A bipartisan group of Members of Congress from in the House and the Senate is urging President Donald Trump to impose visa restrictions and block assets in the United States of Nicaraguan officials engaging in acts of corruption. Led by the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee Chairman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the letter will surely political shock waves in Nicaragua as Sandinista officials continue to struggle to find their political footing after a year of heightened oversight by American lawmakers. Nicaragua’s leading independent newspaper, La Prensa, led with the story this morning.
“We must not allow for human rights abusers and corrupt officials to continue violating the rights of the people,” the letter says. They stress that the individuals should be sanctioned under a 2012 anti-corruption law, the Global Magnitsky Act. The Global Magnitsky law allows the President to sanction foreign persons who are credibly found to have committed gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.
According to the letter sent to President Trump earlier today, two Nicaraguan officials engaged in widespread electoral fraud that has allowed the Sandinistas to hold on to power illegally. Policymakers are also alleging that Nicaraguan officials have been helping Cuba and Venezuela launder Venezuela oil money in Nicaraguan shell companies. The Congressional letter is embedded at the end of this post.
Before the end of the year, the Trump administration will publish the first list of sanctioned persons under the Global Magnitsky law. The Congressional letter will undoubtedly spur administration officials to investigate the allegations. It is too early to know if these or other Nicaraguan officials will be sanctioned.
The Congressional request is limited in scope; it only lists two persons; however, the political implications are significant for Nicaraguan officials named. The letter is also an indirect jab at pro-Sandinista lobbyists who are trying to block other Congressional oversight projects aimed at Nicaragua.
In addition to targeted sanctions under Global Magnitsky, the Congress is also considering legislation that would require the United States to oppose the financing of projects in Nicaragua by international financial institutions such as the World Bank. Under the proposed law, before approving the loans to Nicaragua U.S. officials would need to certify to the Congress that Nicaragua is taking effective steps to:
- hold free elections overseen by credible domestic and international electoral observers;
- promote democracy and an independent judicial system and electoral council;
- strengthen the rule of law;
- respect the right to freedom of association and expression;
- combat corruption, including investigating and prosecuting government officials credibly alleged to be corrupt; and
- protect the right of political opposition parties, journalists, trade unionists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists to operate without interference.
You can read the NICA Act here.
Global Magnitsky and the NICA Act are reasonable, targeted measures that will remind human rights abusers in Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, and elsewhere that access to the U.S. market is a privilege, not a right.
U.S. oversight and anti-corruption efforts will provide much-needed political space for Nicaraguan opposition leaders. For years now, civil society and opposition groups have been muzzled by an imperious electoral council. If the Sandinistas fail to silence them via abuses to the electoral system, they use the courts and out of control prosecutors to silence opposition leaders.
Finally, the NICA Act, Global Magnitsky, as well as existing targeting authorities at the President’s disposal, complement ongoing efforts to track down other criminals and terrorists in the Americas including Iran, Hizbollah, and others.