U.S. imposes sanctions on four high-ranking Nicaraguan officials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday imposed sanctions on four high-ranking Nicaraguan government officials for allegedly preventing their country’s citizens from exercising fundamental freedoms.

Among them are the head of Nicaragua’s National Assembly, Gustavo Porras Cortes; the chief of the state-run telecommunications agency, Orlando Castillo Castillo; the minister of health, Sonia Castro Gonzalez; and the minister of transportation, Oscar Mojica Obregon, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

The officials are all described by the United States as members of President Daniel Ortega’s “inner circle.”

The United States says the institutions headed by the individuals all targeted protesters who took to the streets against Ortega’s government last year by denying them medical care, promoting the government’s policies against demonstrators, silencing independent media, and pardoning police officers who have been accused of killing the protesters.

The action blocks the officials from accessing any property they own, directly or indirectly, by more than 50 percent in the United States or in the possession or control of Americans.

A spokesman for Nicaragua’s government declined to comment.

Canada also said on Friday it would impose financial sanctions on Nicaraguan officials, although Ottawa did not name which officials were being targeted by the move. Canada said it remained concerned over human rights violations in Nicaragua.

Reporting by Makini Brice and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Ismael Lopez in Managua; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and James Dalgleish