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U.S. blacklists Ortega regime members amid crackdown on political opposition

The United States warned further sanctions could be coming if Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega does not cease his crackdown on political opponents ahead of November's general election. Photo by Rodrigo Arangua/EPA
The United States warned further sanctions could be coming if Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega does not cease his crackdown on political opponents ahead of November's general election. Photo by Rodrigo Arangua/EPA

June 10 (UPI) -- The Biden administration blacklisted four members of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's regime over their actions to undermine democracy amid a government crackdown on political challengers to the presidency months before the election.

State Department Secretary Antony Blinken announced the punitive sanctions Wednesday following a week in which the Nicaraguan government arrested several presidential candidates and opposition leaders.

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"The United States condemns these actions in the most unequivocal terms and holds President Ortega and those complicit in these actions responsible for their safety and well-being," the United States' top diplomat said in a statement.

Those sanctioned are Camila Antonia Ortega Murillo, the president's daughter and coordinator of the National Commission for the Creative Economy; Julio Modesto Rodriguez Balladares, a military general and head of its pension and investment fund; Leonardo Ovidio Reyes Ramirez, president of the Central Bank of Nicaragua; and national assembly deputy Edwin Ramon Castro Rivera.

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The Treasury said those four were targeted with sanctions that freeze all U.S. property and assets in their name while blocking American citizens from doing business with them for being members of the Nicaraguan government.

"There are costs for those who support or carry out the Ortega regime's repression," Blinken said.

The sanctions were imposed after the regime arrested presidential candidates Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro on Tuesday and candidates Arturo Cruz and Cristiana Chamorro earlier this month.

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The arrests have sparked international condemnation with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stating he is "very concerned" about the arrests and the government's invalidation of opposition candidates from the November election, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

"These developments can seriously undermine the public's confidence in the democratic process ahead of the November general elections," Guterres said, according to Dujarric.

Amnesty International accused the Ortega regime of using its judiciary system to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, political activists and journalist with expectations for its crackdown to continue in the lead up to the elections.

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"The denunciations of violations of due process suffered by those arrested or brought before courts are accumulating endlessly," Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement. "We demand the release of all those detained solely for exercising their human rights."

Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, on Wednesday called for the release of all arrested political prisoners and for Ortega to cease his harassment and oppressive activities.

"Nicaragua deserves to be free and democratic," he said on Twitter.

Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said she spoke with Maradiaga's wife and and joins with the other detainees' families in demanding their release.

"The broadening crackdown on Nicaragua political and civil society leaders tonight, including the arrest of [Chamorro] and many others, calls for an urgent international response," she said via Twitter. "The Ortega regime is responsible for the welfare of detainees. They should be released immediately."

On Tuesday, Chamorro posted video online of police raiding the house of Cruz, who was arrested days earlier. Hours later, he condemned the arrest of Maradiaga in a statement calling it "illegal and arbitrary."

Later that same day, and prior to his own arrest, Chamorro posted a summons to present himself at the prosecutor's Office online.

In Washington, D.C., Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, warned the Ortega regime during a press conference that further punitive actions could follow without hesitation.

"It has become clear, including in the past few days alone, that under President Ortega Nicaragua is becoming an international pariah moving farther from democracy," he said.

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