US slaps new sanctions on Nicaragua over violence, corruption

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Washington (CNN)The US government announced new sanctions Thursday against three Nicaraguan individuals in connection with ongoing violence and corruption.

"Today's actions are in connection with the horrific activities that we're seeing in Nicaragua," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call. "The United States is deeply concerned about the ongoing crisis in Nicaragua and the violence perpetrated by security forces against demonstrators."
"The Nicaraguan government's violent response has included beatings of journalists, attacks against local TV and radio stations, and assaults on mothers mourning the deaths of their children," the official said.
    Nicaraguan protesters have been on the streets since April, expressing outrage over the government's social security overhaul proposals and President Daniel Ortega's increasingly authoritarian rule. There, they've encountered retaliation from security forces and paramilitary groups loyal to the Ortega government.
    Those sanctioned Thursday include Francisco Javier Diaz Madriz, a commissioner with Nicaragua's National Police, which the US government accuses of carrying out extrajudicial killings.
    The Treasury Department is also sanctioning Fidel Antonio Moreno Briones, who they allege "directed acts of violence committed by the Sandinista Youth and pro-government armed groups," according to a State Department statement, and Jose Francisco Lopez Centeno, an oil executive and governing party official who is "accused of leveraging his position to his and his family's benefit by using companies they own to win government contracts."
    "President Ortega and his inner circle continue to curtail freedoms and enrich themselves, while ignoring the Nicaraguan people's calls for the democratic reforms they demand, including free, fair and transparent elections," the senior administration official said. "This situation is simply unacceptable."
    Officials who briefed reporters on the new sanctions suggested more actions are likely if the violence in Nicaragua continues, and they called on the government to accept calls for early elections and to embrace ongoing negotiations mediated by the Catholic Church.

    'Alarming number of deaths'

    In May, six weeks into the spiraling unrest, an Amnesty International report determined the government was practicing a "shoot to kill" policy with protesters, causing an "alarming number of deaths."
    The Global Magnitsky Act, under which Thursday's sanctions were enacted, is a 2012 law originally designed to freeze the assets of certain Russian government officials and businessmen accused of human rights violations.
    It was named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison under suspicious circumstances.
    "Today's actions in Nicaragua are part of our ongoing effort to curtail human rights abuse and corruption across the globe through the strategic use of our sanctions authorities," the senior administration official said.
      In a statement last month, the State Department announced new punitive visa restrictions on "individuals responsible for human rights abuses or undermining democracy in Nicaragua."