U.S. tightens sanctions on Nicaragua in runup to anniversary of protests

One year after the government of Nicaragua launched a brutal crackdown on the country’s citizens, the U.S. continues to exert economic and diplomatic pressure on the repressive and corrupt regime of Daniel Ortega.

On April 17, the Trump administration announced sanctions against Nicaragua’s Banco Corporativo (Bancorp) and Laureano Ortega, a son of President Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, President Ortega’s wife. The move freezes all U.S. assets owned by Bancorp and the younger Ortega, and it bars U.S. nationals from engaging in business with them.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of the Treasury said “these actions send a message to all who continue to prop up the Ortega regime that there is a steep price to pay for abusing the Nicaraguan economy and its people.” The Nicaraguan government attempted in March to purchase Bancorp to protect the bank from U.S. sanctions imposed in January on its parent company, Alba de Nicaragua (ALBANISA). ALBANISA is a joint venture between Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, and Petróleos de Nicaragua.

Woman walking by large windows and glass door (© Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters)
A woman walks past a Bancorp branch office in Managua, Nicaragua, March 7. (© Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters)

At the end of 2018, President Trump affirmed U.S. commitment to restoring democracy and the rule of law in Nicaragua by enacting the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018. Prior to the law’s passage, the Treasury Department had designated a number of government officials and associates of President Ortega, including Vice President Murillo, for individual financial sanctions and/or visa restrictions.

The U.S. views the political regimes in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba as a “troika of tyranny” that coordinates closely to prop up one another and repress and impoverish citizens of all three countries. In cooperation with international and regional partners, the U.S. has been using a mix of economic and diplomatic pressure to isolate each from the other two.

Jail, exile or death

The sanctions are a response to the regime’s abuses of its citizens’ rights. Peaceful public protests broke out in Nicaragua on April 18, 2018, following a government proposal to raise taxes and lower pensions. The government eventually backed down but not before it had killed dozens and arrested hundreds, spurring additional protests and calls for President Ortega to step down from power. The government then responded with a sustained campaign of violence and repression, targeting anyone who opposed the regime’s abuses — including journalists, members of civil society and any others who dared exercise their right to free expression.

As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Roger Carstens told an audience in Geneva, opponents of the regime faced three choices: jail, exile or death.

To date, the regime has killed at least 325 citizens, jailed hundreds more and driven more than 60,000 others into neighboring countries. The United States and international partners demand an end to Ortega’s repression and a negotiated solution to the crisis that includes free and fair elections.