The U.S. on Monday issued a tersely-worded rebuke of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega amid his government's violent crackdown on political opponents, hinting at further U.S. actions to quell the violence.
"The United States strongly condemns the ongoing violence in Nicaragua and human rights abuses committed by the Ortega regime in response to protests," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in an unusually lengthy statement.
She pointed to the U.S.'s previous blacklisting of three Nicaraguan officials, saying the penalties "are a start, not an end, of potential sanctions."
The previously designated officials are Francisco Diaz, the deputy chief of the national police; Fidel Moreno, a local government official in the capital, Managua; and Francisco Lopez, the Sandinista Party's treasurer and vice president of the Albanisa oil company.
The trio were blacklisted in early July.
The U.S. also revoked or restricted the visas of unidentified Nicaraguan officials and their families "when those officials have been responsible for police violence against protestors and municipal authorities, when they have supported pro-government parapolice violence, or when they have prevented victims from receiving care," Sanders said.
More than 300 people have been killed in the last three months while protesting the government, according to rights groups.
A Catholic Church-led peace process begun in May has failed to bring an end to the blood flow.
During an interview with U.S.-based broadcaster Fox News, Ortega pinned the violence in the country on anti-government militias.
“They launched these attacks against state organizations, against the police and against loyal Sandinista families. They blocked the country, arresting and torturing citizens,” he said.
Although there is much evidence that paramilitary and police forces have been working hand in hand, Ortega strongly rejected any link to the paramilitaries, saying they had been armed by “political organizations”, of which he singled out the Liberal Party and “others who have refused to take part in the electoral process.” He also pointed to unspecified “United States organizations.”
The U.S. has taken back vehicles it sent to Nicaragua's national police, and halted additional sales and donations of equipment "that Ortega’s security forces might misuse," Sanders said.
"President Ortega and Vice President [Rosario] Murillo are ultimately responsible for the pro-government parapolice that have brutalized their own people," the White House said.
© Copyright Andolu Ajansi