By Matt Spetalnick and Daina Beth Solomon
WASHINGTON – The Biden administration plans to announce new U.S. sanctions and other punitive actions “very soon” in response to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s re-election in a vote that Washington has denounced as a sham, a senior State Department official told Reuters on Tuesday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the measures would be the first in a series of steps that the U.S. government will “ramp up over time.”
Washington expects a strong resolution against Ortega when the Organization of American States meets this week in Guatemala but is not likely to use the event to formally seek Nicaragua’s suspension from the bloc, the official said.
President Joe Biden is expected in the coming days or hours to sign congressional legislation aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Nicaragua, the official said.
Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader, clinched https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/nicaraguas-ortega-coasting-victory-after-contentious-election-2021-11-08 a fourth consecutive term in Sunday’s election after jailing political rivals ahead of a vote that drew international condemnation.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that Washington will coordinate with other governments and was ready to use a range of tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions against those complicit in “undemocratic acts.”
“We’ll see some actions we take very soon,” the State Department official said. “I don’t want to leave people the impression that it’s going to be kind of one announcement and done… This will continue to go over time.”
The official declined to elaborate on the types of sanctions in the works. But a U.S. government source last week said initial targets would likely be individuals, security force members and government-controlled companies.
Ricardo Zuniga, U.S. special envoy for Central America, told reporters the United States was evaluating measures to hold Ortega’s government accountable. He declined to say whether Ortega might be personally sanctioned.
Ortega on Monday night derided his U.S. critics as “Yankee imperialists” and accused them of trying to undermine Nicaragua’s electoral process. Cuba, Venezuela and Russia all have offered Ortega their backing.
Twenty-six OAS members voted https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/ortegas-government-is-undermining-nicaraguan-election-oas-says-2021-10-20 last month on a resolution that expressed alarm at Ortega’s actions but seven countries abstained. Washington is working to forge a more united stand at the bloc’s general assembly.
The State Department official said “realistically, in terms of the votes,” now is not the time to seek Nicaragua’s suspension.
Asked if Nicaragua could be kicked out, Zuniga said it would be important for OAS members to jointly define next steps, calling expulsion a “very serious matter.” Biden’s aides are wary because such action against Cuba in the 1960s failed to change Havana’s course.
Biden is poised to sign into law the so-called RENACER Act, which received bipartisan approval last week in the U.S. House of Representatives, the official said.
The legislation calls for sanctions on Nicaraguans deemed responsible for unfair elections, increased coordination of such measures with the European Union and Canada, and expanded U.S. oversight of international lending to Managua.
Zuniga said elements of the bill correspond well to the administration’s views. It would also require U.S. government reports on alleged corruption by the Ortega family, human rights abuses by security forces and Russian activities in the country, including military sales.
In addition, the administration is asked to review Nicaragua’s participation in the Central America Free Trade Agreement, which gives preferential treatment to exports to the United States.