By Agence France-Presse
The United States put fresh pressure Thursday on embattled Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government, slapping sanctions on his national police commissioner and two other prominent officials for deadly human rights abuses and corruption.
The US Treasury put National Police Commissioner Francisco Javier Diaz Madriz and Fidel Antonio Moreno Briones, secretary of the Managua mayor’s office, on its financial blacklist, citing their roles in killings and beatings of anti-government protesters.
Also sanctioned was Jose Francisco Lopez Centeno, an oil executive the US Treasury alleged siphoned off millions of dollars from two government-linked companies for his own benefit and that of Nicaragua’s leaders.
The move aims to compel Ortega to commit to stalled talks mediated by Nicaragua’s bishops, in the hopes of resolving the conflict between his government and a popular uprising seeking his ouster.
The sanctions come after three people were reported killed Thursday in fresh clashes between pro-government forces and opposition activists in the Central American country’s northwest.
“The violence perpetrated by the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega against the Nicaraguan people and the efforts of those close to the Ortega regime to illicitly enrich themselves is deeply disturbing and completely unacceptable,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
“President Ortega and his inner circle continue to violate basic freedoms of innocent civilians while ignoring the Nicaraguan people’s calls for the democratic reforms they demand, including free, fair, and transparent elections.”
The sanctions order cites Diaz’s role in directing the police, who allegedly took part in the killing of six people including two children last month by setting fire to their Managua home.
Moreno, it said, has acted as the leader of the Sandinista Youth, a pro-government group that allegedly also took part in that attack and has been involved in inflicting violence on activists.
Lopez is a top executive of two related oil-importing institutions, Venezuela-controlled Albanisa and Nicaragua’s Petronic, giving him access to substantial funds he has used for his personal needs and supplied political leaders.
In a statement, State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the sanctions demonstrate US determination to “expose and hold accountable those responsible for the Nicaraguan government’s ongoing violence and intimidation campaign against its people.”
“We support the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua’s efforts to advance negotiations to resolve the crisis, and urge full implementation of the June 15 National Dialogue agreement on human rights as a critical component,” she said, referring to the country’s influential Catholic clergy.
“The United States also supports calls for early, free, fair and transparent elections.”