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Nicaragua's Ortega creates more dictatorial rule and releases video of political prisoner Maradiaga

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Nicaraguan human rights activist, presidential candidate and political prisoner Felix Maradiaga is led to a courtroom in Managua over the weekend by police.

Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega has seized the last remaining towns held by the opposition — and briefly presented political prisoner Félix Maradiaga in public.

Nicaragua’s ruling regime has forcefully taken over the last remaining local governments held by the opposition — a move that puts Nicaragua closer than ever to totalitarian dictatorship and leaves the diaspora in South Florida wondering what its next move should be.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the regime released a video of one of its most prominent political prisoners, human rights activist and presidential candidate Félix Maradiaga, whose family in Miami had said last week that he was starting a hunger strike.

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On Monday, Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega’s security forces occupied the last five remaining city halls that were led by the opposition, specifically the opposition party Citizens for Freedom, according to its leadership. The municipalities have now been handed over to Ortega’s Sandinista Party.

The seizures are a seeming follow-up to internationally condemned actions taken by Ortega last year, when he jailed every one of his opposition opponents in Nicaragua’s presidential race, including Maradiaga, in order to ensure his re-election to a fourth five-year term. Now critics say he also means to keep opponents out of municipal elections this fall (Ortega had already barred Citizens for Freedom candidates from running).

Just days ago, Ortega kicked 101 non-governmental organizations out of Nicaragua — even the Missionaries of Charity founded by the late Mother Teresa. Ortega has expelled almost all civic and charitable groups from the country since anti-regime protests erupted four years ago; he considers them arms of the opposition and of the diaspora in Florida.

One diaspora leader told WLRN that the regime takeover of all local government and the ouster of NGOs "does make it harder for Nicaraguans abroad" to assist opposition efforts inside the country.

Meanwhile, almost 200 political prisoners remain jailed in Nicaragua, including Maradiaga. Last Friday, his wife, Berta Valle, announced in Miami he would start a hunger strike in his Managua prison cell to protest what he and human rights groups call the unhealthy conditions of his detention. The next day the Ortega regime presented an obviously thinner Maradiaga in a Managua courtroom and released a video of the proceeding, hoping to refute reports that he’s in bad health.

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The U.S. has levied targeted economic sanctions against the Ortega regime and family. Last month it slapped U.S. visa restrictions on almost 100 Nicaraguan officials.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.