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Nicaragua’s presidential couple in an insatiable quest for power, experts say

#Nicaraguas #presidential #couple #insatiable #quest #power #experts

First they’ve jailed their opponents, now they’ve targeted the Catholic Church: Nicaragua’s first married couple – President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo – want absolute control over citizens’ lives, experts say.

The former guerrilla fighter and his partner have steadily increased their grip on power since returning to the helm of the nation in 2007, particularly through constitutional reforms that removed presidential term limits.

This style of government “concentrates discretionary decisions in the hands of the presidential couple,” exiled sociologist Elvira Cuadra told AFP.

The transition to authoritarianism effectively allows Ortega to govern for life, she said.

“What we have is building a cult of personality,” said Eliseo Nunez, an analyst and former lawmaker who also lives in exile.

The situation in Nicaragua has deteriorated significantly since the brutal crackdown on anti-government protests in 2018 that killed more than 350 people.

In the last year alone, the government arrested 46 opposition figures and critics while the courts sentenced them to up to 13 years in prison.

Among those arrested were seven presidential candidates who were unable to run in last November’s election, when Ortega won for a fourth consecutive year.

However, not only members of the opposition and critics are marginalized or persecuted. Ortega’s party of the Sandinista National Liberation Front is purged of dissenting voices from within.

And now the Catholic Church has become the last bastion of resistance and rebellion against the government, angering the presidential couple.

In her daily speeches, Murillo has called the bishops’ criticism a crime and a “sin against spirituality.”

Rolando Alvarez, the bishop of the northeastern city of Matagalpa, has now been confined at his residence in Managua for more than a week after the government accused him and the Catholic Church of inciting violence to destabilize the country.

“What happened is that the government always wanted a silent church, they don’t want us to speak or to denounce injustice,” Alvarez said.

MP Wilfredo Navarro told Sandinista Canal 4 TV that Alvarez and other priests were “false prophets” and accused them of engaging in politics.

Ortega and Murillo “have their own ideas, they lock down the country, shut down critical voices,” Cuadra said.

– Opposition persecution –

Authorities have also forced the nearly century-old newspaper La Prensa, a staunch critic of the government, to cease printing and remain fully online.

Its journalists have fled the country.

The Catholic Church TV station and other Christian media outlets were also shut down.

The legislature, dominated by Ortega allies, has stripped legal status of more than 1,000 civil society organizations and foundations that defend human rights, vulnerable children and freedom of expression, as well as private universities and cultural institutions.

Authorities used a law passed in 2020 to outlaw many non-state groups for failing to register as foreign agents and blocking government attempts to investigate and control them.

In July, members of a religious order founded by Mother Teresa fled to Costa Rica on foot after the government said they were not eligible for social assistance.

Ortega, 76, was part of a government junta after the fall of the Somoza family dictatorship from 1979 to 1985 before becoming president until 1990 when he was defeated in elections.

He returned to power in 2007 but has since been accused by the opposition of corruption and nepotism – in the last two election campaigns he has named Murillo as his running mate.

Cuadra said a sign of weakness is that the president and vice president have “only support from the police forces.”

She added that the president is hampered by a lack of legitimacy, with last November’s election widely branded as a farce.

But he still manages to bring in some foreign capital that “gives him oxygen” so he can “prolong this situation a bit longer,” she said.

Ortega denies the allegations and claims his critics are plotting a coup with Washington’s help.

On Friday, the Organization of American States said the “environment of repression has deteriorated.”

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