Nicaragua quietly seeks to re-engage with U.S. -sources

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Laureano Ortega, executive of PRONicaragua, speaks during the presentation on the feasibility studies in the building of the Interoceanic Grand Canal, in Managua November 20, 2014. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas//File Photo

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WASHINGTON, May 5 (Reuters) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's son Laureano, an influential figure in the country's leftist government, has reached out quietly to the Biden administration in recent months seeking to re-engage with the United States, according to people familiar with the matter.

Laureano Ortega's overture comes as he, other family members and those in his father's inner circle face U.S. sanctions, and Managua's ally Russia is increasingly isolated by Washington and other Western powers over President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine.

The United States and Nicaragua have been at odds for years but relations took an especially hard hit when Daniel Ortega,76, a former Marxist guerrilla, won a fourth consecutive term in November after jailing rivals and cracking down on critical media. U.S. President Joe Biden dismissed the election as a sham and imposed sanctions on more Nicaraguan officials. read more [nL1N2TQ16L]

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Laureano Ortega, 40, one of the president's most politically powerful offspring, communicated via an unnamed third party that the Nicaraguan government was interested in restarting a high-level dialogue with the United States, two people in Washington familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

The New York Times first reported the outreach.

Laureano Ortega, an investment and trade adviser to his father, is believed to be seeking sanctions relief and may be willing to discuss releasing political prisoners in exchange, one of the sources said.

A senior U.S. official traveled secretly to Managua in March for a meeting with him, but the Ortegas decided not to go ahead with the talks, the source said.

However, the source added, the Biden administration has concluded that Nicaragua "at some point may be ready to have a real conversation," especially if it has to revise geopolitical calculations about its relationship with Russia.

Despite the contact, Nicaragua has been informed it will be excluded from the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in June, according to the source.

The State Department previously stated that Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government were unlikely to be invited because the summit is to showcase democracy in the hemisphere. read more

The Nicaraguan government did not respond to a request for comment.

Laureano Ortega was sanctioned in 2019 by the Treasury Department, which accused him of “corrupt business deals.” In December, he signed an agreement in China switching Nicaragua’s recognition to Beijing from Taiwan.

His mother, Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo, is also under sanctions, and U.S. officials have not ruled out targeting Ortega.

It was unclear what the chances are for diplomatic progress.

The United States, Nicaragua’s biggest trading partner, has been critical of Ortega’s crackdown. More than 40 of his opponents have been convicted of alleged crimes such as treason and money laundering since the lead-up to elections. Human rights groups have rejected the judicial actions. read more

The Nicaraguan government said last month it would take possession of offices of the Organization of American States in Managua shortly after saying it was exiting the group.

Ortega has derided his U.S. critics as "Yankee imperialists" and accused them of trying to undermine his government.

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Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Ismael López in Managua; Editing by Richard Chang

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