U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order targeting sanctioning Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s vice-president and wife of President Daniel Ortega, and one of his aides under a new executive order allowing Washington to target Nicaraguan officials for a crackdown on anti-government protests.
The U.S. Treasury said it had used the new executive order to punish Murillo, Ortega’s wife, and Nestor Moncada Lau, accusing them of undermining Nicaragua’s democracy.
The step will have the effect of freezing any property owned by Murillo and Moncada that falls under U.S. jurisdiction and of barring U.S. individuals, banks and other entities from carrying out any transactions with them.
There was no immediate response from the Nicaraguan government.
The U.S. is trying to influence Ortega.
“It’s a message to President Ortega to find an exit strategy and to begin a process for … free and fair elections,” a senior Trump administration official told reporters on condition of anonymity. “It’s an opportunity to find some type of solution … to the crisis that they have created.”
Earlier this month, U.S. national security adviser John R. Bolton said in a speech that Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba comprise a “troika of tyranny.” He promised a comprehensive, new administration approach to confront leftist, anti-democratic regimes in the Western Hemisphere.
“This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere,” Mr. Bolton said. “The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the triangle fall. . . . The Troika will crumble.”
Since the protests began on April 18 of this year, more than 300 people (and as many as 500) have been killed and at least 2,000 injured in crackdowns by police and armed groups.
Ortega, 72, who ruled the country from 1979 to 1990 after the toppling of U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza, has held elected office as president since 2007. In that election, Murillo, who held a prominent position in her husband’s administration, was officially elected as vice-president, as a possible continuation of the Ortega-Murillo dynasty.
The current violence comes after years of calm and is the worst since his Sandinista movement battled U.S.-backed “Contra” rebels in the 1980s.
On April 18 protests began in April over government plans to cut welfare benefits and then escalated into broader opposition to Ortega, who in July rejected the idea of calling a early elections before the next scheduled presidential election, due in late 2020.
In announcing the sanctions, the U.S. Treasury accused Murillo of dismantling Nicaragua’s democratic institutions and looting its wealth in an effort to consolidate power.
It described Moncada as acting as a national security adviser to both Ortega and Murillo. While he does not have an official position in the government, he is believed to have considerable influence over the national police.
Moncada’s involvement in intelligence operations with the Sandinista party stretches back to the early years of the revolution in the 1980s.