After Nicaragua’s fraudulent 2016 elections, President Daniel Ortega and Vice-President and First Lady Rosario Murillo appeared firmly in control, buoyed by economic growth and elite alliances. When protests unexpectedly erupted in 2018, Ortega and Murillo chose deepening repression, using police, paramilitaries, and the judiciary to crush dissent and extinguish political freedoms. Nicaragua’s 2021 elections took place with all opposition contenders jailed, alongside dozens of other political prisoners. Domestic and international actors had for years failed to unify and take action as Ortega’s authoritarian ambitions became clear. The Nicaraguan case underscores the need for early, coordinated efforts to defend democracy from would-be authoritarians.