MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- The U.S. State Department said Thursday that next month’s presidential elections in Nicaragua “have lost all credibility” because of President Daniel Ortega’s arrests of critics and seven potential challengers.
Starting in May, Ortega began arresting almost any public figure who disagreed with him, including people who fought alongside him in the country’s 1979 revolution. On Thursday, families of 155 political prisoners said in a statement that their loved ones have been subjected to “mistreatment and torture” in prison.
“We view the regime’s latest undemocratic and authoritative authoritarian actions, which have again been driven by a fear of an electoral loss, as the final blow against Nicaragua’s prospects for free and fair elections next month,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in Washington. "That electoral process has lost all credibility."
“It is now a foregone conclusion that Daniel Ortega will ensure that the elections in November are a sham and that he will proclaim himself victorious in the aftermath of those elections,” Price said.
The country's main opposition coalitions said last week that Ortega's moves have “ended any vestige of real electoral competition” in the Nov. 7 election in which he is seeking a fourth consecutive term.
Relatives of those imprisoned say they have only been allowed to visit their loved ones twice in four months, and that many have been subjected to humiliating searches when they seek to enter the jails.
They said the prisoners have been denied the right to see their lawyers, and have been interrogated without their lawyers present. Some have lost weight, and the prisoners are not given sufficient sheets or blankets, nor are relatives allowed to supply them.
Ortega opened his election campaign earlier this month almost unopposed, after he tossed most of his rivals in jail on treason charges. Moreover, about 140,000 Nicaraguans have had to flee their homeland since the government cracked down on widespread protests starting in 2018.
Ortega claims the antigovernment protests that erupted in April 2018 were an attempted coup with foreign backing. And he has feuded with Roman Catholic bishops who participated as mediators then in the short-lived first round of dialogue between the government and opposition, after which the government brutally put down the protests.
At least 325 people died during clashes in 2018 between civilians and government forces in Nicaragua, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.