The United States on Wednesday announced sanctions against 39 politicians and senior Central American officials from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras. Among them are the former presidents of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes (2009–2014) and Salvador Sánchez Cerén (2014–2019), who have been accused of involvement in corruption plots. The State Department is also targeting Guatemalan prosecutor Cynthia Monterosso, who indicted Jose Ruben Zamora, the former director of e.Newspaper Judge Freddy Orellana, the operator of political harassment and an attempt to torpedo the progressive candidacy of Bernardo Arevalo, was indicted for money laundering in an operation. The sanctions include Honduran leaders and 13 officials from the regimes of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo responsible for the deportation, confiscation and stripping of nationality of more than 300 Nicaraguan dissidents last February.
Washington added these operators to a list of corrupt and anti-democratic actors known as the Engel List on Wednesday, July 19, and according to the sanctions imposed, they are based on information from the media and other sources or credible allegations of questionable behavior. “The Department will continue to review the individuals listed in the report and will consider all available tools to prevent and disrupt corrupt and anti-democratic activities in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua,” the statement said.
For Nicaragua, the bans come as President Jodi Sandinismo celebrates the pinnacle of Sandinismo: the anniversary of the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Somosista dictatorship. It is a practical, political and symbolic blow to the Sandinistas, who are celebrating the 44th anniversary of the revolution that turned into a dictatorship. Only 13% of Nicaraguans declared sympathy for the Sandinista Front. Ultimately, the presidential couple faces “signs of discontent” on their bases, as hundreds of public servants flee to the United States under humanitarian parole immigration.
“Nicaraguaans who exercise their basic freedoms face repression, imprisonment and deportation. This fact makes the government’s arguments of peace and prosperity hollow. “Today, the United States is announcing actions to hold accountable Nicaraguan officials who undermine democracy,” said Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian A. Nichols from Washington.
The authorized officers are the Attorney General of the Republic, Wendy Carolina Morales Urbina; Representatives Arling Patricia Alonso Gómez, Gladis de los Angles Baez, Loria Raquel Dixon Brautigam and Alejandro Mejía Ferreti. Also on the list are judges Rosa Argentina Solís Dávila and Angela Dávila Navarrete; Denise Membreno Rivas, Director of the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) and Alto Martin Sanz Ulloa, Deputy Director of the Institute.
13 Officials have been accused of undermining service organizations to confiscate assets from enemies without legal basis and from non-governmental organizations with a clear strategy of suppressing freedom of association. Operators coordinate and carry out retaliatory actions against companies to strip them of their nationality, provide financial information on exiled political dissidents and former political prisoners, confiscate their assets and seize their pensions without legal basis.
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Valeria Maritza Halleslevens Centeno and Eduardo Celestino Ortega Roa, Director and Deputy Director of the Public Property Registry, were added, respectively. This approval reached Marta Mayela Díaz Ortiz, current Vice President of the Supervision of Banks and Other Financial Institutions (SIBOIF), and Sagrario de Fátima Benavides Lanuza, Vice Director of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS).
The Engel list is based on Section 353 of the US-Northern Trilateral Enhanced Reconciliation Act, which makes people liable to lose their visas and be barred from entering US territory. This is the third time it has been used against officials of the Ortega-Murillo regime. It was used for the first time in March of this year, when it involved nine Nicaraguan officials. In total, 45 officials of the Sandinista regime have been added since last year.
Initially, the Engel List affected only authorities from the Northern Triangle of Central America: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. But as of last year it was used by Nicaraguan officials. Individuals included in the list are those who, in President Joe Biden’s judgment, have engaged in “acts that undermine democratic processes or institutions, significant corruption, and obstruction of investigations into such corrupt practices.”
For every Sandinista official, the United States adds an argument. For example, in the case of Wendy Carolina Morales Urbina, she “undermined democratic processes or institutions, used the Attorney General’s office to facilitate a concerted campaign to suppress dissent, and seized property from political opponents of the government without legal basis. Urbina seized the assets of thousands of non-governmental organizations under laws expressly designed to suppress freedom of association.”
Guatemala Prosecutor Monterosso and Judge Orellana are specifically authorized to investigate and prosecute journalists for exercising their freedom of expression. The government of current President Alejandro Giammattei, accused of patronizing these actors and encouraging authoritarian drift, denied the allegations and accused the US of trying to “impose its jurisdiction on people abroad” in a statement.
For now, the Nicaraguan presidential couple has not ruled on the new appointees to the Engel list and Ortega and Murillo are expected to enter the afternoon on national television and conduct the anniversary of the Sandinista revolution behind closed doors and without masses (as was customary before 2018).
Meanwhile, the Institute for Race and Equality indicated on July 19 that 64 people had been deprived of their freedom for political reasons in Nicaragua until May 2023, according to the latest update of the mechanism for recognizing political prisoners. 10 of them are women and 54 are men. “In May, 90 people were arbitrarily detained by the Ortega-Murillo regime, including perceived enemies, journalists and activists from various sectors of the country. “A new form of repression used by the regime is the imposition of an alternative measure of periodic presentation and individual precautionary measures”, Raza e Igualdad summarizes. “At least 81 people were prosecuted illegally, as well as the number of former political prisoners who were re-arrested and re-prosecuted (14 people) and the number of people in differential detention (15 people) stand out.”
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