Like mother like daughter: Nicaragua's Chamorro a threat to Ortega

·3-min read
Cristiana Chamorro is the daughter of a former president and a journalist assassinated for his criticism of a dictatorship

Like her mother before her, Nicaraguan opposition figure Cristiana Chamorro -- placed under house arrest Wednesday on government claims of money-laundering -- has proved to be a thorn in the side of President Daniel Ortega.

A recent poll showed her to be the favorite to beat Ortega in a November presidential election, just as her mother Violeta Barrios de Chamorro did in 1990.

The memory of this defeat, her brother-in-law Edmundo Jarquin told AFP, is what "makes him (Ortega) persecute her now. It is like a ghost for him."

Chamorro, a 67-year-old journalist not aligned to any party, comes from a politicized family.

Her mother beat Ortega to become the first elected female head of state in the Americas, and her father Pedro, a journalist and fierce opponent of the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship of the 1960s and 70s, was assassinated in a Managua street in 1978.

Chamorro's brother Carlos is an investigative journalist critical of Ortega.

She bears a striking resemblance to her mother, who guided the country through a period of reconciliation after a convulsive civil war.

Like her mother, she wears almost exclusively white, and cuts an elegant figure.

"Like parent like daughter. That is the first thing that comes to mind for any Nicaraguan because of Cristiana's inheritance of struggle from her parents," said Jarquin, himself a former presidential candidate.

- 'Ideological falsehood' -

Chamorro borrows the phrase "Nicaragua will again be a Republic" coined by her father.

She has described Ortega's government as "a dictatorship capable of anything."

On Tuesday, prosecutors accused Chamorro of an array of crimes, and asked for her to be barred from public duties given that she is facing criminal proceedings.

A Managua court the following day ordered her detention on accusations of "abusive management, ideological falsehood" and "the laundering of money, property and assets, to the detriment of the Nicaraguan State and society."

The accusations arise from Chamorro's role as the head of a foundation for press freedom, with prosecutors claiming accounting "inconsistencies."

Chamorro quit the foundation in February, refusing to comply with a new law obliging any person receiving money from abroad to declare themselves to the government as a "foreign agent."

The prosecution opened an investigation against her on May 20 at the request of the government, which views journalists as agitators of protest against 75-year-old Ortega's government.

- 'A monstrous family' -

In an interview with AFP just days before her arrest, which sparked international condemnation, Chamorro said Ortega had "set up this whole farce of investigation for money laundering" to prevent her contesting the election.

A pending judicial process would disqualify her under Nicaraguan law.

Ortega's government accuses Chamorro of being an instrument of US "imperialism".

"Ortega and his wife (who is vice president) have become a monstrous family dictatorship," Chamorro told AFP.

"They do not have the right to be candidates because the Constitution allows only one reelection, but Ortega committed electoral fraud and cheating to achieve an absolute majority," she charged.

Chamorro announced her intention in January to stand as an independent candidate of the opposition against Ortega, who is widely expected to seek a fourth term, though he has not announced it.

Ortega, an ex-guerrilla who governed from 1979 to 1990, returned to power in 2007 and won two successive reelections.

He has since 2018 faced a political crisis triggered by massive protests against his government's policies.

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