US Imposes Sanctions on Son of Nicaragua’s President Amid Anti-Government Protests

WASHINGTON—The United States imposed sanctions on another son of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Rafael, on Thursday, accusing him of money laundering and corruption, in the latest effort by Washington to put pressure on the leftist government.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, raise their fists during the commemoration of the 51st anniversary of the Pancasan guerrilla campaign in Managua, on Aug. 29, 2018. (Inti Ocon/AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration has accused the current Nicaraguan government of concentrating power in the hands of the president and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is already subject to U.S. sanctions along with other Nicaraguan officials.

The Trump administration has also criticized the government for cracking down on anti-government protests and accused it of human rights abuses, unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, political persecution, and widespread corruption.

The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted two of Rafael Ortega’s companies that it said he used to launder money for and finance the Ortega government, as well as a third company controlled by the family.

It said Rafael Ortega, the second Ortega son to be blacklisted by the United States, was targeted under an executive order for providing support to Murillo, who was blacklisted last year.

“Rafael Ortega is the key money manager behind the Ortega family’s illicit financial schemes,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Nicaragua has been gripped by a political crisis since early 2018 when demonstrations broke out against Daniel Ortega, a Cold War-era U.S. foe and former guerilla leader, over planned cuts to welfare benefits.

Nicaragua committed human rights violations
Anti-government protesters take part in a march dubbed ‘United Nicaragua will never be defeated’ in Granada, Nicaragua on Aug. 25, 2018. Thousands marched Saturday in different cities in Nicaragua demanding the freedom of political prisoners and the removal of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. (INTI OCON/AFP)

The demonstrations have since grown into a broader protest movement, and more than 300 people have been killed by police or armed government-affiliated groups, rights groups say.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the government “to resume dialogue with the opposition and restore democracy in the country.”

“Nicaragua’s painful political crisis can only be resolved through free and fair elections that credibly reflect the will of the Nicaraguan people,” he said in a statement.

Nicaragua protests
A demonstrator gestures as she is detained by riot police during a protest against the government of Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega in Managua, Nicaragua March 16, 2019. (Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters)

The latest sanctions freeze any U.S. assets of Rafael Ortega and the targeted companies and bar Americans from doing business with them.

Washington is accusing Rafael Ortega of using his company Inversiones Zanzibar, S.A., as a “front company” to avoid U.S. sanctions and said his security firm Servicio De Proteccion Y Vigilancia, S.A., had received numerous government contracts.

A chain of gas stations, Distribuidor Nicaraguense de Petroleo S.A. (DNP), which was bought with public money before being transferred to the Ortega family, had benefited from non-competitive contracts with the government, the U.S. Treasury said.

DNP controls about a third of Nicaragua’s fuel sales, according to statistics from the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Rafael Ortega and the Nicaraguan government did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the new sanctions.

By Daphne Psaledakis

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