U.S. Imposes Sanctions on 3 Top Nicaraguan Officials After Violent Crackdown

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WASHINGTON — The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on three Nicaraguan officials with close ties to President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, accusing them of corruption and human rights violations related to the country’s deadly political uprising.

The sanctions, imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, are the latest condemnation of the Nicaraguan government’s violent response to demonstrations against Mr. Ortega. At least 235 people have been killed since the protests began on April 18.

The penalties seek to “expose and hold accountable those responsible for the Nicaraguan government’s ongoing violence and intimidation campaign against its people,” Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The three people targeted were Francisco Díaz, a deputy chief of the national police force who is seen as the force’s de facto head; Fidel Antonio Moreno Briones, the secretary of the Managua mayor’s office; and Francisco López, the treasurer of the country’s ruling party as well as the vice president of the oil company Albanisa.

In a telephone conference on Thursday, senior Trump administration officials focused on the role of Mr. Díaz, whose daughter is married to one of the presidential couple’s sons, in encouraging human rights abuses. They pointed to an episode in which six people, including two children, were killed after masked gunmen, whom witnesses said were accompanied by police officers, set fire to a house in Managua. The police have denied any involvement in that attack.

The administration officials also accused the police of firing on unarmed protesters, including an attack on a huge demonstration on May 30, Nicaraguan Mother’s Day, that was held in solidarity with the mothers of those who had been killed in earlier protests.

Mr. Moreno — who has appeared at functions alongside the presidential couple and organizes the ruling party’s youth group, Sandinista Youth — “has been personally implicated in ordering attacks on protesters” as far back as 2013, a senior administration official said.

Mr. López was targeted for using his position in the government to “benefit himself and his family, including using companies they own to obtain government contracts,” the official said. Under his leadership, Albanisa has become a “business incubator controlled entirely by the president’s family,” according to the Nicaraguan newspaper Confidencial.

The Global Magnitsky Act, passed in 2016, is designed to punish individuals around the world who are accused of human rights violations or corruption. The sanctions freeze assets held by the individuals in the United States and prevent them from using any American financial institution.

The Nicaraguan protests flared after Mr. Ortega tried to change the national social security system, reducing future pensions and requiring workers and employers to pay more taxes. What began as a series of student-led rallies transformed into a national rebellion, with protesters calling for Mr. Ortega to step down.

Amnesty International has reported that the government had instituted a “shoot to kill” policy in dealing with protesters, and found that the authorities had “implemented and maintained a strategy of repression, sometimes intentionally involving loss of life, throughout the weeks of protest.”

The government has denied any role in the killings, arguing instead that opponents are mounting a coup against an elected government and that vandals and gangs are behind the violence.

Although Mr. Ortega has agreed to the presence of human rights monitors, talks between the government and a broad alliance of opposition groups have stalled, and the violence continues. The State Department urged the Nicaraguan government on Thursday to resume peaceful negotiations with the opposition, moderated by Nicaragua’s Catholic bishops. The bishops have proposed holding early elections in March.

“The United States also supports calls for early, free, fair and transparent elections,” Ms. Nauert said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and take additional actions as events warrant.”

The sanctions are the most recent repudiation of the Nicaraguan officials’ response to the anti-government protests. The State Department imposed visa restrictions on several unnamed government leaders in June.

Elisabeth Malkin contributed reporting from Mexico City.

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