Nicaragua election: Ortega accused of threats and assaults

Image copyright AFP Image caption Managua mayor and Central American Integration System president Berta Soler said there was a ‘systematic mechanism of intimidation’ to oust others

Campaigners for the opposition in Nicaragua have accused the Ortega government of attacking and threatening them ahead of the presidential election next week.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said 11 journalists had been subjected to threats and violations during campaigning.

This follows an attack on a member of the National Civic Alliance (ACC), the main opposition group, which took place last week.

Nicaragua’s governing Sandinista party (SPS) has rejected the allegations.

Nicaragua’s final televised presidential debate featured a heated discussion of the allegations.

Many supporters of the SPS believe the President signed an agreement with leftist governments in Cuba and Venezuela allowing for cheaper fuel and other “humanitarian assistance” to prop up his party’s failing candidate.

Mr Ortega has been in power since 1979

The president of the IACHR, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, met one of the reporters who had alleged he had been assaulted.

Reporting by the BBC’s Enrique Andresons, who is in Managua, he said that despite the allegations, the commission could find no evidence of an agreement having been signed.

“If it were there, it would be presented to the IACHR and the commitment would have to be definitive.”

And the president of the Nicaraguan Federation of Journalists (FAJ) said the journalists had “suffered an attack [for being] part of a group that has the intention of causing harm to the government and its supporters in the electoral process”.

Police said they have opened an investigation into the claims of police brutality against a member of the ACC.

The police say the electoral commission had asked them to arrest and question Eusebio Esteban, one of the group’s vice-presidents, but he was released two hours later.

“To undermine democracy by using the police is a big threat against the possibility of having true elections,” said Jose Armando Balci, the executive director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Democracy.

President Ortega, who is seeking a fifth term in office, is trailing in the polls by some 10%, according to a recent poll by local broadcaster Television 20.

Mr Ortega, who was controversially re-elected in 2008, has tried to lure both centre-right voters and liberals disillusioned with the two centre-left parties he is allied with: the ALBA coalition and the National Liberal Party.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Journalists are being attacked in Nicaragua ahead of the presidential election

Mr Ortega is the founder of the Sandinista National Liberation Front and was elected to parliament five times.

Faced with economic stagnation and rising public debt, he launched an electoral reform campaign. Critics argue that because he has been the head of the state for the past three decades, he can legally remain in office.

Following last year’s general election he formed an alliance of four leftist leaders: the president of Venezuela, the president of Bolivia, the president of Nicaragua and his own vice-president.

Mr Ortega could win the presidential election on 7 May if he wins over 5%, the minimum required for a second round.

What is the Sandinista movement?

In its revolution in 1979 to overthrow dictator Anastasio Somoza, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) embraced a combination of left-wing ideas and social democratic policies.

In 1982, it opened its doors to foreign investors and promoted foreign direct investment.

A key part of the plan was to build up Nicaragua’s natural gas industry. The country is now the only one in Central America with piped gas supplies, supplying 80% of the region’s demand.

Mr Ortega has since become an uneasy ally of Venezuela’s socialists, whose policies of state-run food, housing and education have helped to improve Venezuela’s poor living standards.

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