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New US Sanctions Sound a Warning for Daniel Ortega

“Ortega’s being served notice that he hasn’t disappeared from Washington’s radar”, just a few days before the deadline for the report from the OEA

“Ortega’s being served notice that he hasn’t disappeared from Washington’s radar”. US Sanctions just a few days before the deadline for the report from the OEA

Iván Olivares

9 de noviembre 2019


The most recent sanctions imposed this past Thursday, November 7, against three additional high functionaries of Daniel Ortega’s government, sends a message to Ortega, Nicaraguan citizens, and the international community that his regime is still being watched. 

The announcement of new sanctions came at a time when there are only a few days left before the deadline for the presentation of a report on Nicaragua from the High-level Commission of the Organization of American States (OAS).  According to experts consulted by Confidencial, this report is expected to define the organization’s next steps in regard to the regime.

The sanctions announced on Thursday came from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury Department, and were leveled against Supreme Electoral Council president Lumberto Campbell, Assistant Police Chief Ramon Avellan, and the Executive Director of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute, Roberto Lopez.

Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, a former foreign minister in Nicaragua, interprets the event as a message aimed at both the Nicaraguan people and Daniel Ortega.

“They’re letting Ortega know that he hasn’t disappeared from Washington’s radar screen, and that the United States government continues to follow the spirit of the executive order issued by President Trump in 2018, where he considers Nicaragua to be a menace to the national security of the United States,” said Aguirre.

Noting the level and the closeness to the regime of the three new sanctioned officials, the diplomat noted: “I don’t know how much further these sanctions will penetrate into Ortega’s circle, because – counting these three – a total of 14 regime functionaries have now been sanctioned under the Magnitsky law and the NICA Act.”

The newest sanctioned officials

“Avellan has been the face of the repression exerted by the National Police and the affiliated paramilitary forces. Campbell is the president of the Supreme Electoral Council, which is the state power that is most evident in the popular imagination as undermining representative democracy.  And Lopez manages the institution that lit the fuse for the civic uprising when he announced the reforms that provoked the march of the senior citizens in Leon [in April 2018], and later the repression in Managua,” Aguirre recalled.

“The message to the Nicaraguan people is ‘we’re with you’, even though now the disturbances in Chile, in Bolivia, and Haiti, plus the human rights violations in Mexico and all of the distractions within the United States, have diverted attention from Nicaragua,” he continued.

A reminder, on the eve of the OAS report

In addition to the message itself, those interviewed highlighted the moment in which these sanctions were announced: just days before the High-Level Commission from the Organization of American States is to present its report on the situation in the country.

“These sanctions seek to put pressure on the government so that it moves forward on implementing internal reforms,” assured Mario Arana, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Nicaragua.  Arana is also a member of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy.

In Arana’s view, the moment was chosen as “a reminder, on the eve of the High-Level Commission’s report, because Ortega has done none of the things recommended by the OAS General Assembly. He flouted the opportunity to take action on their recommendations, so that the next step is more pressure.”

“They gave the regime time to demonstrate some movement towards restoring civil liberties and dialogue, to approve the electoral reforms and allow the human rights organizations to return, as the OAS Assembly established, and none of this has happened,” Arana emphasized.

A warning bell for the dictatorship

In Mario Arana’s opinion, “They’re sounding a warning bell that the sanctions will continue, and it won’t only be the United States: Canada and the European Union could follow.”

Francisco Aguirre recognizes that “he might have thought that these sanctions would be announced after the report.  I believe this report will be conclusive; and will include everything that is already known about the situation in Nicaragua.”

Given that there aren’t enough votes to suspend Nicaragua from the OAS in accordance with Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, Aguirre foresees that the Permanent Council or the assembly of foreign ministers will vote to have each country act in accordance with its individual criteria, and from that time on the United States would opt to further sanction them.

“Another possibility is that they’ve imposed the new sanctions at this moment because the International Monetary Fund mission is currently in Managua, or because of the feelings of discouragement among the opposition,” he felt.

Obligated to make new organizational changes

Imposing sanctions on public functionaries implies that the government must make changes in their organizational structure and in the legal frameworks of the institutions administered by the sanctioned officials. That’s exactly what happened in the Electoral Council when Roberto Rivas, then head magistrate, was sanctioned; and in the National Assembly, when the one punished was its president, Deputy Gustavo Porras.

Sociologist Elvira Cuadra stated: “Those most harmed are the Supreme Electoral Council and the Social Security Institute, who will have to nominate someone else to fill the posts because neither Campbell nor Lopez can now administer these institutions.”

“This is a serious problem for the Electoral Council and also for the Social Security Institute, because Lopez can’t direct it anymore, so that they’ll have to look for another person. These are two sensitive institutions, especially Social Security, which handles a lot of money,” she specified.

Mario Arana, Chamber of Commerce president, believes that “this increasingly complicates things for the regime”, because a lot of uncertainty will be generated around the authority that these people may have to sign contracts. Private businesses are beginning to express concern for “the contamination implied in working with an institution whose head has been sanctioned. Up to what point should they risk signing contracts with those institutions?” he wondered.


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Iván Olivares

Iván Olivares

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado en Costa Rica. Durante más de veinte años se ha desempeñado en CONFIDENCIAL como periodista de Economía. Antes trabajó en el semanario La Crónica, el diario La Prensa y El Nuevo Diario. Además, ha publicado en el Diario de Hoy, de El Salvador. Ha ganado en dos ocasiones el Premio a la Excelencia en Periodismo Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, en Nicaragua.