U.S. Sanctions Nicaraguan First Lady Following Bolton Threat

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration sanctioned Nicaragua’s vice president and first lady, Rosario Murillo, as part of a U.S. crackdown on the regime of the country’s long-serving president, Daniel Ortega.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday declaring a national emergency because of Ortega’s violent response to protests over changes he made to the country’s social security system earlier this year.

Ortega and his supporters have engaged “in rampant corruption, dismantling of democratic institutions, serious human rights abuse and exploitation of the people and public resources of Nicaragua for private gain,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a Nov. 1 speech that the administration was preparing to sanction Nicaragua, lumping the country together with Cuba and Venezuela in what he called a “Troika of Tyranny.” The U.S. wants Nicaragua to hold free and fair elections, a senior administration official said at a briefing ahead of Bolton’s speech.

“This administration is committed to holding the Ortega regime accountable for the violent protests and widespread corruption that have led to the deaths of hundreds of innocent Nicaraguans and destroyed their economy,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in his department’s statement.

The U.S. also sanctioned Nestor Moncada Lau, whom Treasury identified as a national security adviser to the Ortegas.

Treasury said that Murillo, the first lady, has influence over the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s youth organization and the Nicaraguan National Police. Both groups or their members have “engaged in serious human rights abuse,” Treasury said in the statement.

The NNP have been part of “death squads” that have engaged in extra-judicial killings, kidnappings and torture, Treasury said, while the Sandinista Youth have attacked protesters against the Nicaraguan government.

Treasury said that Moncada is an intelligence agent for the Ortega regime and has engaged in bribery and blackmail to persuade people to support or prevent them from opposing the government. He also “worked with President Ortega to cover up Ortega’s sexual conduct with a minor,” Treasury said in its statement.

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