A man walks past a billboard promoting Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and running mate, his wife Rosario Murillo, in Managua, Nicaragua, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Esteban Felix AP
A man walks past a billboard promoting Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and running mate, his wife Rosario Murillo, in Managua, Nicaragua, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Esteban Felix AP

Politics & Government

Lawmakers call on Trump to invoke "anti-Russia" law to punish Nicaraguan officials

By Franco Ordoñez

fordonez@mcclatchydc.com

December 01, 2017 08:45 AM

WASHINGTON

Cuban-American lawmakers are calling on President Donald Trump to consider punishing two top Nicaraguan officials for alleged human rights violations under a so-called “anti-Russia” law.

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is leading a bipartisan group of senators and representatives pressing Trump to consider imposing economic sanctions against the president of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council and a top Nicaraguan oil official connected to the Venezuela government, according to a letter obtained by McClatchy.

“We urge you to take immediate action to determine whether Nicaraguan nationals Roberto Jose Rivas Reyes and Francisco Lopez meet the criteria to be sanctioned in accordance with the law for human rights abuses, corruption, and illicit activity,” the lawmakers write in a joint letter.

The five Republican and five Democratic lawmakers are calling on Trump to investigate the officials under a law originally adopted to punish human rights abuses in Russia that has since been expanded globally.

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They accuse Rivas Reyes, president of the Supreme Electoral Council, of overseeing fraudulent elections rigged to keep President Daniel Ortega Saavedra of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in power. And they accuse Lopez, vice president of Albanisa, a joint venture between the Venezuelan state owned-oil company, PDVSA, and its Nicaraguan counterpart, with corruption and profiting from improper loans.

Ten lawmakers signed the letter, including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J. as well as Reps. Paul Cook, R-Calif., Albio Sires, D-N.J. and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

Nicaraguan and Albanisa officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The United States passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which blacklisted many prominent Russian officials believed to be tied to the murder of a Russian tax accountant who helped expose corruption at the Kremlin. Russia responded by barring adoptions by Americans.

Last year, Congress expanded on what some refer to as the “anti-Russia” law and enacted the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the executive branch to impose visa bans and targeted sanctions on individuals anywhere in the world responsible for committing human rights violations or engaging in corrupt activity.

“Rivas and Lopez, at the direction of Ortega, are some of the most corrupt human rights abusers in Nicaragua and should be sanctioned,” Ros-Lehtinen told McClatchy. “The Global Magnitsky Act was signed into law in order to root out corruption and human rights abuses, two of the main problems in Nicaragua under the Ortega dynasty. We must not allow these corrupt officials to continue violating the rights of the Nicaraguan people without any consequences.”

The United States has been concerned about the elections in Nicaragua. Following last year’s elections in November, the State Department raised concerns of a “flawed presidential and legislative electoral process in Nicaragua, which precluded the possibility of a free and fair election on November 6.”

The Trump administration has also increased its scrutiny of Nicaragua in recent months.

Last month, the State Department met with Venezuelan opposition party officials who urged the administration to investigate Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s ties to Albanisa, which they accused of money laundering. This summer, the economic counselor at the U.S. embassy in Managua warned U.S. citizens and companies to review business transactions with Venezuela-affiliated companies such as Albanisa to ensure compliance with U.S. sanctions.

The Treasury Department has said it doesn’t not telegraph possible future sanctions, but the White House has indicated that all options remain on the table related to future enforcement options tied to Venezuela.

In the State Department's 2017 Fiscal Transparency Report, State officials said Nicaragua had not publicly accounted for all the assistance it receives from Venezuela or had properly audited Albanisa.

“And this assistance has not been subject to audit or legislative oversight,” the report stated. “Allocations to and earnings from state-owned enterprises were included in the budget on a netbasis, but most state-owned enterprises, including Albanisa, have not been subject to audit.”

The United States voted against a UN resolution condemning America's economic embargo against Cuba on Wednesday. The embargo resolution was overwhelmingly approved in the 193-member General Assembly by a vote of 191-2, with Israel joining the U.S.

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