- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The U.S. is stepping up the pressure on Nicaragua’s leftist government for its crackdown on political opponents, with Congress weighing new Iran-like sanctions on the government of President Daniel Ortega and U.N. Ambassador Nikki R. Haley pressing the Security Council to take up the crisis in Managua.

What began as peaceful demonstrations in the Central American country in April have been met with increasing violence by the Ortega government and its allies, with more than 300 reported dead in clashes since then.

Mrs. Haley is serving as this month’s president of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council and argues the body should take up the crisis before it leads to economic, immigration and security problems across the region.

“How many people have to die before it becomes a matter of peace and security?” Mrs. Haley told the Security Council on Tuesday. “I think we’ve already reached that point.”

The governments of Bolivia, China and Russia have so far blocked the Trump administration’s move, saying there is no justification yet for interfering in what they say are the internal affairs of a sovereign state.

But U.S. officials in New York believe they have the nine Security Council votes needed to force a public hearing on Nicaragua.

Mr. Ortega, who led the leftist Sandinista insurgency in the 1980s, has been president since 2007 and has characterized the spreading movement against him as the work of outside agitators. Critics accuse him of increasingly consolidating power and say the government sparked the protests with an ill-conceived plan to cut social welfare programs.

Mr. Ortega last week lashed out at the U.N., announcing plans to expel the organization’s leading human rights team after it released a report blaming his government for the recent violent crackdown.

In Washington, Congress returned from its August recess Tuesday to find momentum growing for a proposal offered by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, and Rep. Albio Sires, New Jersey Democrat, to impose new sanctions on Nicaraguan officials responsible for human rights violations and corruption.

The legislation, unveiled last week, is an updated version of a plan originally proposed by Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, that uses language from key sections of a 2012 sanctions law against Iran. It expands the U.S. government’s ability to punish those committing human rights abuses to include countries supplying Nicaragua with weapons and surveillance and telecommunications equipment.

“Now more than ever, Congress must stand with the democracy-loving people of Nicaragua,” Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said of the proposal. “I’ve long worked on legislation to punish the evil Iranian and Venezuelan regimes, and my congressional work to hurt Nicaragua’s thugs follows a similar track.”

Earlier this summer the Treasury Department sanctioned three of Mr. Ortega’s closest associates, including the head of the national police, for alleged corruption and human rights violations relations.

Mr. Ortega, in an interview Tuesday with the Madrid-based EFE news agency, accused Washington of fomenting the country’s recent unrest, claiming it was part of a long history of American interference in Nicaragua’s internal affairs. He denied suppressing dissent or jailing opponents, said he had no plans to move up national elections set for 2021, and insisted that international rights groups have criticized Nicaragua only because of U.S. pressure.

“Unfortunately, we are talking about a project that is not to the liking of the U.S. and it continues to have an enormous influence on international organizations, on the human rights commission of the Organization of American States,” Mr. Ortega said.

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