The Biden administration plans to announce new U.S. sanctions and other punitive actions “very soon” in response to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s re-election in a vote that Washington has denounced as a sham, a senior State Department official told Reuters on Tuesday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the measures would be the first in a series of steps that the U.S. government will continue to “ramp up over time.”
Washington expects a “strong resolution” against Ortega when the Organization of American States meets this week in Guatemala but is not likely to use the event to seek Nicaragua’s suspension from the bloc, the official said.
President Joe Biden is expected in “the coming days or hours” to sign congressional legislation aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Nicaragua, the official said.
Ortega clinched a fourth consecutive term in Sunday’s election after jailing political rivals ahead of a vote that drew international condemnation and calls for free elections.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday his country will work with other democratic governments and was ready to use a range of tools, including sanctions, visa restrictions and coordinated actions against those it said were complicit in supporting the Nicaragua government’s “undemocratic acts.”
“We’ll see some actions we take very soon,” the State Department official said. “I don’t want to leave people the impression that it’s going to be kind of one announcement and done… This will continue to go over time until they change behavior.”
The official declined to elaborate on the types of sanctions being prepared and the exact timing. But a U.S. government source last week said initial targets would likely be individuals, security force members and government-controlled companies it linked to corruption and human rights abuses.
Ortega on Monday night derided his U.S. and international critics as “Yankee imperialists” and accused them of trying to undermine Nicaragua’s electoral process. Cuba, Venezuela and Russia all have offered Ortega their backing.
Twenty-six OAS members voted last month on a resolution that expressed “alarm” at Ortega’s actions but seven countries abstained. Washington is working behind the scenes to persuade OAS members to take a united stand against Ortega at the bloc’s general assembly.
The State Department official said “realistically, in terms of the votes,” now is not the time to seek Nicaragua’s suspension from the OAS.
Biden is poised, however, to sign into law the so-called RENACER Act, which received final and overwhelmingly bipartisan approval last week in the U.S. House of Representatives, the official said.
The legislation calls for sanctions on Nicaraguans deemed responsible for unfair elections, increased coordination of such measures with the European Union and Canada, and expanded U.S. oversight of international lending to Managua.
The official said Biden was fully supportive of the bill’s provisions, which require U.S. government reports on alleged corruption by the Ortega family, human rights abuses by security forces and Russian activities in the country, including military sales.
In addition, the Biden administration is asked to conduct a formal review of Nicaragua’s participation in the Central America Free Trade Agreement, which gives preferential treatment to the region’s exports to the United States.