Former foreign minister arrested in brazen crackdown on Nicaragua | Nicaragua


It has been a fortnight since Georgiana Aguirre-Sacasa last heard from her elderly father: A concise WhatsApp message in which Nicaragua’s former foreign minister said that border officials prevented him from leaving the country and confiscated his passport and he was on the Way home.

“What ????” she replied from her home in Denver, Colorado. “Why????” There was no answer.

Aguirre-Sacasa believes Nicaraguan police officers on motorcycles intercepted her father’s vehicle on the highway when he was returning to the capital, Managua. After searching it, they put the retired 76-year-old diplomat in a pick-up truck and abducted him to an unknown destination.

“We’re in this nightmare,” his daughter said this week as she desperately searched for news from her father. “Right now I just need a proof of life.”

Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa is the oldest target of a brazen political crackdown on the government of Daniel Ortega ahead of the Central American country’s next presidential election on November 7th. Police have arrested at least 32 people since late May, including key opposition figures, who challenged the revolutionary hero who had become an autocrat as he sought a fourth consecutive term.

“This guy does something that nobody would have thought possible in the 21st century. He is systematically removing from the political stage any politician who might challenge him, ”said José Miguel Vivanco, America director of Human Rights Watch.

Some of the targets are prominent rivals of seventy-year-old Sandinista, including 44-year-old political activist Félix Maradiaga and Cristiana Chamorro, the 67-year-old daughter of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. Chamorro, who is under house arrest following his June 2 imprisonment, has been widely viewed as the best fit candidate to defeat Ortega, who successfully stifled a dramatic uprising against his rule in 2018.

Others, however, hardly seem to have been directly involved in the November vote.

Aguirre-Sacasa described her father, who, like many of those arrested, is being investigated for alleged national security crimes, as a political expert and nerd who wrote columns for La Prensa, an opposition newspaper at the center of an ongoing media crackdown by Ortega’s government. “He’s an underdog in elections,” she said.

Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa with his daughter and grandchildren. The former foreign minister has not been heard by border guards two weeks ago since he was arrested. Photo: Photo courtesy of Georgiana Aguirre-Sacasa Photo courtesy of / Handout

But, according to his daughter, Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa had no political ambitions and, at the time of his imprisonment, was traveling to the United States, where he was serving as Nicaragua’s Ambassador in the late 1990s, to see his family and undergo hip surgery.

After leaving his home in Managua on the morning of July 27, the retired World Bank official drove south on the road to the Costa Rica border. From there, he and his 74-year-old wife had planned a Delta Air Lines flight to Washington DC. But Nicaraguan immigration authorities refused to let him through the Peñas Blancas border crossing and forced the couple to return home. After about 45 minutes of driving, they were intercepted near the town of Ochomogo and Aguirre-Sacasa was arrested.

“My father was kidnapped … for no good reason. He is 76 years old, ”said his 45-year-old daughter, political advisor and US citizen. “We want him back – and we want all other political prisoners to be released immediately.”

That seems unlikely for the time being, as Ortega appears to be doubling his raid despite growing international criticism, including from former allies such as Brazil’s left-wing ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In a recent interview, Lula, who first visited Nicaragua in 1980 – a year after the Sandinista revolution ousted right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza – warned of the dangers of leaders who consider themselves indispensable and irreplaceable. “Don’t give up democracy,” said Lula Ortega.

In early June, after Cristiana Chamorro was arrested, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Ortega’s “attack on democracy” on Twitter. After the EU announced new sanctions against Nicaragua’s Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo and other senior officials last week, tweeted that the “decision to ban all democratic competition in the 2021 presidential election means that the election in Nicaragua cannot be seen as credible by Nicaraguans or the international community”.

“What Ortega deserved was a really strong and courageous response from the [US] Management. What he got was a tweet, ”said Vivanco of Human Rights Watch. “A good tweet, a nice tweet – but a tweet at the end of the day.”

With no sign of easing the crackdown, many dissenting voices opt for exile over prison. Carlos Chamorro, a prominent journalist who is Cristiana Chamorro’s brother, said he fled across the border into Costa Rica for fear of being arrested himself.

“Staying in Nicaragua was too big a risk,” the editor said Tuesday after the raid called for their latest scalp: Nicaragua’s former ambassador to Costa Rica, Maurício Diaz.

“If I had been there, I would have been arrested and silenced,” said Chamorro, whose brother Pedro Joaquín Chamorro and his cousin Juan Sebastián Chamorro are also imprisoned.

Like Georgiana Aguirre-Sacasa, Chamorro said he was unsure where his two relatives were being held, although he suspected they were in Managua’s infamous El Chipote prison, where Ortega was once imprisoned by the Somoza dictatorship that he held helped to fall.

Vivanco said he believed the US was taken by surprise by the intensity of Ortega’s anti-democratic offensive. “This is really, really unprecedented. It’s something we haven’t seen in the last 20 or 30 years … and worst of all, it looks like Ortega can get away with it, ”Vivanco said, calling the charges against the raid’s targets“ baseless nonsense ”. “.

From her home in the United States, Aguirre-Sacasa said she was “sick in the stomach” about the situation in Nicaragua and that she was determined to speak out on behalf of a man “who owed nothing except Nicaragua to love his country “. , his children and his grandchildren. ”

“If that’s a reason for him to be in jail, then we should all be in jail for it because we love our country and our families and we love the democratic process,” she said.

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