MIAMI – Miami U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar said on Thursday that she wants the United States to put more pressure on a dictator in Central America.
Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist-Leninist guerrilla fighter and convicted felon over his role in a bank robbery, has been the president of Nicaragua since 2007. This was after serving a term as president from 1979 to 1990 when Violeta Chamorro, a newspaper publisher, halted his bid for reelection.
Ortega, 75, and his wife, Rosario Murillo, 69, the vice president, are fighting to stay in power again. Amid a series of reports on human rights violations, Salazar is part of a bipartisan effort in Congress to reexamine trade with Nicaragua and consider U.S. sanctions.
Salazar had a message for Ortega: “If you want to trade and sell your goods and services to the United States we are very happy to buy them, but you cannot oppress your people.”
Ortega has been using the judicial system to crack down on his opposition as he campaigns for re-election in November. He counts on laws that criminalize alleged misinformation and the use of foreign funds to support political activities.
His list of contenders include Félix Maradiaga, 44, a human rights activist, and two relatives of former Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro: Juan Sebastián Chamorro, 49, her nephew, and Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, 67, her daughter. They have all reported harassment.
Nicaraguan authorities issued an arrest warrant on Thursday for Humberto Belli, 75, the country’s former minister of education under Chamorro’s administration. On Tuesday, they arrested Luis Rivas Anduray, the executive president of Banco de la Produccion, a private Bank known as Banpro.
After several reports of abuse of power, the Organization of American States passed a resolution on Tuesday condemning Ortega’s regime and “the recent deterioration of the political climate and human rights situation.”
In June, Ortega’s officials ordered the house arrest of Cristiana Chamorro and seized her computers and phones. The U.S. State Department called for her release.
Nicaragua’s Catholic bishops released a letter on June 10 to denounce “arbitrary and illegal restrictions of citizens’ freedoms and the persecution of the opposition and media outlets.” Murillo accused the bishops of spreading hatred.
Eduardo Gamarra, a political science expert with Florida International University, said the only other countries in the hemisphere with similar situations are Cuba and Venezuela. He doesn’t believe Ortega and Murillo have any intentions of stopping.
“They have this calculation that it doesn’t really matter what they do — that they are going to get away with it,” Gamarra said.
Salazar is hoping to change that. In the House, she introduced Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform Act of 2021, or the RENACER Act, in April. She has the support of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Sen. Marco Rubio co-sponsored the bill in the Senate with the support of several Democrats including Sen. Robert Menendez.
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