Independent presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro Barrios has responded to the Ortega regime’s accusations of alleged money laundering with declarations that the funds in question were authorized by his Sandinista government. Chamorro, former president of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, asserted that the funds used for the Foundation were fully sanctioned, although she’s now under “investigation” for them.
On her Twitter account, Chamorro reiterated her view of the proceedings against her as a “macabre process”. She stated: “they’re investigating [me] for money laundering, for defending free expression with funds from a legitimate government, funds the regime authorized. It’s all a farce.”
The district attorney’s office is investigating Cristiana Chamorro regarding her former role as president and representative of the VBC Foundation. They claim that the NGO “was in serious incompliance with its obligations to the regulatory agency. An analysis of the financial reports from 2015 – 2019 yielded clear indications of money laundering.” These were the declarations the Interior Ministry issued last week.
During an interview with CNN journalist Fernando del Rincon, Chamorro explained that the Foundation closed operations last February, due to the Nicaraguan government’s passage of the “Foreign Agents Law”. Their previous sources of financing were from highly prestigious international agencies, among them the UN, the Swiss Agency for Development Aid COSUDE, and USAID.
The presidential candidate added that during the period under investigation, the VBC Foundation submitted its development reports to the Interior Ministry as required. Up until 2018, each year they received the requisite Certificate of Compliance from the Ministry. In 2018, the regulating entity stopped receiving the NGO reports. “They [the regime] launched a campaign against all the NGOs, closing several of them,” Cristiana Chamorro stated.
Journalists called to declare
On Monday, May 24, the Daniel Ortega courts froze Cristiana Chamorro’s bank accounts and suspended her bank privacy protections. Nonetheless, the DA’s office has still not confirmed whether they’re planning to file charges. Meanwhile, they’ve called in nine journalists to declare. Among them are Fabio Gadea Mantilla, owner of Radio Corporacion; Maria Lilly Delgado, the Managua correspondent for Univision; and Veronica Chavez of 100% Noticias.
Others called on to declare were: journalist Lourdes Arroliga and Guillermo Medrano, former Foundation employees; journalist Roberto Mora from Esteli’s Radio ABC; Argentina Olivas of Matagalpa’s Radio Vos, a station focused on women; Anibal Toruño of Radio Dario in Leon; and a citation with no individual name that was left at Bluefields’ Costeñisima Radio.
Cristiana Chamorro believes that the Ortega regime is demanding declarations from journalists and media directors because the VBC Foundation “has worked to consolidate free expression”. As such, they held trainings for journalists and facilitated equipment for certain media outlets.
Beyond the Interior Ministry’s public accusations of money laundering last week, the District Attorney’s office has offered no details about the investigation, nor have they clarified the supposedly illicit origin of the funds the NGO allegedly laundered.
Daniel Ortega attempts to strangle public debate
Pedro Vaca, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, issued a warning on his social networks. “Not a single branch of government is outside the sophisticated censorship mechanisms that have been activated in Nicaragua.” The summons the DA’s office has issued to journalists, “are the most recent method of intimidating and asphyxiating debate,” he stressed.
Vaca recalled that 2021 is “a crucial year for Nicaragua”. The country is engaged in an electoral process “in which the plurality of ideas should be shining. It causes great harm to force the citizenry to see their surroundings in just one color, and in the official tones. Within this restrictive panorama, the independent press must be protected,” Vaca continued.
Meanwhile, the Citizens for Liberty Alliance warned that the attacks and efforts to criminalize the independent media are “particularly serious in the runup to an electoral process. This process has begun without the basic guarantees of transparency, and with a persistent police harassment of all citizens working from an opposing position (…) to exercise our right of organization and political participation.”