Bipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua

Bipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua
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A bipartisan group of senators is calling on President BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE to take a tougher line with Nicaragua amid President Daniel Ortega's crackdown on political opponents.

In a Thursday letter, organized by Sens. James Risch (R-Idaho) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge House clears .1 billion Capitol security bill, sending to Biden Senate passes .1 billion Capitol security bill MORE (D-Vt.) and signed by others, senators asked Biden to reconsider Nicaragua's participation in the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement and to investigate assets and holdings of the Nicaraguan armed forces in the United States.

The senators also asked Biden to tighten sanctions in an attempt to curb Ortega's repression of widespread protests.

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The State Department on Wednesday announced new sanctions on Ortega's circle, including Ortega's daughter Camila Antonia Ortega Murillo, a top lawmaker, the head of the central bank and the head of the military pension fund.

But Risch and Leahy — joined by Sens. John CornynJohn CornynBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE (R-Texas), Dick DurbinDick DurbinCongress should butt out of Supreme Court's business Inmates grapple with uncertainty over Biden prison plan Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (D-Ill.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal Break glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change Democrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins MORE (R-Fla.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (R-Ind.) and Bill CassidyBill CassidyBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate starts infrastructure debate amid 11th-hour drama Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure MORE (R-La.) — called for expanded sanctions against Ortega, who is said to govern jointly with his wife, Rosario Murillo.

"The United States should act swiftly and decisively to send a clear message urging the Ortega-Murillo regime to reverse course," the senators wrote.

Although Nicaragua was a prime target of former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE's foreign policy in Latin America, Ortega has held on to power through a period of violent unrest, using increasingly draconian means of repression.

The Biden administration has focused more on the so-called Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — in hopes of improving conditions in those countries to reduce migration to the U.S.

Ortega ordered the arrest of at least five top political opponents as Vice President Harris returned home from a trip to Guatemala and Mexico this week.

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"Ortega’s politically motivated arrests against civil society leaders and opposition presidential candidates is right out of the Havana and Caracas playbook," said Eddy Acevedo, a senior adviser at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

"Even more alarming is that the Ortega regime chose to escalate the level of oppression to a new level at the same time that Vice President Harris was in the region, which I do not believe was a coincidence," Acevedo added.

The escalation comes at a time when Harris's plans to channel U.S. aid to the region are not yet in place.

Meanwhile, Nicaraguan migration to the United States has spiked, with 4,427 Nicaraguans encountered by U.S. authorities while crossing the border without prior authorization in May, a 40 percent increase from April, and a 492 percent increase from February, according to Customs and Border Protection figures.