In less than six hours, the United States increased the political, economic and diplomatic pressure against the Daniel Ortega regime. First, President Donald Trump issued an “Executive Order” against the Government of Ortega and his close associates, sanctioning Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo, and the national security advisor Nestor Moncada Lau.
Afterwards, the United States Senate unanimously approved the legislation known such as “Magnistsky Nica Law,” which is designed to punish Daniel Ortega’s government. In both cases, the message was clear: the regime must put an end to the repression against its citizens and return to a negotiated solution to the crisis, experts told Confidencial.
The approval of the “Magnistsky Nica” was taken for granted, but the sanctions against Murillo and Moncada came as a surprise. An early Christmas gift for those who demand an increase of the external pressure and international condemnation of the regime, as counterweight to the repressive drift—which adds up to 325 confirmed deaths since last April to date—while the presidential couple has turned deaf ears to the national and international requests of the OAS, UN and European Union (EU), to advance the general elections.
Murillo and Moncada Lau were sanctioned for their “responsibility” and “complicity” with the “serious” human rights abuses in Nicaragua, and for their links to acts of corruption, according to the Executive Order signed by Trump. Both will not be able to enter the United States and are prohibited from making transactions with US companies and citizens.
Jose Luis Velasquez, a former Ambassador of Nicaragua to the OAS, said the two measures reflect that there is a “full and profound” consensus in the Legislative and Executive branches of the United States that sanctions are needed to stop the radicalization of Ortega’s repression, which this week has focused on harassment of journalists and independent media outlets.
“All the actions are on the table and they (the United States) are ready to directly hit just where it hurts Ortega the most, which is his wife and his right-hand man, Moncada Lau, who are managing the repression in Nicaragua,” said Velasquez.
A call to negotiate
The sanctions against Murillo, the wife of the president who represents 50% of Ortega’s power, indicate to the President that he must renegotiate with the United States the terms of his departure, according to Alejandro Bendana, historian and former Ambassador to the UN. “The clear message to Ortega is that whatever we could have agreed before regarding negotiations is no longer valid,” he commented.
During an interview on the program “Esta Noche” (Tonight), broadcasted by Channel 12, Bendana said that from the United States perspective “there was not” a satisfactory answer to their demands, so they decided to sanction the inner circle of Ortega.
He recalled that back in June, one of the critical months of the crisis, Ortega received Caleb McCarry, a delegate from the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, to whom the Nicaraguan ruler had communicated his willingness to advance the elections. However, Ortega broke his promise, and instead of facilitating a process of political negotiation increased the repression. “Now, the United States says that what was there no longer goes, now we go with another type of landing,” mentioned Bendana.
McCarry was sent by the Republican Senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker, Chairmen of the Foreign Relations Committee, which on September 26th approved the merger of the Nica Act and the Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Law in Nicaragua, which passed to be known as the “Magnistky Nica Law.”
This legislation will now pass to the House, where it is expected to be approved without problems, since the Nica Act initiative was ratified there in 2017. The new law includes individual sanctions against those close to the regime, and also establishes a constraint from the US Executive to its representatives to not support loans to the Nicaraguan government from the IDB, World Bank and the IMF. The document will be then sent to the White House for Trump to sign and enter into force.
A threat to national security
“I, Donald Trump, as President of the United States, consider that the situation in Nicaragua constitute an extraordinary and unusual threat to the US national security and foreign policy and, therefore, I declare a national emergency to deal with this threat,” says the executive order.
Raising the national crisis to the level of “threat” is a sign that the country, according to former Nicaraguan diplomat Mauricio Diaz, is governed by a President who “does not see, does not listen, and does not speak.”
“It is an autistic government (that of Nicaragua), an autism that for the United States is interpreted as a threat to its own security,” according to Diaz, who emphasized that in addition to human rights violations, the United States is concerned about the proximity of the Nicaraguan regime to “historically enemy countries”, such as the Russian Federation and now more recently Venezuela.
Velasquez notes that if the United States considers Nicaragua a “threat” to its security, it “rules out” the possibility of an agreement between Ortega and the Trump administration. “Henceforward we go to measuring strengths,” he commented.
Concern over Ortega’s reaction
Precisely, the reaction of the regime is one of the fears expressed by the former diplomats. The first response from Ortega/Murillo was a pronouncement rejecting Trump’s Executive Order. According to the government, it is a “meddling and interventionist” act, and they appeal to the “patriotic legacy” and “heroic heritage” of Generals Augusto Cesar Sandino and Benjamin Zeledon, of the hero Andres Castro and the founder of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), Carlos Fonseca, to reject it.
In its note, the regime declared “inadmissible, inconsequential, disrespectful, false and illegitimate all the accusations that ratify the imperialist perspective and practices of the United States of America, and the servile and abject condition of the local betrayers of the homeland.”
Mauricio Diaz indicated that he would not be “surprised” if the government paralyzes the country with “demonstrations of public employees, and aggressive speeches, deepening the rhetoric of confrontation. The problem is that in the middle are the people of Nicaragua,” he warned.
The issue will be there until this man (Ortega) understands or reads the messages in a rational manner, because a civilian and civilized president would surely interpret this as an opportunity to get out of this crisis, but the government’s reaction is rejection,” explained the former diplomat.
Bendana did not rule out an increase in the reprisals by Ortega against his opponents, who the government labels as “traitors” in its statement, because “each time they have less and less to lose,” which generates a dangerous situation, since “appealing to the reasoning of the two figures that we have misgoverning the country, has failed us over and over again.”