Nicaragua arrests 2 business leaders in continuing crackdown
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaragua’s national police arrested two leaders of the country’s top private business association Thursday, just one day after a regional body called for the immediate release of political prisoners.
A police statement said Michael Healy Lacayo and Álvaro Vargas, president and vice president, respectively, of the Private Business Superior Council, face charges including money laundering, acts that diminish the country’s independence and inciting foreign interference among others.
The charges are similar to those lodged against more than three dozen people, including political and student leaders and seven potential challengers to President Daniel Ortega in the Nov. 7 election. Those arrests began in May and all remain in detention.
The latest arrests came after a resounding vote Wednesday by the Organization of American States Permanent Council that called for the release of political prisoners in Nicaragua and expressed serious concern about the upcoming elections. Ortega appeared to double down on his strategy of leaving no other influential power standing.
For years, the Private Business Superior Council maintained a political alliance with Ortega, but it broke with his government following a unilateral overhaul to the social security system that set off public protests in April 2018. The government violently put down the protests and the council backed demands by the protests’ student leaders.
Healy participated in the short-lived national dialogue after those protests. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which tallied at least 328 deaths in the crackdown, ordered protective measures for Healy in August 2018.
Ortega has maintained that the events of 2018 were an attempted coup with foreign backing. His administration has systemically pursued opposition leaders, accusing them of involvement. He has even lashed out at the Roman Catholic Church in Nicaragua.
Healy and Vargas had been called to appear at the Attorney General’s Office on Thursday morning for unspecified reasons.
Healy went to his interview with a police escort, but emerged 10 minutes later to say he was told it had been rescheduled. A short while later, he and his driver were arrested. Members of a local television crew were briefly detained when they tried to film Healy’s arrest, but they were later released.
Vargas was arrested at his home, the police statement said.
The business group said in a statement that police searched Healy’s home.
Ortega, who turns 76 next month, has been ruling without interruption since 2007, after first coming to power following the ouster of dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
The United States and European Union have said in recent weeks that conditions do not exist for free and fair elections on Nov. 7.