Nicaraguan Officials Sanctioned by U.S., U.K., Canada Following ‘Rigged’ Election

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By Samuel Rubenfeld

Monday, November 15, 2021

The U.S., U.K. and Canada announced new sanctions on Nicaraguan government officials on Monday, about a week after an election panned by Western governments as a sham and rigged.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega claimed victory for a fourth consecutive term in office earlier this month, after imprisoning the opposition and violently quelling dissent. Between October 2020 and June 2021, the country’s legislature approved laws that facilitated the government’s repression and eliminated the opposition’s chances in the election, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

“The Ortega regime is using laws and institutions to detain members of the political opposition and deprive Nicaraguans from the right to vote,” said Andrea Gacki, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in a statement.

The Organization of American States (OAS) adopted a resolution late last week saying the Nicaraguan election was undemocratic and urging unspecified action, Reuters reported. 

The Nicaraguan vote was slammed as a “pantomime election” by President Joe Biden, who said last week that it was “neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic.” He also signed a bill into law last week that called for sanctions on members of the Nicaraguan government. 

The law signed by Biden, the “Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform Act of 2021” or the “RENACER Act,” adds Nicaragua to a list of countries subject to sanctions relating to corruption, restricts Nicaraguan access to international financing and calls for targeted sanctions, according to its text. The law also requires the government to produce a number of reports, including classified documents on the involvement of Ortega family members and government officials in corruption, and on Russian activity in the country.

The U.S. has sanctioned multiple members of the Ortega family and other officials in recent years due to their involvement in corruption and human rights abuses.

The sanctions targets announced Monday by the Treasury included the Public Ministry of Nicaragua, which is the federal prosecutor’s office. Nine Nicaraguan government officials were also sanctioned by the U.S., several of whom were appointed to their positions by Ortega and are key supporters of his government, according to the Treasury. Other officials designated Monday were implicated in violence against peaceful protesters during demonstrations in 2018.

The ministry arrested and investigated presidential candidates, and prevented them from running for office, the Treasury said. Invoking a local law, the ministry in June sought to disqualify leading opposition candidate Cristiana Chamorro on groundless charges of forgery, money laundering and abusive mismanagement, according to the Treasury. Other opposition candidates were also detained that month in the run-up to the elections, the Treasury said.

Among the officials sanctioned Monday was Luis Angel Montenegro Espinoza, who leads the Superintendency of Banks and Other Financial Institutions (SIBOIF). He ordered banks to audit and turn over financial information to the public ministry on 13 senior executives and businessmen who were the subject of investigations, the Treasury said. SIBOF also issued regulations in April 2020 that implemented a law forbidding banks in Nicaragua to refuse financial services to customers, including those under U.S. sanctions, the Treasury said.

The U.K., meanwhile, said the election was “rigged” when announcing its own sanctions. Among those designated by the U.K. was Rosario Murillo, who serves as Nicaragua’s vice president and is first lady, due to her role in the exclusion of opposition candidates, discrediting of independent journalists and state-backed repression. She was sanctioned by the U.S. in November 2018 and by the European Union in August.

Others designated by the U.K. on Monday included Nicaraguan Attorney General Ana Julia Guido Ochoa; Gustavo Eduardo Porras Cortes, president of the Nicaraguan National Assembly; and Juan Antionio Valle Valle, a senior commissioner of the Nicaraguan national police. All three were sanctioned in August by the EU and previously designated by the U.S.

“The U.K. will always be a fierce champion for freedom around the world and these sanctions will ensure those responsible for attacks on democracy in Nicaragua face a real cost for their actions,” said Wendy Morton, minister for Europe and Americas at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FDCO), in a statement.

Canada also issued new sanctions on Monday after putting out a statement saying the Nicaraguan election didn’t reflect the view of the people, designating 11 people, including the banking regulator superintendent Montenegro, along with several others. “Canada will always advocate for the promotion and protection of human rights, and we will hold to account those who violate them,” said Melanie Joly, the minister of foreign affairs.

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