main opponent from elections in November.

Chamorro is the daughter of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, who defeated President Ortega in the 1990 elections. She has more support than any other opposition candidate, according to a Cid-Gallup poll.

“Arbitrarily banning opposition leader Chamorro reflects Ortega’s fear of free and fair elections. Nicaraguans deserve real democracy,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted.

José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas Director of Human Rights Watch echoed this sentiment, saying that “the Biden administration and the European Union should condemn, in unison, this plan to impede free elections.”

On Tuesday, prosecutors said in a statement that they accused Chamorro “for the crimes of abusive management, ideological falsehood, both in real competition with laundering of money, property and assets.” The statement did not add any more details.

The office seeks her "disqualification from holding public office for not being in full enjoyment of her civil and political rights," it added.

The charges are in relation to the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy, a non-governmental organization named after her mother and led by Chamorro until recently. In late May, national police raided the offices of the NGO as well as the offices of the independent news outlet run by her brother Carlos Chamorro.

Chamorro denied the charges, and said the accusations are Ortega’s attempt to keep her out of the race and suppress free and fair elections. “I am not an official candidate and they intend to inhibit me. How afraid of change they are,” Chamorro said on Twitter on Tuesday.  She has also referred to Ortega’s government as a “dictatorship” and a “tyranny”.

On Tuesday morning, Chamorro had signed up to run in the opposition Citizens for Liberty party’s presidential primary.

Ortega – a left-wing revolutionary turned corrupt authoritarian ruler, according to his critics - will be seeking re-election for a third consecutive term at the end of the year.

This is not the first instance of the narrowing space for the country’s opposition. In May, Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council annulled the legal status of the Democratic Restoration Party, which was expected to build an opposition coalition against Ortega.