Lawmakers Call for More Sanctions on Nicaragua

Bipartisan group of 13 legislators urge action in wake of Ortega's crackdown

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega / Getty Images

A bipartisan group of Senate and House members, led by Florida senator Marco Rubio (R.), is urging President Trump to impose new sanctions on four Nicaraguan officials in response to President Daniel Ortega's deadly crackdown on a mostly student-led uprising.

The group of lawmakers wrote a letter to Trump detailing how officials in Ortega's government and others with deep ties to the regime have used armed militias to break up peaceful protests and have then used their power to deny hospital care to the victims.

Nicaraguan security forces have killed nearly 400 people and injured 2,000 more since April, when the widespread protests began, the lawmakers said.

The lawmakers also provided specific examples of how foreign actors from Venezuela, Russia, and China helped Ortega to consolidate power and financially benefit his sons while Nicaragua’s extreme poverty rate continued to climb.

"As the people of Nicaragua continue to face unspeakable abuses, the U.S. must continue to support their fight for freedom, democracy and human rights by holding human-rights abusers and corrupt official accountable through all available and lawful means," the group of lawmakers wrote in a letter to Trump.

Imposing new sanctions would send a "powerful message to the Nicaraguan people that the U.S. stands with them as they demand democracy and basic human rights."

In addition to Rubio, those signing the letters include: Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), Albio Sires (D, N.J.), Paul Cook (R., Calif.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), Robin Kelly (D., Ill.), Ann Wagner (R., Mo.), Michael Conaway (R., Texas), Steve Chabot (R., Ohio), Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.), and Carlos Curbelo (R., Fla.)

The lawmakers said Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, have "doubled down" on their intention to remain in power and increase the "violent oppression against the Nicaraguan people."

They are calling on the United States to sanction Sonia Castro, Nicaragua's minister of health; Gustavo Porras, the president of the National Assembly; and two of Ortega's sons, Laureano Ortega Murillo and Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo.

The Trump administration in early July slapped sanctions on three top Nicaraguan officials, including an in-law of Ortega, after international human rights organizations confirmed reports of massive human-rights abuses, corruption and attacks on peaceful protesters.

That set of officials included Francisco Lopez, head of the private company ALBANISA, a joint venture between the Venezuelan company, PDVSA, and its Nicaraguan counterpart.

They also targeted Francisco Diaz, who leads the National Police, which international human rights organization say has carried out the killings of protesters. Diaz's daughter is married to one of Ortega's sons.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an organization within the Organization of American States, over the last month has received extensive information regarding government-run hospitals denying life-saving medical care for protesters at the direction of Castro, Nicaragua's minister of health.

Porras, who has served as the private doctor for the Ortega Murillo family, helped set up Ortega's cabinet, and recently created a sham commission to investigate protester deaths, among other human-rights abuses, the lawmakers charge.

The group of U.S. lawmakers also took issue with the actions of Laureano Ortega Murillo, Ortega's son and possible successor. They said he has "continuously blamed protesters for the violence and unrest, going as far as calling them terrorists." He also has made light of the attacks against student and universities, repeatedly stating on Twitter that Ortega plans to remain in power "even if it hurts you."

They point to evidence of Laureano Ortega Murillo's lavish lifestyle, despite claims that he does not take a government salary, and legislation passed in the Nicaragua's National Assembly in August that would benefit several organizations tied to the Ortega-Murillo family, including an investment promotion agency run by Laureano Ortego Murillo.

Another of Ortega's sons, Juan Carlos Ortega Murillion, has worked to consolidate power over the country’s media with financial assistance from Venezuela, the lawmakers said.