Nicaragua on Thursday arrested the top two leaders of the country’s business owners’ union, police said, bringing the number of government opponents detained ahead of next month’s election to 39.
Superior Council of Private Enterprise president Michael Healy and vice president Alvaro Vargas are being “investigated for the crime of money and asset laundering,” police said in a statement.
Since early June Nicaragua’s authorities have arrested a host of opposition figures, including seven aspiring presidential hopefuls, as well as journalists and business, social and political leaders.
The detainees face charges of trying to overthrow President Daniel Ortega, treason and threatening Nicaragua’s sovereignty by, among other things, “applauding” sanctions and “inciting foreign interference.”
Healy and Vargas are being investigated “for carrying out acts that threaten independence, sovereignty and self-determination, inciting foreign interference in internal affairs, requesting military interventions (and) planning terrorist acts with financing from foreign powers,” the police said.
Healy’s predecessor, Jose Aguerri, was arrested in July for conspiracy to undermine sovereignty.
Critics say the wave of arrests is designed to remove any realistic competition from standing against Ortega, 75, in the November 7 election.
Detainees have been held under a controversial law approved last December that has been widely denounced as a means of freezing out challengers and silencing opponents.
Family members of those held say the detainees are suffering isolation, daily interrogations, threats and hunger.
On Tuesday, the influential National Coalition of political and social groups called for an election boycott.
The Washington-based Organization of American States on Wednesday demanded the “immediate release” of all opposition figures in Nicaragua.
Ortega, a former left-wing guerrilla leader, has been in power since 2007 and is seeking a fourth consecutive term.
In 2014, during his second term, the National Assembly, dominated by his Sandinista National Liberation Front party, approved a constitutional amendment to remove term limits, paving the way for Ortega to remain indefinitely in power.