HAVANA TIMES – The US Treasury Department has, as of Monday, October 24th, a legal tool to sanction sectors of the Nicaraguan economy that support and provide funds to the “authoritarian regime” of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, according to Ricardo Zúñiga, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department for Latin America.
According to a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua, US President Joe Biden signed an amendment to Executive Order 13851 on Nicaragua that “expands sanction powers, including measures specifically related to trade for Nicaragua.”
“These new powers will contribute to our efforts to hold the Ortega-Murillo regime accountable for its actions,” the document said.
“Governments that do not respect the human rights of their people, or threaten the security interests of their neighbors, should not expect their political, economic and trade relations with the United States to be unaffected,” Zúñiga commented in a conference call with reporters.
“The amendment opens the way to take measures against other sectors of the Nicaraguan economy as well,” Zúñiga said, referring to the fact that the General Directorate of Mines (DGM), a department of the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), have been sanctioned with the new measure.
“[The sanctioning of sectors] is something we are trying to do quite carefully so as to not affect the daily life of the Nicaraguan people,” said Zúñiga. “We have to be sure,” he continued, “that those involved in attacking and committing aggressions against the people of Nicaragua don’t think that they are going to have free access to the U.S. system.”
“It is important to emphasize that we are talking about gold today, but the new authorization of the executive order allows us to analyze other sectors of Nicaragua’s economy, as long as they have that same impact of strengthening the authoritarian regime, instead of strengthening the welfare of Nicaraguans,” Zúñiga explained.
Zúñiga stressed that the sanction “imposes restrictions on any and all actions having to do with the General Directorate of Mines, therefore making it difficult for an entity [in the United States] to have a relationship with the gold sector in Nicaragua.”
According to the U.S. Treasury, the expanded sanctions “could be used to prohibit new U.S. investments in certain identified sectors in Nicaragua, as well as the importation of certain Nicaraguan-origin products into the United States, or exports from the U.S. or on behalf of the United States.”
The regime relies on the mining sector
In January of this year, the United States sanctioned retired Major General Ramón Humberto Calderón Vindell, president of the Board of Directors of the Nicaraguan Mining Company (Eniminas). In June, both his successor, Ruy López Delgado and Eniminas itself, were sanctioned.
“[The DGM] has managed most of the mining operations in Nicaragua on behalf of the Nicaraguan government. As such, it is an important entity in the state-controlled gold operations in Nicaragua,” according to the Treasury Department.
Zúñiga said the mining sector “has disproportionately benefited the president [Ortega], his family and his allies, to maintain authoritarian control over Nicaragua. We know that this sector, in particular, lends itself to such corrupt enrichment.”
“Certain elements of the gold sector directly benefited the Ortega regime in a troubling way. That is why we have started with this sector and with the entities related to this sector”, Zúñiga explained.
The Treasury Department justified its decision on the grounds that Ortega “has used the power” he has received based on income from gold “to intimidate and imprison those who denounce the regime’s corruption as well as to sow instability around the world, including by supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
The United States, Nicaraguan gold’s main market
Zúñiga specified that they are sanctioning the mining sector “because we know that the United States is the main market for Nicaraguan gold, and we want to demonstrate that we have the capacity to act against entities that are strengthening or in some way helping to keep the authoritarian Ortega-Murillo regime in power.”
Zúñiga said that Nicaraguan gold “is a market that moves more or less $1 billion a year and three quarters of that involves exports to the U.S. More than $750 million were involved in the gold trade relationship with the United States. That’s a significant amount,” he emphasized.
In 2021, mining consolidated its position as Nicaragua’s leading export sector, with $880.5 million, according to the Center for Export Management (Cetrex), and aims to export US$1 billion in 2023.
US cancels visas for 500 people linked to the Ortega regime
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Monday that the United States also banned the entry of 500 people linked to the Ortega government for “undermining the democratic institutions” of Nicaragua.
According to Deputy Assistant Secretary Zúñiga, among those sanctioned are members of the Nicaraguan security forces –including the National Police–, prison officials, judges, prosecutors, higher education workers and non-governmental actors “who enable the regime’s repression and corruption”. Family members of the barred individuals are also included in the ban.
“No member of the Nicaraguan government nor anyone who facilitates the Ortega-Murillo regime’s abuses should believe they can travel freely to the United States,” Blinken said in a statement.