Nicaragua’s elections: Neither free nor fair

Nicaragua’s government has thwarted democracy for its people with a sham presidential election and the imprisonment of journalists and opposition leaders.

“What Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, orchestrated today was a pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic,” said President Biden November 7.

Woman wearing mask while waving hat surrounded by people waving flags (© Mayela Lopez/Reuters)
On November 7 in San José, Costa Rica, Nicaraguans exiled in Costa Rica protest the Nicaragua presidential election. (© Mayela Lopez/Reuters)

In the months leading up to Nicaragua’s presidential elections, Ortega and Murillo:

  • Jailed nearly 40 opposition figures, including seven potential presidential candidates.
  • Blocked political parties from participating.
  • Shuttered at least 20 independent media outlets.
  • Locked up journalists and members of the private sector.
  • Bullied civil society organizations into closing.

“Nicaraguan President Ortega and Vice President Murillo have declared themselves the winners of national elections whose outcome has long been a foregone conclusion,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a November 8 statement. “This repression and electoral manipulation, widely decried by Nicaraguans and the international community, stripped the November 7 vote of any real significance.”

Poor economic prospects and repression have driven migrants from the region in record numbers. From October 2020 to 2021, 50,722 Nicaraguans fled to the U.S.-Mexico border, surpassing the 2019 record, when authorities stopped Nicaraguans more than 13,300 times, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Young man sitting on stairs while child looks out of door behind him (© Eric Risberg/AP Images)
Alan Reyes Picado poses outside his home as his niece looks on from behind July 9 in San Francisco. Reyes arrived in the United States in February after receiving death threats in Nicaragua and is asking for asylum. (© Eric Risberg/AP Images)

Alan Reyes Picado spoke to Voice of America (VOA) about leaving Nicaragua by bus in the middle of the night after Ortega’s officials harassed him, jailed him and left him half naked in a dumpster.

Reyes Picado’s crime? His family refused to give government officials their trucks to move the government’s supporters. “They would threaten us because we did not want to join them,” he told VOA. “They told us they would kill us, they would kidnap us.”

“The United States joins other democracies in the region and across the world in condemning this subversion of democratic norms,” Blinken said. “We stand with the Nicaraguan people and support those seeking to restore democracy.”