US Criticizes Nicaragua for Human Rights Abuses, Corruption

July 30, 2018 Updated: October 5, 2018

The Trump administration has condemned the ongoing violence in Nicaragua and the human rights abuses and corruption committed by the self-described democratic socialist regime of Daniel Ortega.

“The United States stands with the people of Nicaragua, including members of the Sandinista party, who are calling for democratic reforms and an end to the violence. Free, fair, and transparent elections are the only avenue toward restoring democracy in Nicaragua,” reads a July 30 statement by the White House press office.

Last week the U.S. State Department called for early elections in the Central American country.

Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has been engulfed in protests since April 18 that were sparked by a proposal to raise taxes and cut pensions and were fueled by the government’s violent response. The regime, led by the Sandinista party and controlled by Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, responded by using pro-government armed groups, dubbed “Sandinista mobs,” and police to attack protesters, who have shot bullets into the crowds on multiple occasions. Over 350 protesters have been killed since then, with thousands more injured.

Paramilitaries on a truck at the Monimbo neighborhood in Masaya, Nicaragua, on July 18, 2018, following clashes with anti-government demonstrators. (Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images)

“The large numbers of people injured by firearms, the trajectory of shots fired, the concentration of bullet wounds in the head, neck, and chest of those killed, and attempts to obstruct justice and cover up the nature of the killings” has led Amnesty International to conclude that in May “there is evidence that police and pro-government armed groups committed multiple extrajudicial executions.”

The Catholic Church offered to mediate talks between Ortega and his opposition, but Ortega scuttled the plan, calling the participating bishops “coup leaders,” Bishop Carlos Avilés, Council for the Commission for National Dialogue in Nicaragua, told Vatican News.

The Trump administration still supports the talks, while mounting pressure on the regime.

On July 5, the administration imposed sanctions on three Nicaraguan officials—Francisco Diaz, Fidel Moreno, and Francisco Lopez—under the Global Magnitsky Act for human rights abuses and corruption.

“Through these sanctions, the United States is demonstrating that it will hold Ortega regime officials who authorize violence and abuses or who steal from the Nicaraguan people responsible for their actions,” the White House stated. “These are a start, not an end, of potential sanctions.”

The administration stated it has secured the return of vehicles donated by the United States to the Nicaraguan National Police “that have been used to violently suppress peaceful protests” and stopped further sales and donations of equipment “that Ortega’s security forces might misuse.”

The United States also added $1.5 million in aid to support freedom and democracy in Nicaragua through human rights organizations and independent media.

Vice President Mike Pence and State Secretary Mike Pompeo have recently highlighted human rights abuses in Nicaragua.

“The United States will continue to monitor the situation in Nicaragua closely and work with the international community to hold those responsible for the violence to account,” the White House stated.

Ortega was elected president of the tiny nation of some 6 million in 2006 with a program of increased welfare and redistribution. But he soon showed signs of amassing personal power and his rule was fraught with the suppression of opposition and claims of election fraud.

“The president has garnered full control over all four branches of government: the executive, the judicial, the legislative, and the electoral,” stated the 2017 CIA World Factbook.

Meanwhile, the government continued to depend on hundreds of millions in foreign aid from the United States, Europe, and Venezuela. The aid is drying up, however, as free countries lose patience with Ortega’s abuse of power.

As the economic reality settles in, Nicaragua’s inflation now outpaces its expected GDP growth, while its social security fund will be depleted by next year, the International Monetary Fund warned last year.

The United States is Nicaragua’s dominant economic partner, buying up more than half of its exports, providing 20 percent of its foreign investments, and sending the majority of its remittances, according to 2017 State Department figures.

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