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Latin America

U.S. sanctions top Sandinista party officials in Nicaragua

In the toughest response yet by the Trump administration to the political violence in Nicaragua, the U.S. singled out three officials for "horrendous human rights abuses and corruption": police chief Francisco Díaz, Sandinista Youth leader Fidel Moreno, and José Francisco López, the Sandinista party treasurer.
5 Jul 2018 – 02:20 PM EDT
The presidential couple, Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. Crédito: Esteban Félix / AP

The Trump administration on Thursday hit three prominent leaders of Nicaragua's ruling Sandinista party with sanctions under the Global Magnitzky Act , which targets anti-democratic actions such as human rights abuse and public corruption.

The three men - police chief Francisco Díaz, Sandinista Youth leader Fidel Moreno, and José Francisco López, treasurer of the Sandinista party and vice president of a Venezuela-Nicaragua joint oil investment enterprise, ALBANISA - were being punished for their role in "horrendous human rights abuses and corruption," according to a senior U.S. official who briefed reporters on a telephone conference call.

"The U.S. will not stand idly by," said one official who reiterated that the Trump administration was supporting valls for early elections in Nicaragua to remove President Daniel Ortega. The officials said the Trump adminstration "will hold accountable those responsible for the ongoing campaign of violence and intimidation of the Nicaraguan government against its people."

In a separate statement, the U.S. Treasury Department condemned the violence which it blamed of security forces, citing the beatings of journalists, attacks against local TV and radio stations, and assaults on mothers mourning the deaths of their children.

“The violence perpetrated by the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega against the Nicaraguan people and the efforts of those close to the Ortega regime to illicitly enrich themselves is deeply disturbing and completely unacceptable,” said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “President Ortega and his inner circle continue to violate basic freedoms of innocent civilians while ignoring the Nicaraguan people’s calls for the democratic reforms they demand, including free, fair, and transparent elections."

Nicaragua is in the grip of a three-month-old political crisis that has seen more than 200 people killed in street protests, mostly by gunfire from police and progovernment paramilitaries. The crisis erupted when Ortega, a 72-year-old former leftwing revolutionary, decreed a reform of the social security system which reduced benefits and increased taxes, but has since morphed into a popular uprising to end his rule.

Ortega was re-elected in 2016 to his third consecutive five year term which runs out in 2021. But the election was marred by numerous irregularities, including the choice of his wife as his vice-presidential running mate.

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As a result, of the sanctions any U.S. assets belonging to the targeted officials were immediately frozen and U.S. individuals and companies, such as banks, are no longer permitted to have business dealings with them. However, it was unclear if any of the three men have assets in the United States, such as homes or bank accounts.

López, 67, who is also president of the state-owned oil company Petronic, used his position for his own benefit and that of his family, and "has placed numerous individuals throughout the government who have helped him steal millions of dollars on an annual basis," according to the Treasury Department statement. It noted that senior officials within the Nicaraguan government and the FSLN "have used ALBANISA funds to purchase television and radio stations, hotels, cattle ranches, electricity generation plants, and pharmaceutical laboratories."

Díaz, 56, is the father-in-law of one Ortega and Murillo's children and current de facto head of the National Police. The official police chief, commissioner Aminta Granera, submitted her resignation at the end of April after ten years in office. However, to date, it has not been made official. Granera's role had been reduced to mostly protocol and public relations, while the practical command of the institution was exercised by Díaz.

"Under Diaz’s command the NNP has engaged in serious human rights abuse against the people of Nicaragua, including extrajudicial killings," the U.S. Treasury Department said. It cited an incident in June when masked gunmen accompanied by individuals identified by witnesses as Nicaraguan police set fire to a family home in Managua, killing six, including two young children. "When neighbors attempted to help, the police allegedly shot at them, preventing the would-be rescuers from reaching the family," the statement said.

The Treasury Department also accused the Nicaraguan police of approaching gang leaders in Nicaragua "for support in attacking anti-government protesters and have been accused of indiscriminately firing on, and killing, peaceful protestors."

Moreno, 44, is the secretary of the Mayor of Managua and the right arm of the presidential couple, especially Murillo. Moreno exercises the true authority in the municipality and has been appointed to lead the notorious Sandinista Youth 'turbas' (mobs) and paramilitary groups, which are allegedly organized from the mayor's office.

"Moreno has been personally implicated in ordering attacks on protesters as far back as 2013, when elderly and young people who were peacefully protesting reduced retirement pensions were violently dislodged from their encampment by members of the Sandinista Youth," the Treasury Department said. It also accused him of orchestrating the use of motorcyclists to violently attack anti-government marches. "Moreno has been accused of stealing large sums of money from Managua municipal projects, as well as using municipal funds to pay for FSLN party activities," it added.

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