New sanctions come in response to ‘attacks on democratic actors and members of civil society’ in Nicaragua, US says.
US President Joe Biden has signed an executive order targeting Nicaragua’s gold industry, the Department of the Treasury announced, among other new measures that Washington said aim to punish Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega over a crackdown on dissent.
Biden’s executive order gives the US Treasury “the authority to target certain persons that operate or have operated in the gold sector of the Nicaraguan economy”, the department said in a statement on Monday morning.
It also allows the United States to bar new US investments in Nicaraguan economic sectors, imports of certain products from the Central American nation, and exports by US citizens of certain items to Nicaragua, it said.
The Treasury also sanctioned Nicaragua’s mining authority, the General Directorate of Mines, and a Nicaraguan government official and “close confidant” of Ortega.
“The Ortega-Murillo regime’s continued attacks on democratic actors and members of civil society and unjust detention of political prisoners demonstrate that the regime feels it is not bound by the rule of law,” Treasury official Brian E Nelson said in the statement.
“With President Biden’s new Executive Order, we can and will use every tool at our disposal to deny the Ortega-Murillo regime the resources they need to continue to undermine democratic institutions in Nicaragua,” Nelson said.
The Biden administration has imposed a slew of sanctions, including US visa restrictions, on Nicaraguan state officials and their relatives over the country’s human rights record in recent months.
Ortega has faced growing international criticism over his government’s crackdown on opposition leaders and human rights activists, in particular, especially in the lead-up to elections last year that Western nations denounced as a “sham”.
Human rights organisations have denounced the wave of arrests, which has seen dozens of people detained and sentenced to often lengthy prison terms. Other opposition figures have fled the country, often to neighbouring Costa Rica.
Ortega, who won a fourth consecutive term as president in November 2021, has defended his government’s actions, saying those detained sought to destabilise Nicaragua.
He also has rejected outside criticism as attempts to meddle in the country’s internal affairs.
Amid the global condemnation, Nicaragua has withdrawn from the Organization of American States (OAS), and recently, the Ortega administration declared the European Union’s envoy to Nicaragua “persona non-grata”, precipitating her departure.
Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is Ortega’s wife, also said last month that the government would not allow the new US ambassador into the country due to his “meddling” attitude.
The envoy, Hugo Rodriguez, a former senior adviser in the US Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, had told a US Senate hearing that he would “support using all economic and diplomatic tools to bring about a change in direction in Nicaragua”.
Rodriguez also described Nicaragua as a “pariah state in the region” and branded Ortega’s government a “dictatorship”.
In June, the United Nations human rights chief warned that “sociopolitical, economic and human rights crises” in Nicaragua were forcing thousands to leave their homes in a wave of migration that was growing in “unprecedented numbers”.