- BBC News World
For many Nicaraguans, Cristiana Chamorro, the influential journalist who announced that she would run as an opposition candidate for the November presidential elections and that this Wednesday she was placed under house arrest, represents a link to her country’s past.
She is the daughter of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the woman who won the first government of Daniel Ortega at the polls in 1990.
“The first thing any Nicaraguan would tell you about her is that, that she is Violeta’s daughter,” Ana Margarita Vijil, a political analyst and former academic at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua, tells BBC Mundo.
“Symbolically, Cristiana, who was closely linked to her mother’s government, also means for the current government the living memory of that defeat,” he adds.
In just a few months, Chamorro Barrios went from not doing (openly) politics to becoming the most visible face of the opposition in Nicaragua.
And in recent days, she has also become the main focus of tensions between the government and the opposition in the Central American nation, after she confirmed her aspiration to run as a candidate for the November 7 elections.
On Tuesday, shortly after registering to participate in the internal process of the Citizens for Freedom party, which will then choose a single opposition candidate, the Nicaraguan Prosecutor’s Office opened a process against him for “crimes of abusive management, ideological falsehood in real competition with the crime of money, property and asset laundering “.
He also requested his political disqualification “for not being in full enjoyment of his civil and political rights, for being in an investigative criminal process.” This was decreed by a Managua court.
This Wednesday, shortly before starting a press conference that he had called to condemn his own disqualification, the home of Chamorro Barrios was raided by the police and the opponent was placed under house arrest.
Both Chamorro and his family have denied the charges and say it is a political maneuver to prevent him from running for president.
But who is this renowned journalist and how did she end up as the new face of the opposition to Ortega?
Born in 1954 in Managua, Cristiana Chamorro Barrios is also the daughter of one of the most renowned journalists in the country, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, director of the daily La Prensa, who was assassinated in 1978, in the last months of the Anastasio Somoza regime.
His family has been for centuries not only one of the richest, but also one of the most powerful in the country: five of his ancestors, including his mother, were presidents of Nicaragua.
Although he studied History and Philosophy and did a master’s degree in Latin American History and Literature, family ties between journalism and politics marked his career.
In 1979, she started as a reporter for La Prensa, the newspaper her mother had run since her husband’s murder.
At age 35, Chamorro Barrios became editor of the publication and shortly after, was one of the architects of the campaign that brought her mother to the presidency.
With Violeta Barrios at the head of Nicaragua, the daughter took care of national and international communication and public relations tasks for the Executive, while remaining at the head of the traditionally opposition newspaper (which from then on became the “spokesperson” for the new government. ).
Chamorro Barrios married the politician Antonio Lacayo, who was Minister of the Presidency during his mother’s government and who died in a helicopter accident in 2015.
“Later, she created the Violeta Barrios Foundation, in honor of her mother, who is now at the center of this problem,” recalls Vijil.
“It is an organization that has helped train the media and that became very relevant after the protests that took place three years ago began,” he adds.
In 2018, Nicaragua experienced a wave of demonstrations calling for Ortega to leave power and which, according to human rights organizations, were harshly repressed and caused some 328 deaths, hundreds of political prisoners and the exile of more than 100,000 people.
Vijil recalls that in those years, the government closed many media outlets and that then, the Foundation became a learning platform for the hundreds of journalists who had to redirect their work.
“The Foundation was very important to support independent media to readjust after being taken off the air and having to migrate to digital media,” he says.
However, at the beginning of this year, Chamorro Barrios announced that it would close it after refusing to register it in the registry associated with a law approved by the Legislative Assembly that forced organizations that received money from international cooperation to register as “foreign agents.”
“The Foundation tendered and administered funds for the teaching of USAID journalism, that is not a secret,” recalls Vijil.
“But the government considered that these organizations that received money from abroad came to oxygenate the opposition, so this law is approved, which basically seeks to stop this inflow of money. That is when she decides to close the Foundation,” recalls the academic.
However, local media recall that her work in front of the Foundation and its subsequent closure did not put her in the sights of the authorities.
“Until then, she had not been actively involved in politics. The big change came when she announced that she would run as a candidate for the November elections,” recalls Vijil.
After the announcement, even before joining any party, Chamorro Barrios was at the forefront of opinion polls and independent media in Nicaragua began to talk about the possibility that he could repeat his mother’s victory over Ortega.
“In Nicaragua, the opposition parties are very weakened. It is an opposition where the preference of the voter is more based on personal candidacies. So, a lot of expectation and a lot of illusion had been generated around Cristiana because it was seen as a candidacy that returned to all in the same boat, “says Vijil.
The Public Ministry, for its part, alleged that the process against Chamorro is linked to his work with the Foundation, which, he said, “seriously breached its obligations before the Regulatory Body.”
He also claimed to have obtained “clear evidence of money laundering” after reviewing financial documents between 2015-2019.
The process against Chamorro Barrios generated reactions in various governments and regional organizations.
The US Secretary of States, Anthony Blinken, considered that preventing the journalist’s candidacy “reflects Ortega’s fear of free and fair elections” while the OAS considered it an “attack on democracy.”
The arrest of Cristiana Chamorro and the charges against her are seen by activists and opponents only as the latest case of other maneuvers that the Nicaraguan government has carried out with a view to the elections.
More than a dozen journalists have denounced having been summoned to testify at the Nicaraguan Prosecutor’s Office in the case of alleged money laundering of Chamorro Barrios.
On May 20, the authorities also raided the headquarters of the newspaper El Confidencial and the television programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche, directed by journalist Carlos F. Chamorro, Cristiana Chamorro’s brother, who was recently awarded the Prize. Ortega y Gasset.
Other opposition candidates have also previously denounced that the government created cases against them to prevent them from participating in the November elections.
Several human rights organizations have denounced that the situation in Nicaragua has worsened in recent times as a result of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the economic crisis and what they describe as “repression” by the forces of order.
According to a report by the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners of Nicaragua, in the country’s prisons there are still more than a hundred detainees for political reasons.
The Ortega government denies that there are political prisoners in the country and assures that the opponents are “rebellious” who seek to create disturbances in the country.
In a recent report on Nicaragua, the Crisis Group, a think tank progressive, warned about the potential consequences that the November elections could have.
“An unjust result could unleash riots and violent repression. The international community must promote reforms and dialogue with the opposition, while avoiding counterproductive sanctions,” he said.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.