Nicaragua: Ortega crackdown deepens as 94 opponents stripped of citizenship

Some of country’s most celebrated writers and journalists targeted as critics condemn ‘totalitarian drift’ under 77-year-old president

Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian regime has intensified its political crackdown, stripping 94 Nicaraguans of their citizenship, including some of the Central American country’s most celebrated writers and journalists, among them the Guardian contributor Wilfredo Miranda.

The move was announced by a Nicaraguan judge on Wednesday and sparked renewed condemnation of Ortega’s Sandinista government, which has been waging a dogged offensive against perceived rivals since June 2021.

Last week 222 political prisoners, including some of Nicaragua’s leading opposition activists, were deported from Nicaragua and flown to the US – a move widely interpreted as a sign of Ortega’s determination to remain in power after 16 years as president.

Nicaragua’s government called the deportees, who were also stripped of their citizenship, “traitors to the motherland”.

Those deprived of citizenship on Wednesday included the internationally acclaimed novelist Sergio Ramírez, the poet and writer Gioconda Belli, the investigative journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the auxiliary bishop of Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, Silvio Báez, and Miranda, an award-winning reporter who writes for the Spanish newspaper El País and the Guardian.

El País’s Americas director, Jan Martínez Ahrens, called the decision an act of “vileness” that exposed Nicaragua’s “totalitarian drift” under Ortega, a 77-year-old former revolutionary icon who helped overthrow the Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s.

Belli, who lives in exile in Spain, responded to having her citizenship removed by publishing one of her poems on Twitter.

“And I love you homeland of my dreams and my sorrows and I will secretly take you to wash off your stains, to whisper you hope and promise you cures and charms that will save you,” she wrote.

Chamorro, 67, who will give this year’s Reuters Memorial Lecture in Oxford early next month, said Ortega and his vice-president and wife, Rosario Murillo, had shown “enormous political weakness” with their actions. “In Nicaragua, everyone knows the only... traitors are Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. They have demolished democracy,” Chamorro wrote.

Brian Nichols, the US state department’s assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs, condemned the move, tweeting: “This deplorable act represents a step further away from the democracy the people of Nicaragua deserve.”

Speaking to the Washington Post last week, Human Rights Watch’s acting deputy director for the Americas offered a bleak prognosis for Nicaragua’s political future under Ortega.

“The country is on the verge of becoming the western hemisphere’s equivalent of North Korea,” said Juan Pappier.