U.S. blacklists four Nicaraguans, including Ortega's daughter

A man, wearing a face mask for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks by a mural depicting Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, in Managua, Nicaragua March 30, 2020.
A man, wearing a face mask for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks by a mural depicting Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, in Managua, Nicaragua March 30, 2020. Picture taken March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas/File Photo

WASHINGTON, June 9 (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on four Nicaraguans, including a daughter of President Daniel Ortega, and Washington warned it would continue to use diplomatic and economic tools against members of the leftist government that it accused of undermining democracy.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Ortega to release detained presidential candidates as well as other civil society and opposition leaders arrested over the past week in what he called a "wave of repression."

"As these sanctions demonstrate, there are costs for those who support or carry out the Ortega regime's repression," Blinken said in a statement.

"The United States will continue to use all diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal to support Nicaraguans' calls for greater freedom and accountability as well as free and fair elections."

The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday slapped sanctions on Ortega's daughter Camila Ortega Murillo, who is also a senior government official, and three others it accused of supporting the government that Washington said has undermined democracy, abused human rights and enacted repressive laws.

The Treasury said Camila Ortega managed television station Canal 13, a family-run media outlet that it accused of spreading propaganda, while the president "uses state spending and tax laws to promote family-run stations and squeeze independent rival outlets."

Also hit with sanctions are: Leonardo Ovidio Reyes Ramirez, president of the Central Bank of Nicaragua; Edwin Ramon Castro Rivera, a deputy of the Nicaraguan National Assembly; and Julio Modesto Rodriguez Balladares, a Brigadier General of the Nicaraguan Army and executive director of the Military Social Welfare Institute.

The Nicaraguan government and army did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the sanctions.

Wednesday's action freezes any U.S. assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

Nicaraguan police detained two possible contenders for the presidency on Tuesday, following on from two similar arrests of opposition politicians in prior days.

Police statements accused the detained politicians of working with foreign financing to carry out "acts of terrorism and destabilization," without giving details.

On Wednesday evening, police surrounded the house of the former director of the American Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce, Mario Arana, according to a relative who spoke to Reuters.

A police order that was circulated in local media with Arana's personal details described his "crimes" as "compromising the peace or dignity of the republic."

The government did not respond to a request for comment on the document.

International organizations, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, have accused Ortega's government of fabricating false accusations against opponents.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was very concerned by the recent arrests in Nicaragua and invalidation of opposition leaders' candidacies, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Wednesday.

"These developments can seriously undermine the public's confidence in the democratic process ahead of the November general elections," Dujarric said, adding that Guterres called on the authorities to fully respect international human rights obligations and release the political leaders.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Chris Reese

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