She says she feels angry and desperate, but the way she speaks and what she says make it clear that she refuses to be afraid. Berta Valle is the wife of Félix Maradiaga Blandón, one of at least seven opposition leaders who have been detained in Nicaragua so far this month.
Valle says she still doesn’t know “about his condition with certainty” and that the government hasn’t allowed any contact with her husband. Maradiaga’s attorneys haven’t been able to see him or talk to him either, she says. CNN has learned that the activist is in a holding cell at police facility in south Managua.
“These actions by the regime to capture and detain opposition leaders also have the purpose of creating a chilling effect for the citizenry. The common citizen has to wonder if that’s how they treat Maradiaga, Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz and others, how much more can they do against the average citizen that doesn’t have as big an exposure,” Valle told CNN en Español’s Fernando del Rincón.
Four leading opposition figures, Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro García, José Adan Aguerri and Violeta Granera were arrested on June 8. Cristiana Chamorro, another opposition politician, was placed under house arrest on June 2, and Arturo Cruz two days later.
Maradiaga, leader of Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanco, a coalition of opposition groups to Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega’s regime, was detained by police Tuesday as he was on his way home after attending a hearing at the Nicaraguan Attorney General’s Office in Managua, the capital, according to a statement by Maradiaga’s office. “They [Maradiaga and his attorney] were dragged out of their vehicle. Félix was beaten and was taken away,” Valle said. “We haven’t seen him.”
In a statement, the Nicaraguan government said that Maradiaga “is being investigated for getting involved in illicit activities through the Liberty Foundation or Foundation for Liberty and for being a threat to the Nicaraguan society and the people’s rights.” The statement also says that he will be detained for 90 days while the investigation continues.
Chamorro, Cruz, Maradiaga and Chamorro García had all announced their intention to run against Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega in the upcoming election.
Ortega, a leftist, former revolutionary whose Sandinista rebels overthrew Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle in the 1970s, is seeking to win a fourth consecutive term on November 7. The 75-year-old former revolutionary leader has governed the Central American country since 2007 and previously ruled the nation between 1979 and 1990, the last five years as an elected president.
It’s not the first time Maradiaga has accused the government of targeting him. In 2018, government agents raided and later shut down the Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy, an NGO then-led by Maradiaga. In the context of the 2018 anti-government protests that left more than 300 people dead, the 44-year-old was twice stopped and beaten by police.
“We know that the regime is capable of doing anything. It’s not that people don’t want to protest on the streets anymore. It’s that the risk is immense. The regime is willing to kill,” Valle said.
CNN requested comment from the Nicaraguan government but received no reply. The Nicaraguan government hasn’t talked to independent media in years, save notable exceptions, and government institutions do not grant interviews, choosing instead to issue written statements.
This time Maradiaga was seemingly prepared for the possibility of being captured by the government, given that Ortega has in recent days unleashed iron fist tactics against would-be presidential candidates as well as some of his fiercest critics.
In a previously recorded video published after his detention, Maradiaga sent a message to his fellow Nicaraguans.
“Brothers and sisters from Nicaragua: If you’re watching this video it is because I have been detained by the Ortega regime. As I’ve always said, my conscience is clear just as much as those of the more than 130 political prisoners who resist from the dungeons and who are prisoners of conscience simply for having a different ideology,” Maradiaga says in the video.
Ortega’s government detained Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of former president Violeta Chamorro (1990-97), at the same time US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in neighboring Costa Rica discussing Central American issues with partners in the region. Cruz, another opposition politician, was detained on Saturday, the day before US Vice President Kamala Harris was about to embark on a trip to Guatemala and Mexico.
The US responded Wednesday by slapping new sanctions on senior members of the Ortega regime, including his daughter and the nation’s central bank president.
“The United States calls on President Ortega and the Nicaraguan government to immediately release presidential candidates Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastian Chamorro and other civil society and opposition leaders arrested in the past week, including in last night’s crackdown, which sent independent journalists and activists into hiding for fear of reprisals,” said Secretary Blinken in a statement announcing the sanctions.
Valle, a former beauty queen and TV host, hopes other countries can join with the US in applying pressure to Ortega, because “the whole world is increasingly realizing what we’re living in Nicaragua and I’m sure they will also do something about it.”
“Otherwise, we’re going to really end up like other countries. Let’s take a look at Venezuela’s case. They [the international community] dragged their feet and look at the situation they [Venezuela] is in now; not to mention Cuba whose playbook is the one currently being used in Nicaragua,” Valle said.
Valle, who has been living in exile since 2018 in the US with her and Maradiaga’s seven-year-old daughter, says she’s deeply worried about Nicaragua’s future and the possibility of new violence much like the anti-government, deadly riots that rocked the country in 2018.
“Let’s remember that Nicaragua is a country that went through a very painful civil war that destroyed the nation. More than 50,000 people died. Some people would like to say that with regimes like these are bound to end with violence,” Valle said. “And that’s precisely what we don’t want. We don’t want any more bloodshed.”
Ivana Kottasová and Fernando del Rincón contributed to this report.