MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — A conservative coalition registered a former leader of the 1980s Contra rebels Monday as a presidential candidate to challenge the re-election bid by President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua’s Nov. 7 elections.
The Citizens for Liberty coalition registered Oscar Sobalvarro, a rancher and former commander in the U.S.-backed rebellion against Ortega’s government during the 1980s. That came despite calls from some opposition parties to boycott the race after Ortega arrested most of his potential opponents.
“The country has experienced too much harassment and repression, and Nicaraguans deserve to live in peace,” Sobalvarro said.
The conservative coalition nominated Berenice Quezada, who was crowned Miss Nicaragua in 2017, for vice president.
As expected, the Sandinista party nominated Ortega for re-election as president and his wife, Rosarillo Murillo, for re-election as vice president. In a unanimous show-of-hands vote among 2,932 party delegates at 28 regional meetings hooked up by video link, all the delegates raised their hands for Ortega and Murillo.
In his acceptance speech, Ortega was unrepentant in the face of widespread international criticism of the arrests of opposition figures.
“The dogs are barking, brother Nicaraguans, but they are barking because we are walking,” Ortega said. “Let no one be mistaken … savage capitalism will never be reinstated in our country.”
Monday was the deadline for registering candidates.
With at least seven opposition contenders jailed on vague treason charges, critics doubt the presence of long-shot candidates like Sobalvarro would do anything more than lend a thin veil of legitimacy to already discredited elections in which Ortega, 75, is seeking a fourth consecutive term.
Electoral authorities allied with Ortega previously barred two opposition parties from even running candidates.
The European Union on Monday placed sanctions on Murillo and seven other senior officials accused of serious human rights violations or undermining democracy. The first lady and dozens of other regime leaders already face U.S. sanctions.
EU headquarters said in a statement that its sanctions, which include asset freezes and bans on travel in Europe, “are targeted at individuals and are designed in this way not to harm the Nicaraguan population or the Nicaraguan economy.” The latest move brings the total number of Nicaraguan officials subject to EU sanctions to 14.
In the past two months, police in Nicaragua have arrested and detained about two dozen opposition figures. Most of those arrested in the crackdown are being held incommunicado, at undisclosed locations and with no access to lawyers.
Ortega alleges the country’s April 2018 street protests were part of an organized coup attempt with foreign backing.
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