After 14 years in power, unpopular and increasingly isolated from Nicaraguan society in his gated compound, Mr. Ortega appears intent on avoiding any real electoral competition. The five presidential candidates still on the ballot with him are little-known politicians with a history of collaboration with the government. Few in Nicaragua consider them genuine challenges to Mr. Ortega.
The crackdown, which has extended to critics from any social realm, has spared no political dissidents, no matter their personal circumstances or historical ties to Mr. Ortega.
The victims of persecution have included a millionaire banker and a Marxist guerrilla, a decorated general and a little-known provincial activist, student leaders and septuagenarian intellectuals. No government detractors feel safe from the sudden night raids, whose only certainty has been their constancy, more than 30 Nicaraguans affected by the crackdown said in interviews.
“Everyone is on the list,” said one Nicaraguan businessman, whose family home was raided by the police and who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “You’re just trying to figure out how high or low your name is on it, based on the latest arrest.”
The wave of repression and fears of political violence have pushed thousands of Nicaraguans to flee the country in recent months, threatening to worsen a mass migration crisis at a time when the Biden administration is already struggling with record numbers of immigrants trying to cross the southern border.
The number of Nicaraguans encountered by U.S. border guards has exploded since the crackdown, with a total of almost 21,000 crossing in June and July, compared with fewer than 300 in the same months last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. About 10,000 more Nicaraguans have crossed south into neighboring Costa Rica in the same months, according to the country’s migration agency.