Nicaraguan government pursues NGO in widening crackdown

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A wall that is defaced with graffiti with one message that once read in Spanish: "Resist Nicaragua", was overpainted by another that now reads "Long live the Nicaraguan revolution", in Managua, Nicaragua, Thursday, June 17, 2021. In recent weeks, Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega's government has rounded up 13 opposition leaders, including four presidential challengers for the Nov. 7 elections. They face allegations ranging from money laundering to crimes against the state. (AP Photo/Miguel Andres)

MANAGUA – Nicaraguan authorities ordered the capture of a former education minister and a businessman Thursday as the government's crackdown continued to expand beyond leaders of the political opposition.

The Attorney General's Office said in a statement that arrest orders were issued for Humberto Belli, who served in the administration of former President Violeta Chamorro, and Gerardo Baltodano, owner of Café Soluble, for not appearing to provide statements as scheduled.

Baltodano is the brother of retired Gen. Alvaro Baltodano, who served in President Daniel Ortega's government as the director for the Free Trade Zone Corporation. Belli is the brother of well-known poet and novelist Gioconda Belli.

Both Belli and Baltodano had served on the board of the nongovernmental Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development, or FUNIDES, which is under investigation. The foundation's former executive director Juan Sebastián Chamorro was arrested earlier this month on charges of crimes against the state.

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors announced that a judge had ordered the freezing of the bank accounts of Belli and Baltodano among others tied to the foundation and prohibited them from leaving the country. They are being investigated for alleged “financial operations derived from illicit activities.”

Gioconda Belli said via Twitter that police had searched her brother's home Thursday.

In recent weeks, the government has arrested 16 people, including 13 leading members of the political opposition, two former employees of the Violeta Chamorro Foundation and Luis Rivas Anduray, president of Production Bank (Banpro).

Among them were four pre-candidates for the presidency. Elections are scheduled for Nov. 7 and Ortega is running for a fourth consecutive term.

The United States government has stepped up sanctions against Ortega's inner circle and on Wednesday the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States approved a resolution condemning the arrests and calling for the prisoners' immediate release.