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New EU Sanctions on Nicaraguan Officials Amid Escalating Crisis

Concerted, Global Pressure Needed to Stem Regime Abuses

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, lead a rally in Managua, Nicaragua on September 5, 2018. © 2018 Alfredo Zuniga/AP Images

On August 2, the European Union (EU) imposed targeted sanctions on eight Nicaraguans accused of “serious human rights violations” and undermining democracy, including Vice President Rosario Murillo.

The sanctions include freezing assets, forbidding EU citizens and companies from making funds available to the people listed, and a travel ban that prevents them from entering the EU. Fourteen Nicaraguans have been sanctioned by the EU since 2020.

Human Rights Watch has documented the government crackdown in the run-up to elections scheduled for November. Starting in early June, Nicaraguan authorities have arbitrarily detained and opened seemingly politically motivated criminal investigations against seven leading opposition presidential candidates and at least 20 prominent government critics. The wave of arrests, as well as the enactment of repressive legislation that restricts civil and political rights, appears to be part of a broader strategy to eliminate political competition, stifle dissent, and pave the way for President Daniel Ortega’s re-election to a fourth consecutive term. 

Three of those newly sanctioned by the EU are explicitly mentioned in our report:

  • Vice President Murillo, who is widely perceived as sharing presidential powers, and has given speeches supporting the 2018 crackdown against protesters by Nicaragua’s National Police that left over 300 people dead, 2,000 injured, and hundreds of arbitrary arrests and prosecutions.
  • Gustavo Porras, who, as president of the National Assembly, has enacted legislation that undermines democratic institutions and processes.
  • Attorney General Ana Guido, who has overseen the politically motivated prosecution of protesters and members of the opposition during the 2018 demonstrations and arbitrary criminal investigations against critics.

The others subject to new EU sanctions are the director of a pro-government TV station, the Supreme Court of Justice president, two top National Police officials, and an economic advisor to the president. The EU announcement follows US sanctions on 100 Nicaraguans implicated in abuses and undermining democracy, and Canadian sanctions on 15. Other like-minded states that have already sanctioned some Nicaraguans, such as the United Kingdom, should redouble the pressure.

Targeted sanctions, together with sustained international scrutiny and condemnation by international bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council, are valuable tools to pressure Nicaraguan leaders, including Ortega, to make concessions. Without strong and sustained international pressure, the Ortega government will have no incentive to curb the crackdown and eventually allow free and fair elections.

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