Joe Biden targets Nicaragua’s gold in new move against Ortega

President Joe Biden

The Biden administration is ramping up pressure on President Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian rule in Nicaragua by, among other things, threatening to ban American involvement in the country’s gold industry, raising the possibility of trade restrictions, and revoking the visas of some 500 government insiders.

The measures, which are the result of an executive order signed by Vice President Joe Biden on Monday, represent the latest and, arguably, most aggressive attempt by the United States to hold the former Sandinista guerrilla leader accountable for his continued attacks on human rights and democracy in the Central American country and his continued security cooperation with Russia.

The Ortegas, the Murillos, and their immediate families have been the targets of previous rounds of sanctions. Ortega’s hold on power has not been weakened by any of these attempts. Ortega’s regime has now turned its sights on the Catholic Church. Security personnel conducted a raid on a bishop’s home in August, taking him and many other clergy members into custody.

A Trump administration decree had declared Ortega a threat to U.S. national security due to his subversion of democratic norms, undermining of the rule of law, and use of political violence against his opponents; the current executive order considerably expands that decree.

Because of this decision and the simultaneous sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department against Nicaragua’s General Directorate of Mines, it is now nearly impossible for Americans to conduct business with Nicaragua’s gold industry. For the first time, the United States has singled out a particular economic subsector as possibly off-limits; this might be extended to encompass other industries thought to fill the government’s coffers in the future.

The executive order also allows for the United States to limit investment and commerce with Nicaragua, a move reminiscent of the harsh embargo enforced in the 1980s under Ortega’s first presidency after the country’s terrible civil war.

According to Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson, “the Ortega-Murillo regime’s continued attacks on democratic actors and members of civil society and unjust detention of political prisoners demonstrate that the regime feels it is not bound by the rule of law.” In order to prevent the Ortega-Murillo government from further undermining democratic institutions, “we can and will utilize every weapon at our disposal to do so.”

Murillo did not address the new U.S. sanctions in her regular Monday remarks to the government-run media, but she did call Nicaraguans “defenders of the national sovereignty.”

She also delivered a letter congratulating President Xi Jinping of China on being reappointed to his post as leader of the Chinese Communist Party on Sunday, in which Ortega questioned the “aggressive imperial aspirations” of the west.

The move on Monday could be the beginning of a new attack that aims to target the broader economy, something the Biden administration has been hesitant to do for fear of worsening the country’s problems and unleashing more migration. Nearly 164,000 Nicaraguans were contacted by U.S. border officials in the fiscal year that ended in September, more than double the previous year’s total.

After a 90-minute discussion with Ortega in March, Child said, “He is basically entirely supportive of the initiative.” This meeting “substantially de-risks the project” and “essentially offers a big green light for the building of project finance.”

Permits to develop three open pit mines have been granted to the Toronto and London-listed Condor, the most advanced of which is estimated to contain 602,000 ounces of gold, worth about $900 million at current prices. An American mining engineer who has been working in the country for decades owns a stake in Condor.

Following the U.S. announcement, Condor shares rose by 2 cents, or 3.8%. Calibre Mining Corp, another minor mining company based in Toronto with interests in Nicaragua, had its share price drop 17 cents, or 17%.
The Treasury Department froze the U.S. assets of Reinaldo Lenin Cerna, who it characterizes as a close aide to Ortega, as part of its steps on Monday. Cerna is accused of aiding in the murder of the former dictator Anastasio Somoza’s director of security during Ortega’s first presidency, as reported by the Treasury Department.

U.S. sources told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that the State Department would revoke the U.S. visas of more than 500 Nicaraguans who work for the Ortega regime or who help create, implement, and benefit from policies that undermine democracy in the country. Previously, it had frozen the U.S. assets of the defense minister and other security force officials involved in the closure of over a thousand NGOs. State-owned mining business was previously approved under the Biden administration. The quota for sugar production in the country was also redistributed, leading to the loss of an annual U.S. subsidy worth millions of dollars.

After Ortega forcefully suppressed widespread street protests in 2018, Nicaraguans began leaving the nation, initially for neighboring Costa Rica. Then, in 2021, with presidential elections scheduled for that year, security forces began collecting up prominent opposition figures, including seven possible opponents to Ortega. Since Ortega faced no serious opposition, he easily won a fourth 5-year term, and an increasing number of Nicaraguans fled the country. News Source AP News

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