Former Miss Nicaragua arrested in sweeping crackdown on opposition by former Marxist guerrilla

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Miss Nicaragua, Berenice Quezada. 66th Miss Universe Pageant Preliminary Competition at Planet Hollywood Resort Hotel and Casino - Newscom / Alamy
Miss Nicaragua, Berenice Quezada. 66th Miss Universe Pageant Preliminary Competition at Planet Hollywood Resort Hotel and Casino - Newscom / Alamy

A former Miss Nicaragua has become the latest target of President Daniel Ortega’s sweeping crackdown against anyone who dares challenge his grip on power in the impoverished Central American nation.

Berenice Quezada, 27, was placed under house arrest late on Tuesday night, reportedly charged with “justifying terrorism” for criticising the lack of basic freedoms in her homeland.

The beauty queen, who won the Miss Nicaragua crown in 2017, had been running for the vice presidency for the Citizens for Liberty (CXL) Alliance, a small conservative party.

CXL’s presidential candidate is Oscar Sobalvarro, a businessman and former commander of the Contras, the US-backed Right-wing group that waged a guerrilla war against Ortega’s Leftist Sandinista administration in the 1980s.

The party tweeted that Ms Quezada was being guarded by police officers at her home in the capital, Managua, without access to a telephone and barred from running for public office or leaving the country. “We demand respect for Berenice Ms Quezada’s freedom and human rights,” it added.

When they announced their run last week, Mr Sobalvarro and Ms Quezada were heavily criticised by other members of the Nicaraguan opposition for allegedly giving credibility to the November 7 elections, which are widely viewed within Nicaragua and internationally as being rigged to guarantee Ortega a fourth consecutive term.

Ms Quezada had been running for the vice presidency for CXL, alongisde presidential candidate Oscar Sobalvarro - REUTERS
Ms Quezada had been running for the vice presidency for CXL, alongisde presidential candidate Oscar Sobalvarro - REUTERS

Even with no other opposition candidates running, the pair were thought to have little popular appeal or chance against Mr Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla. Ms Quezada has a bachelor’s degree in tourism but no experience of public office.

In recent weeks, the Ortega administration has locked up the opposition’s eight leading presidential candidates, including, according to the polls, the frontrunner Cristiana Chamorro.

Ms Chamorro, 67, is the daughter of Violeta Chamorro, president from 1990 to 1997, and the newspaper editor Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, who was assassinated in 1978 for opposing the Right-wing Somoza dictatorship that was eventually overthrown by the Sandinistas.

The move comes as Nicaragua remains in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, despite Ortega’s repeated denials of the seriousness of the situation. Last week, the national assembly canceled the legal registration of 15 of Nicaragua’s medical associations for criticising the government’s handling of the public health crisis.

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