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. SiresActivists push for tougher sanctions on Nicaragua's government Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements New Jersey Dems tell Pentagon not to use military funds for border wall 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 TrumpTrump campaign buys full page ads in Miami newspapers ahead of Dem debates Trump administration's 'forced diplomacy' with Iran isn't working Roy Moore trails Republican field in Alabama 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 RooneyAddressing climate change is a win for Republicans — why not embrace it? Pricing carbon: A solution whose time has finally come Activists push for tougher sanctions on Nicaragua's government 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.