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Science & Medicine

Nicaragua Is Moving To Arrest One Of Its Leading Writers In A Pre-election Crackdown

Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramirez in 2017 upon receiving the Cervantes Prize literary award. Prosecutors have ordered Ramirez' arrest along with other opponents of President Daniel Ortega.
Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramirez in 2017 upon receiving the Cervantes Prize literary award. Prosecutors have ordered Ramirez' arrest along with other opponents of President Daniel Ortega.

MEXICO CITY — Prosecutors in Nicaragua have ordered the arrest of award-winning author and former vice president Sergio Ramirez, charging him with inciting hatred and conspiring to destabilize the Central American country. The charges against Ramirez are just the latest in the crackdown on critics of Nicaragua's longtime president, Daniel Ortega.

Dozens of people — presidential hopefuls, journalists, union leaders and political opponents — have been jailed on similar charges, while others have fled the country to avoid arrest.

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega in 2019 on a visit to Venezuela. Ortega's regime has arrested dozens of perceived political opponents in the runup to this year's presidential election.
Ariana Cubillos / AP
Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega in 2019 on a visit to Venezuela. Ortega's regime has arrested dozens of perceived political opponents in the runup to this year's presidential election.

Ramirez, 79, is one of Nicaragua's most notable writers, winning in 2017 Spain's prestigious Cervantes Prize, the most notable literary award in the Spanish-speaking world. Currently, Ramirez is not in Nicaragua but responded defiantly to the charges on social media. In a video, Ramirez vowed to continue fighting against Ortega's "dictatorship," which he accused of being full of lies, fury and hate.

"Dictators...stripped of all their integrity, believe they are the rightful owners of dignity, of the people's conscience and liberty," he said. Ramirez added they are blinded by power and the power of repression at their hands.

This is not the first time Ramirez has publicly spoken out against his former ally, Ortega. The two men were close ideologically during Nicaragua's struggle against the U.S.-backed Somoza family dictatorship. Following the overthrow of Anastasio Somoza in 1979, Ramirez served as vice president in Ortega's first Sandinista Party government from 1985 to 1990.

As did many allies, Ramirez left the Sandinistas in the 1990s, citing Ortega's increasingly "authoritarian tendencies," and became an outspoken critic. Ortega was reelected as president in 2007 after a decade-and-a-half out of power, and has held office ever since. His Sandinista-controlled congress amended the constitution and abolished term limits allowing Ortega to seek reelection indefinitely.

With the next presidential election less than two months away, Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, who is also vice president, have escalated their crackdown on Nicaragua's small opposition parties. They've jailed 32 critics, including seven presidential candidates. Ortega and Murillo defend the arrests, saying they are protecting the population from "enemies of Nicaragua" who are on the payroll of the U.S.

Among those recently arrested is former Foreign Minister Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa, who was stopped by Nicaraguan authorities on July 27 as he attempted to travel into neighboring Costa Rica. According to the U.S. State Department, Aguirre-Sacasa, 76, is being held incommunicado at Managua's infamous El Chipote Prison, along with dozens of political prisoners.

Aguirre-Sacasa's son Roberto, who is the showrunner on the CW TV series Riverdale, posted on Instagram that his family is worried for his dad's safety.

The cast of Riverdale posted its own call for Aguirre-Sacasa's release on Instagram, with the hashtag #freefrancisco.

Camila Mendes, who plays Veronica Lodge on the popular series, urged fans to speak up about what is happening in Nicaragua. "We're imploring you to use your voices to put pressure on the global community and rectify this miscarriage of justice, not just for Francisco, but for any political leaders who put their lives on the line to make this world a better place," said Mendes in the video.

Writer Ramirez, in his social media video, said he won't give up the fight for freedom in Nicaragua. "The only arms I possess are words, and they'll never be able to silence me," he said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.