Activists push for tougher sanctions on Nicaragua's government

Activists push for tougher sanctions on Nicaragua's government
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Lawmakers at a House hearing on Tuesday condemned human rights violations under the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and weighed tougher sanctions to address the crisis.

Rep. Albio SiresAlbio B. SiresLawmakers spar over surveillance flight treaty with Russia Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation MORE (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade, highlighted what he called the "brutal repression" of the Ortega government in response to opposition protests last year at the hearing before his panel.

Nicaraguan authorities deployed paramilitary forces to crack down on protesters calling for Ortega's resignation in April 2018, resulting in more than 325 people killed, 2,000 injured, over 770 detained and 60,000 fleeing the country, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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In response to the crackdown, Congress passed the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act (NICA), co-sponsored by Sires, which allows the president to impose sanctions against Nicaraguan human rights violators. The bill was signed into law in December 2018.

Lawmakers said more must be done.

“We must send a clear message that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Nicaragua,” said Sires.

Despite sanctions, Ortega has continued to detain individuals arrested during last year’s protests. José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, told lawmakers that the prisoners were subjected to further violence in prison including “electric shocks, severe beatings, nail removal, asphyxiation, and rape.”

Vivanco urged lawmakers to push President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem senator says Zelensky was 'feeling the pressure' to probe Bidens 2020 Dems slam Trump decision on West Bank settlements Trump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans' MORE to target sanctions against Nicaraguan officials guilty of human rights abuses.

Dr. Carlos Ponce, the director of Latin American programs at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, said that sanctions under the NICA Act should be expanded to include members of the military and police.

Expanding sanctions on Nicaraguan officials guilty of rights abuses found support from both sides of the aisle.

“We need to expand and maintain personal sanctions,” Ranking Member Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyBipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members House Democrat: Taylor's impeachment testimony made 'very clear' there was a quid pro quo New bipartisan Senate climate caucus aims to take 'politics' out of the topic MORE (R-Fla.), said in his opening remarks. Rooney also said the U.S. should work with allies and the Organization of American States to “exert maximum pressure on the Ortega regime.”

Last month, the Organization of American States called on Ortega to release all prisoners from last year’s protest by June 18. On Saturday, the Nicaraguan government passed an amnesty bill that would free all political prisoners from last year’s protests but the opposition says that the law could be used to absolve authorities of any wrongdoing for the crackdown.

Last year’s student-led protests erupted after Ortega proposed social security reforms, but the demonstrations stemmed from broader discontent with his government, Geoff Thale, the vice president of programs for the Washington Office on Latin America told The Hill.

“Discontent has been growing slowly over authoritarianism,” Thale said.

Ortega is currently serving his third consecutive term, after the country's constitution was changed in 2014 to remove limits on the terms a president could serve.

Felix Maradiaga, the executive director of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy, detailed for lawmakers further human rights abuses, including banning peaceful protests.

“We the Nicaraguan people are fighting for our freedom,” he said.