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Wives Of Opposition Leaders In Nicaragua Seek Help Internationally

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

* The government of President Daniel Ortega has been arresting opponents and activists who challenge his decades-long rule of Nicaragua. Many of those arrested are disappearing into prisons. As NPR's Jackie Northam reports, the wives of two were in Washington, D.C., this week to appeal to the U.S. for help.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: On the evening of June 8, Nicaraguan presidential candidate Juan Sebastian Chamorro was at home in the capital, Managua, with his wife, Victoria Cardenas, when suddenly, dozens of armed police stormed the front gate and entered the house.

VICTORIA CARDENAS: And he was on his knees with his hands up saying, I'm here. Please don't do anything to my wife. I'm not getting away. They came in and took him quickly. That was the last time I saw him.

NORTHAM: In another part of the city, Felix Maradiaga was summoned to a meeting at the public prosecutor's office. His wife, Berta Valle, says as he was driving away, police stopped his car.

BERTA VALLE: They beat him. And since then, we don't know anything about him. We don't know where he is, how he is. Not even his family or the lawyer in Nicaragua have been able to access him and talk to him.

NORTHAM: Chamorro and Maradiaga are just two of six presidential candidates that have been rounded up by the Nicaraguan authorities. Cardenas says their husbands have been disappeared because they were a threat to President Daniel Ortega.

CARDENAS: The regime saw that the opposition was coming together as a bloc to run against him in the upcoming elections, so he disappeared six of the most strongest candidates for them not to proceed with what they wanted.

NORTHAM: But journalists, activists, student leaders and former government officials are also being arrested in an effort to crush any opposition to Ortega's rule. Berta Valle again.

VALLE: Everybody in Nicaragua, they have this terror of, you know, realizing that if you are against the government, the regime, you can go to jail.

NORTHAM: Valle and Cardenas have been in Washington this week to meet with senior administration officials. Jared Genser, a human rights lawyer representing the two families, says they're appealing to the United Nations, the Organization of American States, even the Vatican, for help.

JARED GENSER: I think there has to be an all-hands-on-deck moment here where the international community comes together collectively to take a series of measures that will send a very strong signal to Ortega that this won't be tolerated.

NORTHAM: The U.S. has already taken steps against the Ortega regime. Shortly after Chamorro and Maradiaga were arrested, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Ortega's daughter and several other members of the president's inner circle. The Biden administration said the move was intended to force the Ortega regime to return to democratic procedures. But Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, says the sanctions won't have much impact on Ortega.

CYNTHIA ARNSON: Daniel Ortega, as a member of the Sandinista Directorate in the 1980s, stood up to the U.S. Contra war, stood up to a military effort to overthrow his government. And my sense is that he is unwilling to bend in any way to economic pressure. That kind of pressure just stiffens his back.

NORTHAM: Making it likely the Ortega regime will continue to act with impunity against any opposition.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF FELBM'S "BIRKELUNDEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.