- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2018

U.S. officials hinted Thursday that new sanctions and support for opposition groups could be coming against the government of longtime leftist Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, in the wake of the government’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Demonstrations that began in April as student-led rallies have morphed into a national rebellion against Mr. Ortega, who led the anti-U.S. Sandinista insurgency in the 1980s and has been president since 2007. The crackdown on the protests, which began over proposed cuts in social welfare programs, have left at least 250 people dead.

In a sign the Trump administration is increasingly focused on the crisis, the Treasury Department last week imposed sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act on three of Mr. Ortega’s closest associates, including the head of the national police, for alleged corruption and human rights violations relations.

“This will not be the end,” said Ambassador Michael Kozak of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, during a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on the crisis Thursday.

Carlos Trujillo, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, said a campaign is gathering momentum with the hemispheric group to isolate Nicaragua in a similar fashion to OAS’s recent condemnation of Venezuela’s socialist government.

“[Venezuela] was an important turning point in OAS leadership and the organization’s ability to get things done,” Mr. Trujillo told the committee.

Barbara Feinstein, from USAID’s Bureau on Latin America and the Caribbean, told lawmakers she had recently met with Nicaraguan opposition figures about the deteriorating situation in the country, adding that the U.S. is currently the only foreign donor working on democracy, governance and human rights in Nicaragua.

“At no time has that lifeline been more critical,” she said.

Some lawmakers encouraged the White House to do even more.

“This administration, unlike the previous administration, has shown a willingness to lead in Latin America,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican. “We know these despots will do anything to cling to power and that they only respond to pressure.”

In Nicaragua, opposition activists marched Thursday through the capital of Managua ahead of a general strike called for Friday.

The three days of demonstrations come on the heels of a weekend of clashes that left 38 people dead, according to a local anti-Ortega NGO. Attacks by masked pro-Ortega gangs on Catholic priests, worshippers and Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes were also reported.

The Ortega government said Thursday it was on high alert, dispatching riot trucks into Managua ahead of the opposition march. Officials also announced they would stage a countermarch on Friday — a procession from the capital to the town where Mr. Ortega and his Sandinista revolution came to power in 1979.

In a related development, the Trump administration tapped career State Department diplomat Kevin Sullivan to be the next U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua.

Mr. Ortega appeared to be consolidating power with his re-election in 2016, even managing to install his wife as his vice president. But the protests have profoundly upset the status quo, and Mr. Ortega has resisted growing calls from what he calls “coup-mongers” to move up to next year the next national election scheduled for 2021.


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