MANAGUA – Nicaragua’s main opposition alliance named a former right-wing guerrilla and a beauty queen as its candidate to take on President Daniel Ortega in November’s general election.
The Citizens Alliance for Liberty’s (CXL) announcement comes at a time of government repression against opposition figures, with 29 people — including seven potential presidential hopefuls — having been arrested over the last two months.
Oscar Sobalvarro, 68, said he didn’t expect the nomination but insisted that “I take on the baton” from those detained, “which is neither easy nor free from risks.” His running mate is 27-year-old Berenice Quezada, the 2017 Miss Nicaragua who has no known history of political activism.
Among those arrested by the Ortega government are five CXL leaders who were expected to compete for the presidential candidacy.
The government has accused them of “treason” and threatening “sovereignty,” and arrested them under a controversial law initiated by Ortega and approved by parliament in December, widely criticized as a means of freezing out challengers and silencing opponents. Nicaragua opened its inscription process for presidential candidates on Wednesday. CXL will be the main opposition to Ortega, 75, and his vice-president wife Rosario Murrillo, 70, who represent the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN.)
Sobalvarro is a former member of the Contras, a right-wing guerrilla group that was backed by the United States and fought a three-year armed struggle against the Sandinista government led by Ortega in the 1980s. The announcement of the CXL election ticket at a hotel in the capital Managua was greeted by hundreds of supporters chanting “Yes you can,” “Freedom” and “Freedom for political prisoners,” while dozens of riot police surrounded the building.
Ortega, a former left-wing guerrilla, led the country from 1979-1990 following the overthrow of the US-backed Somoza family dictatorship. He was reelected president in 2007, and in 2014 propagated a constitutional amendment that scrapped presidential term limits, opening the way for him to remain president for life. He named Murillo as his running mate at the last election in 2016. Sobalvarro insisted there is hope of removing Ortega from power, as happened in 1990 when “we went out to vote under a dictatorship in a militarized country, but the people, armed only with their vote, proved themselves invincible and we hope that history will repeat itself.”