MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega was sworn in for a fourth consecutive term Monday following elections considered rigged and on a day marked by sanctions from the United States and European Union against members of his government.
Alongside him was first lady Rosario Murillo, sworn in for her second term as his vice president.
“We are going to continue fighting to defend the people so they have health care, education and housing,” the former Sandinista commander said in the capital's Revolution Plaza filled with the waving flags of his party.
Ortega, 76, and Murillo, 70, oversaw the jailing of opposition leaders, including seven potential challengers for the presidency, months before the November election. They have remained defiant under foreign pressure.
On Monday evening, Ortega called for the lifting of sanctions against Venezuela and Cuba — both of whose leaders attended the event — and said U.S. President “has more than 700 political prisoners” in reference to those jailed in relation to the storming of the U.S. capitol a year ago.
Ortega maintains that huge street protests against his government in April 2018 were an attempt to overthrow his government with foreign backing.
Earlier Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions on more Nicaraguan officials.
The Treasury Department announced it will freeze the U.S. assets of the defense minister and five other officials in the army, telecom and mining sectors. As with dozens of Nicaraguan officials already under sanctions, U.S. citizens will be prohibited from having dealings with them.
“Since April 2018, the Ortega-Murillo regime has cracked down on political opposition and public demonstrations, leading to more than 300 deaths, 2,000 injuries, and the imprisonment of hundreds of political and civil society actors,” according to a Treasury Department statement. “More than 100,000 Nicaraguans have since fled the country.”
The State Department said Nicaragua “continues to hold 170 political prisoners, with many of those detained suffering from a lack of adequate food and proper medical care.”
The State Department is also imposing visa restrictions on 116 individuals linked to the Ortega regime, “including mayors, prosecutors, university administrators, as well as police, prison, and military officials.”
“Ortega’s corrupt security and judicial system arrested these individuals for practicing independent journalism, working for civil society organizations, seeking to compete in elections, and publicly expressing an opinion contrary to government orthodoxy, among other activities considered normal in a free society,” the State Department wrote.
“President Ortega will inaugurate himself for a new presidential term today, but the pre-determined election he staged on November 7 does not provide him with a new democratic mandate,” according to the statement. “Only free and fair elections can do that.”
Ortega was elected to a fourth consecutive term in Nov. 7 elections that were broadly criticized as a farce after seven likely challengers to Ortega were arrested and jailed in the months prior to the vote. His inauguration ceremony was expected to be held later Monday.
With all government institutions firmly within Ortega’s grasp and the opposition exiled, jailed or in hiding, the 75-year-old leader eroded what hope remained the country could soon return to a democratic path. Instead, he appeared poised to test the international community’s resolve and continue thumbing his nose at their targeted sanctions and statements of disapproval.
The Ortega regime has been hit by rounds of condemnation and sanctions since the vote.
Nicaragua’s government announced in November it will withdraw from the Organization of American States, after the regional body accused Ortega’s government of acts of repression and rigging the election.
The OAS General Assembly voted to condemn the elections, saying they “were not free, fair or transparent, and lack democratic legitimacy.”
Twenty-five countries in the Americas voted in favor of the resolution, while seven — including Mexico — abstained. Only Nicaragua voted against it.
Ortega's defiant stance has placed Latin American governments in the dilemma of deciding whether to send representatives to the inauguration ceremony.
The Mexican government, for example, flip-flopped repeatedly Sunday and Monday on whether it would send anybody.
On Sunday, Mexico said it would send a mid-level foreign relations official, then said it wouldn't. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday that he wasn't sure, then corrected and said he would send the charge d'affaires at the Mexican Embassy in Managua.
The list of those expected to attend included representatives from China, North Korea, Iran, Russia and Syria. Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro and Cuba President Miguel Díaz-Canel also attended.