US imposes visa curbs on Nicaraguan officials amid crackdown

US imposes restrictions on 100 Nicaraguan officials it says are involved in government crackdown on political opponents and rights abuses.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo gesture during a march in Managua, Nicaragua, on September 5, 2018 [File: Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters]

The United States has imposed visa restrictions on 100 Nicaraguan officials it accuses of being involved in President Daniel Ortega’s escalating crackdown on political opponents ahead of November elections and other rights abuses.

In a statement on Monday, the US State Department said the restrictions would affect 100 members of the Nicaraguan assembly and judicial system, including prosecutors and judges, as well as some of their family members.

US visas held by the designated individuals have been revoked, the department said, without saying which officials were subject to the restrictions.

“Specifically, those targeted in today’s action helped to enable the Ortega-Murillo regime’s attacks on democracy and human rights,” the statement said.

More than two dozen Nicaraguan presidential hopefuls, opposition leaders, student activists and other figures have been arrested during the past month amid an unrelenting and sweeping crackdown by Ortega’s government.

The longtime president has justified the arrests by saying his administration was prosecuting criminals who were plotting a coup against him.

But civil society and human rights groups have accused the 75-year-old – who governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and returned to power in 2007, winning two successive re-election bids since then – of increasing authoritarianism.

“The gravity and intensification of the Ortega government’s brutal crackdown on critics and members of the opposition in recent weeks require a redoubling of international pressure,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on June 22.

“It is essential for the UN secretary-general to build on existing UN action by bringing this situation to the attention of the Security Council.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman last month said Guterres urged the Nicaraguan authorities to uphold the country’s international human rights obligations and release the detained opposition leaders.

But the arrests have continued; last week, five opposition leaders – including Lesther Aleman, a prominent student leader during mass anti-government protests in Nicaragua in 2018 – were detained.

The situation also continues to prompt international condemnation. The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said last week that “more restrictive” measures may be needed against Ortega’s Sandinista government.

The US on June 9 imposed sanctions on four Nicaraguan officials who support Ortega, including the president’s daughter, accusing them of undermining democracy and abusing human rights.

In the statement on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration “will continue to use the diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal to push for the release of political prisoners and to support Nicaraguans’ calls for greater freedom, accountability, and free and fair elections”.

The Nicaraguan presidential elections are expected to be held on November 7.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies