Biden Goes After Nicaragua's Gold

In new move against President Daniel Ortega's authoritarian rule
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 25, 2022 1:30 AM CDT
Biden Targets Nicaragua's Gold
Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega attends the closing ceremony of the XX ALBA Summit, at the Convention Palace in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 14, 2021.   (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, File)

The Biden administration is ratcheting up pressure on President Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian rule in Nicaragua, threatening a ban on Americans from doing business in the nation’s gold industry, raising the possibility of trade restrictions and stripping the US visas of some 500 government insiders. The actions, stemming from an executive order signed by President Biden on Monday, are the latest and perhaps most aggressive attempt by the US to hold the former Sandinista guerrilla leader accountable for his continued attacks on human rights and democracy in the Central American country as well his continued security cooperation with Russia, the AP reports. Previous rounds of sanctions have focused on Ortega, his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, and members of their family and inner circle. But none of those moves have managed to loosen Ortega’s grip on power.

The latest target by Ortega's government: the Roman Catholic Church. In August, security raided the residence of a bishop, detaining him and several other clergy. The new executive order greatly expands a Trump-era decree declaring Ortega’s hijacking of democratic norms, undermining of the rule of law and use of political violence against opponents a threat to the US' national security. Together with the Treasury Department's simultaneous sanctioning of Nicaragua's General Directorate of Mines, the order all but makes it illegal for Americans to do business with Nicaragua's gold industry. It's the first time the US has identified a specific sector of the economy as potentially off-limits and can be expanded in the future to include other industries believed to fill the government's coffers.

The executive order also paves the way for the US to restrict investment and trade with Nicaragua—a move recalling the punishing embargo imposed by the US in the 1980s during Ortega’s first stint as president following the country’s bloody civil war. Monday’s action could signal the start of a new offensive taking aim at the broader economy—something the Biden administration has been reluctant to pursue for fear of adding to the country's hardships and unleashing more migration. For the fiscal year that ended in September, US border agents encountered Nicaraguans nearly 164,000 times at the southwest border—more than triple the level for the previous year. The Biden administration's targeting of the gold industry could sap Ortega's government of one of its biggest sources of revenue. Gold was the country's largest export in 2020 and the country. (Much more on the latest moves here.)

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