Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was sworn in for a fourth consecutive term on Monday after elections deemed rigged and a day marked by sanctions by the United States and the European Union against members of his government.
Beside him was First Lady Rosario Murillo, sworn in for her second term as Vice President.
“We will continue to fight to defend the people so that they have health care, education and housing,” said the former Sandinista commander in the capital’s Revolution Square filled with his party flags. .
Mr Ortega and Ms Murillo oversaw the imprisonment of opposition leaders, including seven potential presidential candidates, months before the November elections. They remained rebels in the face of foreign pressure.
On Monday evening, Ortega called for the lifting of sanctions against Venezuela and Cuba – whose two leaders attended the event – and said that the US president “has more than 700 political prisoners” in reference to those imprisoned in connection with the storming of the American capital a year ago.
Mr Ortega argues that the massive street protests against his government in April 2018 were an attempt to overthrow his government with foreign support.
Earlier Monday, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on other Nicaraguan officials.
The Treasury Department has announced that it will freeze the US assets of the defense minister and five other officials in the military, telecommunications and mining sectors. Like dozens of Nicaraguan officials already under sanctions, US citizens will be banned from doing business with them.
“Since April 2018, the Ortega-Murillo regime has cracked down on political opposition and public demonstrations, killing more than 300, wounding 2,000 and imprisoning hundreds of political and civil society actors,” according to a statement from the Treasury Department. “More than 100,000 Nicaraguans have since fled the country. “
The State Department said Nicaragua “continues to hold 170 political prisoners, many of whom suffer from a lack of adequate food and proper medical care.”
The State Department is also imposing visa restrictions on 116 people 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 people for practicing independent journalism, working for civil society organizations, seeking to participate in elections and publicly expressing an opinion contrary to the orthodoxy of the government, between other activities considered normal in a free society, ”the state said. Department wrote.
“President Ortega is investing himself today for a new presidential mandate, but the predetermined election he organized on November 7 does not give him a new democratic mandate,” the statement said. “Only free and fair elections can do this. “
Mr Ortega was elected for a fourth consecutive term in the November 7 elections which were widely criticized as a farce after seven likely candidates for Mr Ortega were arrested and jailed in the months leading up to the vote.
With all government institutions firmly within Mr Ortega’s grasp and the opposition exiled, imprisoned or in hiding, the 75-year-old leader has eroded what remained of hope that the country can soon return to a democratic path. Instead, he seemed ready to test the resolve of the international community and continue to thumb his nose at their targeted sanctions and statements of disapproval.
The Ortega regime has been hit by a series of condemnations and sanctions since the vote.
Nicaragua’s government announced in November that it would withdraw from the Organization of American States after the regional body accused Ortega’s government of repression and election rigging.
The OAS General Assembly voted to condemn the elections, saying they “were not free, fair or transparent and lacked democratic legitimacy.”
Twenty-five countries in the Americas voted in favor of the resolution, while seven – including Mexico – abstained. Only Nicaragua voted against.
Mr. Ortega’s defiant stance placed Latin American governments in the dilemma of deciding whether or not to send representatives to the inauguration ceremony.
The Mexican government, for example, repeatedly flip-flopped on Sunday and Monday over whether it would send someone.
Mexico announced on Sunday that it would send a mid-level foreign relations official, then said it would not. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Monday he was unsure, then corrected and said he would send the charge d’affaires to the Mexican embassy in Managua.
The list of those expected included representatives from China, North Korea, Iran, Russia and Syria. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel were also present.
This story was reported by The Associated Press.