The Biden administration announced on Monday, January 10, that it had levied sanctions against scores of Nicaraguan officials, calling it a defense of democracy and human rights in the country. Washington rejected the Central American nation’s recent elections because incumbent President Daniel Ortega, a socialist, won.
The sanctions were unveiled as Nicaragua was preparing to inaugurate the victors of the November 7, 2021, election, including Ortega, who will begin a fourth five-year term as president. He has been in office since 2007, winning reelection four times with comparable margins of support.
“In concert with democracies in the international community, the United States will continue to call out the Ortega-Murillo regime’s ongoing abuses and will deploy diplomatic and economic tools to support the restoration of democracy and respect for human rights in Nicaragua,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.
“To that end, the Department of State is taking steps to impose visa restrictions on 116 individuals complicit in undermining democracy in Nicaragua, including mayors, prosecutors, university administrators, as well as police, prison, and military officials,” he said.
The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated eight Nicaraguan government officials as sanctions targets, including President Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife.
It also targets Bayardo de Jesús Pulido Ortiz, head of the personnel and cadre department of the Nicaraguan Army, and Bayardo Ramón Rodríguez Ruiz, chief of the general staff of the Nicaraguan Army, saying they led a violent crackdown on dissent beginning in 2018, when US-backed riots swept the country.
Defense Minister Rosa Adelina Barahona De Rivas; Nahima Janett Díaz Flores, the director general of the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Postal Services (TELCOR); and Celina Delgado Castellón, deputy director general of TELCOR and a member of the board of directors of the National Electric Transmission Company (ENATREL) representing TELCOR, were sanctioned, as well. The Treasury said they were responsible for running a pro-Ortega troll farm on Facebook that Meta shut down in November, just days before the election.
The US Treasury also sanctioned Ramón Humberto Calderón Vindell, former president of the board of directors of Nicaraguan state-owned oil company Petróleos de Nicaragua, and president of the board of directors of the ENIMINAS. Its reasons for targeting the firm aren’t related to any alleged repression, though, and seem to simply be intended to crush an important pillar of the Nicaraguan economy.
“The Government of Nicaragua’s 2017 creation of state-owned ENIMINAS increased state involvement in the mining sector, especially gold mining, through joint ventures with private firms. The value of Nicaragua’s gold exports has increased dramatically in recent years, driving profits to its allies in the private sector and increasing ENIMINAS revenues, which senior figures in the ruling party manage. Because ENIMINAS is owned or controlled by, or acts for or on behalf of, the Government of Nicaragua, officials of ENIMINAS are, therefore, officials of the Government of Nicaragua,” OFAC said.
OFAC added the State Department was sanctioning dozens of mayors, prosecutors, university administrators, and officials in the military and the police and prison systems, calling them “complicit in undermining democracy in Nicaragua.”
At the same time, the European Union also unveiled sanctions on seven individuals and three entities in Nicaragua, including many of the same targets as Washington.
40 years of coup attempts
It’s a playbook the US has used time and again in Latin America, going back to the September 11, 1973, coup in Chile that saw the democratic socialist government of President Salvador Allende overthrown by the murderous military junta headed by Augusto Pinochet. More recently, the US has used it against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, where President Nicolás Maduro and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) have been denounced as illegitimate and authoritarian by Washington, which has instituted crushing economic sanctions intended to force the Venezuelan people into revolting against their government.
The US has opposed Ortega and the democratic socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) since they first seized power in 1979 and ousted the US-backed Somoza regime. Through the 1980s, the US backed right-wing Contra guerrilla fighters who targeted institutions associated with the FSLN’s social programs, including rural hospitals and schools. By 1990, Nicaraguan voters removed Ortega from office in a bid to escape crushing US sanctions.
However, by 2006, 15 years of neoliberal reforms to suit the cheap labor demands of US-based corporations had proven deeply unpopular, and voters brought Ortega and the FSLN back. Ortega quickly grew close to Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, and other Latin American leftist states, earning the lasting enmity of the US, which renewed its attempts to overthrow him. Deadly protests in 2018, which targeted police and FLSN figures, were hailed in Washington as pro-democracy protests, and the arrest of leading figures in the demonstrations last year was denounced by the US as an attack on democracy because many had expressed their desire to be election candidates.
Just days before the election, the US Congress passed the Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform (RENACER) Act, which created a framework for a new regime of punishing sanctions in case Ortega won the election.
In response to RENACER and other US attacks, Nicaragua quit the Organization of American States (OAS) after the November election, saying the group “has as its mission to facilitate the hegemony of the United States with its interventionism against the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
“We do not view ourselves as a colony of any power, and we claim national dignity and decorum, in legitimate defense of our independence, sovereignty and self-determination, in the face of aggressive actions, violations of the UN Charter and international law by the Organization of American States, the United States of North America and of other colonialist and neocolonialist entities, which at this point in life believe that they have the power to subdue and humiliate our worthy people and government,” Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said at the time.
Several Latin American leaders traveled to Managua to attend Ortega’s and Murillo’s inauguration, including Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent Ramiro Ayala, Mexico’s charge d’affaires in Nicaragua, saying that despite qualms about the election results, “we can’t set aside our policy of national self-determination and independence.”
Featured image: Young Sandinista supporters at the Juan Pablo II plaza, in Managua, Nicaragua, celebrating 39th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, on July 19, 2018. Photo: AP / Cristobal Venegas
(Sputnik) by Morgan Artyukhina