- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2018

Three high-profile Nicaraguans have been sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act, Trump administration officials announced Thursday, as Washington increases pressure on the Central American country recently rocked by major anti-government protests that have left more than 250 dead.

According to U.S. Department of State and Treasury officials, the three Nicaraguans are accused of human rights abuses, corruption and ordering attacks on peaceful protesters. The 2012 Magnitsky Act allows U.S. officials to freeze the assets and ban U.S. travel for designated human-rights abusers or those engaging in corruption.

“The United States will not stand by idly in the face of the abuses taking place in Nicaragua,” a senior administration official said Thursday on a conference call. “Rather we will expose and hold accountable those responsible for the Nicaraguan government’s ongoing violence and intimidation campaign against its people.”

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Since April, what began as a peaceful popular movement against pension reforms, has spiraled into violent street clashes calling for President Daniel Ortega to resign. Mr. Ortega has what regional analysts have characterized as “iron-fisted” control over his nation’s legislature, judiciary and electoral authorities — since returning to power in 2007.

While the Ortega regime has dismissed the demonstrators as delinquents and raised the specter of a foreign conspiracy, human rights groups say more than 250 people have been killed amid reports of paramilitary forces burning down shops and kidnapping protesters. Students have also occupied the campuses of several universities across the country.

The sanctioned individuals include Nicaragua’s National Police commander, Francisco Javier Diaz Madriz, who is alleged to have engaged in serious human rights abuses and Fidel Antonio Moreno Briones, who has directed the Sandinista Youth and pro-government armed groups to violently crackdown on protesters.

Jose Francisco Lopez Centeno, Vice President of ALBANISA, a joint venture between the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, PDVSA, and its Nicaraguan counterpart, also stands accused of using his power to enrich his family. Mr. Lopez Centeno also serves as treasurer of the ruling FSLN party.

Earlier this week anger boiled over so much that Mr. Ortega’s brother, a former military chief, urged the embattled leader to move up elections to avoid more bloodshed, according to a letter released on Wednesday.

Humberto Ortega, who led Nicaragua’s army until 1994, has criticized his brother’s consolidation of power in the past. His letter urged Daniel Ortega to hold elections in 2019 and pull back the pro-government youth groups — which the now sanctioned Mr. Moreno Briones was involved in — and which have been blamed for much of the street violence since the protests broke out.

“We all want a peaceful solution to the tragic crisis we are suffering,” Humberto Ortega wrote. “By constitutionally moving up presidential elections to the coming year, he says yes to peace.”

Also Wednesday, former President Enrique Bolanos re-iterated his call for Mr. Ortega to step down.

“If you are a true patriot resign and this country will thank you for it,” said Mr. Bolanos, who held office in 2002-2006.

Trump administration officials have alluded to more sanctions for Nicaragua since May, with Vice President Mike Pence, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Mark Green, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, also having publicly condemned the Ortega administration’s crackdown.

Senior U.S. officials on Thursday were pointed in their criticism of the violence Managua appears to support, as the image of a once peaceful Central American country spirals out of control, pulled down partly by its collapsing main ally, Venezuela.

“The Nicaraguan government’s violent response has included beating of journalists, attacks against local TV and radio stations and assaults on mothers mourning the deaths of their children,” another senior administration official said on Thursday. “At the Treasury Department, we’re taking immediate action to address these serious abuses of human rights and corruption in Nicaragua. “

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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