United States senator Marco Rubio on Sunday blasted the Nicaraguan government for its lethal crackdown on protests, cautioning that “the possibility of a civil war in Nicaragua is real.”
Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that an escalation of the country’s months-long crisis “would trigger a migratory crisis. It would undermine our anti-drug efforts in the region. There is a direct national security interest for the United States in seeing democracy and stability in Nicaragua.”
Tens of thousands of protesters have convulsed the Central American nation since April. Led by students, protests have railed against social security overhauls and President Daniel Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian rule. Nearly 300 people have died.
The United Nations warned last week of human rights violations by the paramilitary forces Ortega has used against protesters.
The onetime leftist Sandinista revolutionary led Nicaragua in the 1980s after the toppling of the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship. Since returning to power in 2007, Ortega has consolidated power, done away with term limits and elevated his widely reviled wife, Rosario Murillo, to the vice presidency as a possible successor.
Rubio said the U.S. is working on standing up sanctions against Nicaraguan entities and individuals as punishment for the unrest.
He also blasted Ortega as “a dying man” and Murillo as “a lunatic,” saying that “there’s no future for them in power.”
And he castigated Nicaragua’s leaders for not staving off the protests with democratic concessions.
“All of this could have been avoided weeks ago,” he said Sunday. “The message to the Nicaraguan regime under Ortega was very clear, and that is: You call early elections, you allow legitimate elections, and this thing can move forward and everyone’s going to be fine. But if you soak your hands in blood, all of that’s off the table. They decided to soak their hands in blood. …
“That opportunity’s now gone for Ortega.”