The European Union expanded on Monday, 2, a new range of sanctions against the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, substantially raising the position of those included in the punishment list. Among the eight names that add to the list are the vice president and first lady, Rosario Murillo, and one of the couple’s children, Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, who holds the post of director of one of the main television stations in the country and a leadership position within the May 4 Sandinista Movement.
The European bloc accuses the eight senior officials of being “responsible for serious violations of human rights and/or actions that undermine democracy and the rule of law in Nicaragua”. Brussels also emphasizes that punitive measures “are aimed at specific individuals and shaped so as not to harm the Nicaraguan population and economy.” Those punished, who now form a list of 14 names, are thus banned from entering any of the 27 states that make up the EU. The decision also provides that the targets of punishment will have their assets frozen in European territory, in addition to not being able to rely on financial resources coming from European citizens or companies.
The new European sanctions come in the wake of those imposed by the United States and the United Kingdom, two countries that have been reacting to the worsening political situation there. The European Union’s top foreign policy representative, Josep Borrell, took nearly a month to rally support from the Union’s 27 partners to move forward with the new sanctions. Even so, since the beginning of July, in a speech to the plenary of the European Parliament, Borrell had already made a call to the situation in the Central American country, saying that “Nicaragua has entered a repressive spiral” whose objective would be “the elimination of candidates opposition until November 7th [de 2021]”, the day the country celebrates its presidential and parliamentary elections.
The high representative’s concern is well founded. During the weekend that marked the end of July and the beginning of August, the country’s seventh presidential candidate was arrested. In the statement announcing the new sanctions, Brussels notes that the latest arrest “sadly illustrates the magnitude of the repression in Nicaragua and projects a disturbing image for the upcoming elections.”
For months, the EU has been asking the Ortega regime to establish a dialogue with the opposition in order to guarantee a democratic and credible process. The bloc also asks the Government to allow the return of international human rights organizations. The power in Managua, in turn, has been ignoring the requests, which precisely led to the tightening of sanctions.
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Ortega’s vice president and wife, Rosario Murillo, leads the new wave of punishments. Considered the regime’s ‘number two’, she is accused of playing “an instrumental role to encourage and justify the repression exercised by the Nicaraguan National Police against opposition demonstrations in 2018”. In addition, the text says that, in June this year, Murillo “publicly threatened the Nicaraguan opposition and took away the credentials of independent journalists”.
The President of the National Assembly, Gustavo Eduardo Porras Cortés joins the First Lady — for being at the head of a controversial amnesty law that prevents the investigation of those responsible for the repression of protesters in 2018 —, in addition to the country’s attorney general, of the president of the Supreme Court, an economic advisor to the prime minister, two high-ranking officials of the National Police and the couple’s heir, Juan Carlos, director of Canal 8, classified in the text as “one of the main television and advertising networks”.
The current sanctions regime against Nicaragua was approved by the bloc in October 2019 and, since then, it has been used as an instrument to respond to Ortega’s repression against opponents, in addition to the Government’s pressure against the press and civil society. Similar measures against members of the Nicaraguan government involving an asset freeze (within the EU) have been seen since May 2020, when a list of six names was approved by the Commission.
This first list, which remains in force, includes Ortega’s personal assistants for health and safety matters, a senior prison official, in addition to the director and deputy director of the National Police — an agency involved in recent cases of repression. The list of names released at the beginning of August, however, is aimed precisely at figures in higher positions, with a focus on the regime’s top management and on the president’s own family.
But there is no optimism. The European Commission recognizes that the impact of sanctions may be limited, allowing Ortega to continue on an authoritarian trajectory with apparent impunity. “What is clear is that Ortega feels secure enough to arrest the most popular opposition leaders without further street demonstrations,” Borrell told the European Parliament. Meanwhile, groups of MEPs are calling for a tougher policy on Nicaragua. However, Borrell recalled, processes of this nature —as in the case of the new wave of sanctions now— require unanimity, which in turn takes time to achieve. At the end of a new parliamentary debate on the Nicaraguan situation, the high representative frankly pointed out that, “as was to be expected”, “we have heard many pleas of ‘Enough is enough, Mr Ortega!’. I can guarantee: Ortega is completely indifferent to these appeals”.
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