A bipartisan group of senators is calling on President Biden to take a tougher line with Nicaragua amid President Daniel Ortega’s crackdown on political opponents.
In a Thursday letter, organized by Sens. James Risch (R-Idaho) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and signed by others, senators asked Biden to reconsider Nicaragua’s participation in the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement and to investigate assets and holdings of the Nicaraguan armed forces in the United States.
The senators also asked Biden to tighten sanctions in an attempt to curb Ortega’s repression of widespread protests.
The State Department on Wednesday announced new sanctions on Ortega’s circle, including Ortega’s daughter Camila Antonia Ortega Murillo, a top lawmaker, the head of the central bank and the head of the military pension fund.
But Risch and Leahy – joined by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) – called for expanded sanctions against Ortega, who is said to govern jointly with his wife, Rosario Murillo.
“The United States should act swiftly and decisively to send a clear message urging the Ortega-Murillo regime to reverse course,” the senators wrote.
Although Nicaragua was a prime target of former President Trump’s foreign policy in Latin America, Ortega has held on to power through a period of violent unrest, using increasingly draconian means of repression.
The Biden administration has focused more on the so-called Northern Triangle – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – in hopes of improving conditions in those countries to reduce migration to the U.S.
Ortega ordered the arrest of at least five top political opponents as Vice President Harris returned home from a trip to Guatemala and Mexico this week.
“Ortega’s politically motivated arrests against civil society leaders and opposition presidential candidates is right out of the Havana and Caracas playbook,” said Eddy Acevedo, a senior adviser at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
“Even more alarming is that the Ortega regime chose to escalate the level of oppression to a new level at the same time that Vice President Harris was in the region, which I do not believe was a coincidence,” Acevedo added.
The escalation comes at a time when Harris’s plans to channel U.S. aid to the region are not yet in place.
Meanwhile, Nicaraguan migration to the United States has spiked, with 4,427 Nicaraguans encountered by U.S. authorities while crossing the border without prior authorization in May, a 40 percent increase from April, and a 492 percent increase from February, according to Customs and Border Protection figures.