U.S. sanctions Nicaragua police force over 'violent repression'

FILE PHOTO: Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega (L) speaks during the oath of the Commander in Chief of the Nicaraguan army General Julio Cesar, at the Revolution square in Managua, Nicaragua February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on the Nicaraguan National Police over accusations of human rights abuse, in the Trump administration’s latest move to pressure the leftist government of President Daniel Ortega.

The Treasury Department said in a statement it blacklisted Nicaragua’s police over its role in significant acts of violence, including “using live ammunition against peaceful protesters and participating in death squads, as well as carrying out extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and kidnappings.”

Three national police commissioners were also blacklisted: Juan Valle Valle, Luis Alberto Perez Olivas and Juan Pastor Urbina.

“The Ortega regime has utilized the Nicaraguan National Police as a tool in its campaign of violent repression against the Nicaraguan people,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.

The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets held by Nicaragua’s National Police and the three targeted commissioners and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.

The Treasury Department has previously imposed sanctions on two officials of Nicaragua’s National Police for human rights abuses.

Demonstrations began in Nicaragua in 2018 over planned cuts to welfare benefits and later spread into broader protests against what critics see as Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian-style rule. The protests left more than 300 people dead, according to rights groups.

“The United States urges the Ortega regime to immediately stop repressing the Nicaraguan people, respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and allow the conditions for free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy in Nicaragua,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Thursday.

The Nicaraguan government has called previous U.S. sanctions on officials, including Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo, who is also the country’s vice president, a continuation of “imperial” designs on the small Central American country.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Mary Milliken, Leslie Adler and Daniel Wallis