The United States has taken steps to impose visa restrictions on an additional 93 persons who are believed to have undermined democracy in Nicaragua since Daniel Ortega’s illegitimate election in November 2021. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the restrictions in a written statement noting that the additional scores of people now ineligible for entry into the United States include judges, prosecutors, National Assembly Members, and Interior Ministry officials.
Nicaraguan President Ortega and his wife Vice-President Rosario Murillo have been drastically shrinking the space for political dissent as well as for civil society in ways reminiscent of previous failed tyrants. 180 political prisoners are currently held by the regime. “One political prisoner has died, and others remain in solitary confinement,” said Secretary Blinken. “Political prisoners detained under house arrest similarly suffer abuses and are unable to choose their own health care providers or receive visitors.”
Not only is the regime targeting political opposition, it is also targeting non-governmental organizations. Secretary Blinken noted that “National Assembly members and Ministry of Interior officials enabled the Ortega-Murillo regime to tighten its authoritarian grip over Nicaraguan citizens and institutions by using repressive laws to strip more than 400 NGOs and a dozen universities of their legal status.” Among them are the Nicaraguan affiliate for Operation Smile, the organization that provides free surgeries for children with cleft palates; the Nicaraguan Academy of Letters; and several women’s rights organizations.
The State Department’s recently released report on the state of religious freedom in Nicaragua also noted what one observer called the regime’s “open war” against the Catholic church, with “widespread, systematic harassment of religious leaders and worshippers.”
Over the past year, the United States has imposed numerous sanctions and visa restrictions on Nicaraguan officials and their relatives over the government’s rights abuses. In announcing the latest visa restrictions, Secretary Blinken said, “The regime’s corrupt security and judicial systems arrested and prosecuted...civic leaders and human rights defenders for speaking the truth, practicing courageous journalism, defending their communities through NGO work, and publicly advocating for alternatives to the regime’s repressive rule – activities that should be permitted under Nicaragua’s own constitution or any democratic political system.”
“The United States,” Secretary Blinken declared, “reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of those unjustly detained and the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Nicaragua.”