The Trump administration announced Thursday it will yank visas from several Nicaraguan officials it blames for the country’s response to a wave of anti-government demonstrations in which state security forces have killed dozens of people.
This was the first punitive action taken by the administration as international condemnation of the government of President Daniel Ortega has grown. In Washington this week, as the Organization of American States took up the issue of Nicaragua turmoil, citizens from the Central American country staged protests outside local hotels.
The violence is “undermining democracy,” the State Department said, in a country that has steadily come under autocratic rule by Ortega and his family.
“The political violence by police and pro-government thugs against the people of Nicaragua, particularly university students, shows a blatant disregard for human rights and is unacceptable,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
Nauert would not identify the Nicaraguans who will not be allowed to travel to the United States, citing privacy rules, except to say they included police commanders and regional and national officials.
Throughout recent history, there have been waves of immigration from Nicaragua to the United States, with many families today living part-time in each country. Being denied visas for the U.S. would prevent such arrangements for those affected.
Large numbers of Nicaraguans migrated during the Somoza dynasty dictatorship in the first half of the 20th century and then during the Sandinista revolution in 1979 and, following that, the U.S.-backed war of Contra rebels who attempted but failed to unseat the Sandinistas.
Ortega was a prominent leader of the leftist Sandinista movement, but many Nicaraguans say he has abandoned those ideals to preside over a government riddled with corruption.
In protests not seen since revolutionary days, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have been marching against the government across the nation. State security forces on some occasions have opened fire on largely peaceful demonstrations. More than 120 people have been reported killed.
Until recently, Washington and Managua enjoyed good relations. Nicaragua is not plagued with the gang warfare or drug-cartel violence that has hit other parts of Central America. Despite repressing political dissent, Ortega has overseen a friendly climate for business.
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