It has been fourteen days since Georgiana Aguirre-Sacasa last heard from her elderly father: a tight WhatsApp message in which Nicaragua’s former foreign minister said border guards had stopped him from leaving the country and seized his passport and that he was on his way home .
“What????” she replied from her home in Denver, Colorado. “Why????” No answer came.
At the time, Aguirre-Sacasa believes Nicaraguan police on motorcycles had intercepted her father’s vehicle on the highway when he returned to the capital, Managua. After searching it, they placed the 76-year-old retired diplomat in a pickup truck and led him away to an unknown destination.
“We’re in this nightmare,” his daughter said this week as she desperately sought news about her father. “Right now I just need proof of life.”
Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa is the oldest target for a brutal political attack led by the government of Daniel Ortega ahead of the Central American country’s next presidential election on November 7. Police have arrested at least 32 people since late May, including key opposition figures who challenged the revolutionary all-around autocrat as he seeks a fourth term in a row.
“This guy is doing something that no one thought was possible in the 21st century. He systematically removes every single one of the politicians who could potentially challenge him from the political scene, “said José Miguel Vivanco, Director of Human Rights Watch in the Americas.
Some of the targets are prominent rivals of the Septuagan Sandinista, including the 44-year-old political activist Felix maradiaga and Cristiana Chamorro, the 67-year-old daughter of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. Chamorro, who is under house arrest after being detained on June 2, was widely seen as the candidate best suited to defeat Ortega, who successfully strangled a dramatic 2018 uprising against his rule.
Others, however, appear to have had some direct involvement in the November vote.
Aguirre-Sacasa described his father, who, like many of the detainees, is facing an investigation into alleged national security crimes, as a political expert and nerd who wrote columns for La Prensa, an opposition newspaper in the middle of an ongoing media barrage by the Ortega government. “He’s a geek with choices,” she said.
But according to his daughter, Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa had no political hopes and at the time of his detention was on his way to the United States, where he served as Nicaragua’s ambassador in the late 1990s, to see family and have hip replacement surgery.
After leaving his home in Managua on the morning of July 27, the retired World Bank official headed south toward the Costa Rica border. From there, he and his 74-year-old wife had planned to take a Delta Air Lines flight to Washington DC. But Nicaraguan immigration officials refused to allow him through the Peñas Blancas border crossing, forcing the couple to return home. About 45 minutes into their journey, they were captured near the town of Ochomogo, and Aguirre-Sacasa was detained.
“My father was taken… for no good reason. He is 76 years old, “said his daughter, 45, a political consultant and U.S. citizen. “We want him back – and we want all the other political prisoners released immediately.”
For now, it looks unlikely, with Ortega apparently doubling its roundup despite growing international censorship, including from one-time allies such as Brazil’s former left-wing president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In a recent interview Lula, who first visited Nicaragua in 1980 – a year later the Sandinista Revolution forced right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza from power – warned of the dangers of leaders considering themselves indispensable and irreplaceable. “Do not give up democracy,” urged Lula Ortega.
In early June, following the arrest of Cristiana Chamorro, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Ortega’s “attack on democracy” on Twitter. Last week, after the EU announced new sanctions targeted Nicaragua’s Vice President and First Lady, Rosario Murillo and other top officials, Blinken tweeted that “the decision to ban all democratic competition from the 2021 presidential election means that Nicaragua’s election cannot be considered credible by Nicaraguan or the international community”.
“What Ortega deserved was a really strong and bold reaction from [US] administration. What he got was a tweet, “said Vivanco of Human Rights Watch. “A good tweet, a good tweet – but a tweet at the end of the day.”
With no sign of getting easier, many dissenting voices choose exile over prison. Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a prominent journalist who is the brother of Cristiana Chamorro, said he had fled across the border into Costa Rica for fear of being arrested himself.
“Staying in Nicaragua was too great a risk,” the editor said Tuesday after the crash claimed its most recent scalp: Nicaragua’s former ambassador to Costa Rica, Maurício Díaz.
“Had I been there, I would have been arrested and silenced,” said Chamorro, whose brother, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro and cousin, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, have also been detained.
Like Georgiana Aguirre-Sacasa, Chamorro said he was unsure where his two relatives were being held, even though he suspected they were in Managua’s infamous El Chipote prison, where Ortega was once imprisoned by the Somoza dictatorship, he helped overthrow.
Vivanco said he believed the United States had been monitored by the intensity of Ortega’s anti-democratic offensive. “This is really, really unprecedented. It’s something we have not seen in the last 20 or 30 years … and the worst thing is that it seems that Ortega manages to get away with it, “said Vivanco, calling on the accusers against being beaten down. the goals of the crash “unfounded nonsense”.
Aguirre-Sacasa spoke from her home in the United States, saying she felt “sick to her stomach” over the situation in Nicaragua and was determined to speak on behalf of a man “guilty of nothing but loving Nicaragua, his country, his children and his grandchildren ”.
“If that’s why he’s in jail, then we should all go to jail for it, because we love our country and we love our family and we love the democratic process,” she said.
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