MANAGUA, Nicaragua, Thursday, June 23 (Reuters) – Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega said on Wednesday sanctions would not deter his government and vowed not to free detained political foes accused of crimes, as international pressure mounted to end a crackdown ahead of a November election.
Ortega’s government has arrested at least 15 political opponents in recent weeks, including five presidential hopefuls, ahead of the presidential vote in which the long-ruling leader will run for a fourth consecutive term.
A journalist and at least two others have also been detained.
“The enemies of the revolution, the enemies of the people, are shouting how is it possible they’re detained, how is it possible they’re imprisoned, how is it possible they’re being prosecuted,” Ortega said in a speech, televised live.
Ortega argued his administration was arresting and prosecuting criminals who were plotting a coup against him.
“It’s absurd to set them free. Everything we’re doing, we’re doing it by the book,” he said, adding that the wealth of opponents he said were from “high society” did not make them untouchable.
He referred to Spain’s detention of Catalan separatists and the U.S. detention of protesters after the Capitol riots to say it was hypocritical for those countries to tell Nicaragua to release its prisoners.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Tuesday called the detentions and investigations an “ongoing campaign of terror” and said the United States would “use all diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal” to promote fair elections.
The U.S. government has said it is prepared to review “trade-related activities” if elections are not free and fair.
“They’re on their knees asking the (Americans) for sanctions, begging for sanctions … They think that sanctions will stop Nicaragua. Nicaragua has gone through much more difficult times,” said Ortega.
The Sandinistas first swept to power in 1979 after toppling dictator Anastasio Somoza. They were then plunged into a draining civil war with U.S.-backed right-wing Contra rebels.
The Contra war, along with Washington’s economic embargo against Nicaragua and the Sandinistas’ mismanagement, laid waste to the economy, despite support from Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Ortega accused the United States of seeking to topple what he called progressive governments and called for an end to “savage capitalism,” in a further reminder that he has stepped back from a previous strategy of co-existence with the country’s business class.
U.S. rights group Human Rights Watch this week said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should raise the crisis with the Security Council.
(Reporting by Ismael Lopez in Managua and Anthony Esposito and Diego Ore in Mexico City; Editing by Michael Perry and Kim Coghill)