Nicaragua police raid NGO and news outlet offices

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaraguan national police raided offices of a prominent nongovernmental organization and an independent news outlet Thursday — both linked to children of a former president — as the government of President Daniel Ortega continued to clamp down on critical voices in advance of November presidential elections.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that it was investigating Cristiana Chamorro, former director of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy and daughter of the former president.

The ministry said Chamorro and others connected to the foundation had been called in to explain alleged “inconsistencies” in financial reports filed with the government between 2015 and 2019, did not comply with their obligations and that an analysis turned up “clear indications of money laundering.”

Chamorro attended a meeting Thursday at the Interior Ministry, where she was notified of the investigation against her.

After the meeting, she accused Ortega of ordering that evidence be fabricated against her.

“This is a process to not only inhibit me, but to impede Nicaraguans from freely voting and having the sacred right that the law allows us next November 7,” Chamorro said. “This is part of the whole process that the dictatorship is setting up to impede that right.”

Also Thursday, police raided the Managua offices of the news outlet Confidencial, run by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Cristiana Chamorro’s brother and son of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. In December 2018, police also raided and seized the independent outlet’s offices. The government confiscated the property and turned it over to the Health Ministry.

Ortega alleged at the time that the news outlet and other nongovernmental organizations that were also raided were part of a failed coup attempt in 2018. Street protests of a change to social security in April 2018 set off months of protests that were violently put down by the government.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro was not present Thursday, but denounced the raid and called for authorities to respect the safety of his colleagues. After the raid on his old offices in 2018, Chamorro spent a year in exile in Costa Rica before returning to Nicaragua in January 2020.

He said that a cameraman who was in the offices at the time of Thursday’s raid had been detained and was being held by police. The government “has again raided and confiscated our media, but they are not going to silence us, we will continue doing journalism.”

Anti-riot police blocked access to the site. Police briefly detained a photographer from the French news agency AFP, who was covering the raid.

Cristiana Chamorro has not ruled out the possibility of running for president in the November elections. In January, she stepped down from her role at the foundation. A month later, it closed its operations in Nicaragua after passage of a “foreign agents” law that aimed to track foreign funding of organizations operating in the country.

Ortega is seeking his fourth consecutive presidential term in November. Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council and congress have been narrowing the space for maneuver for the country’s opposition. On Tuesday, the council cancelled the legal status of the Democratic Restoration Party, which was expected to potentially be a vehicle for an opposition coalition bid against Ortega.

Violeta Barrios de Chamorro beat Ortega to win the presidency in 1990 and served until 1997. Her husband Pedro Joaquin Chamorro ran La Prensa, his family newspaper, and was jailed and forced into exile multiple times before his assassination in 1978.

His killing galvanized opposition forces against dictator Anastasio Somoza and propelled the Sandinista revolution led by Ortega that resulted in his ouster.