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Nicaragua Cracks Down On Press, Government Jails Opposition Leaders Ahead Of Election

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The crackdown on opponents of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega continues. Yesterday, a reporter was arrested and charged with aiding foreign intervention in the country. These are similar accusations that have led to the arrest of nearly 20 opposition figures, including former government officials and key business leaders. This crackdown, which began late last month, has virtually wiped out opposition to President Ortega, who's set to run for a fourth consecutive term in November. New York Times reporter Anatoly Kurmanaev was recently denied entry into Nicaragua to cover all of this. He covers Mexico and South America for The Times and joins us now from Mexico City.

Welcome.

ANATOLY KURMANAEV: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So I understand the airline actually canceled your ticket to Managua shortly before you were even boarding. What happened exactly?

KURMANAEV: Nicaraguan authorities didn't approve my entry into the country. I asked them if there was anything wrong. They said no, it's - you've been blacklisted and...

CHANG: Wow.

KURMANAEV: ...You're off a plane.

CHANG: And did they tell you the grounds for, quote, unquote, "blacklisting" you at that point?

KURMANAEV: I have tried contacting the vice president of the country, and I only received a one-sentence reply - thank you for your interest.

CHANG: Well, it's not just you who's gotten targeted. Journalists in Nicaragua have also been targeted as well. Yesterday, there was a raid on a prominent journalist's home, I understand. And another journalist was arrested yesterday as well. Do you have a sense of how widespread this targeting of journalists is?

KURMANAEV: This was always quite a restrictive environment for journalists to operate. And this latest wave of repression that we're seeing this month - it just went into the overdrive.

CHANG: And why? Why is this wave happening now in particular? What's behind this?

KURMANAEV: It's very hard to speculate. There has been some hopes that the government will use all the advantages it has as an incumbent to divide the oppositions and, you know, to use the advantage to basically win the election.

CHANG: I saw one of your tweets earlier where you write, every day, someone you spoke with is arrested. You start writing someone and realize they've just been charged. I mean, we're talking not just about journalists. We're talking about prominent opposition figures, some of them past allies of Ortega. What are they being charged with exactly?

KURMANAEV: In the last few months, the government has passed several laws, and two of them are being used to basically eliminate their opponents. One is the so-called sovereignty law, which allows to call anyone a traitor and jail them for that. And the other one is cybercrimes law, which allows the government to arrest any journalist and charge them with publishing, you know, false news. And of course, it's the government itself that decides what is false news. So these are two very broad laws that basically eliminate the last modicum of, you know, legal and civil rights in the country.

CHANG: Well, what options are available for the U.S. to address this? I mean, the U.S. has already sanctioned members high up in the Ortega government. What else can the U.S. and the rest of the international community do to respond to what's happening?

KURMANAEV: So far, sanctions have been focused on provisionals (ph), but the U.S. can still roll out economic sanctions against Nicaragua. Whether it wants to do it, of course, is another question because, of course, the Biden administration is very worried about rising flow of migrants from Central America. And we are beginning to see some interesting signs. So Argentina and Mexico, two left-wing governments in Latin America who have been quite cautious about criticizing Nicaragua up to now, had recalled their ambassadors recently, just in the last couple of days, for consultations as a response to the crackdown. This is something quite unprecedented because they - you know, these countries have voted against resumption (ph) recently, international resolution to condemn the government for repression. Even for the standards of Latin America, I think what's happening in Nicaragua is beginning to shock some governments.

CHANG: Anatoly Kurmanaev covers Mexico and South America for The New York Times.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

KURMANAEV: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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