White House

Congress looks to give Nicaragua a taste of what it feels like to be Iran

Some members of Congress want the Trump administration to treat Nicaragua a little bit more like Iran.

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is pushing an updated version of a plan originally proposed by New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez that sanctions officials who are behind the deaths of anti-government protesters, human rights violations and corruption in Nicaragua.

The new proposal offered last week by Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, and Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J draws - almost word-for-word - from key sections of a 2012 sanctions law against Iran that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touted as some of the “most stringent crippling sanctions” against Iran.

“Now more than ever, Congress must stand with the democracy-loving people of Nicaragua,and passing these two bills would be a very helpful step in the right direction,” Ros-Lehtinen said, citing another proposal that would block Nicaragua from receiving international funds. “I’ve long worked on legislation to punish the evil Iranian and Venezuelan regimes and my congressional work to hurt Nicaragua’s thugs follows a similar track.”

The new legislation would allow the United States to hold accountable anyone, including officials in Venezuela, Cuba, China and Russia, providing technology and equipment that could be used to commit human rights abuses, such as weapons and surveillance and telecommunications equipment.

This month, the United States reimposed economic sanctions against Iran - lifted under the 2015 nuclear accord - that include banning the purchase of U.S. dollars and transactions involving gold, aluminum steel, passenger aircraft. The sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy.

The new legislation comes as the United States and international community seek to put more pressure on the government of President Daniel Ortega to stop the violence and call for early elections.

Since April, more than 300 people have died in protests in Nicaragua. The Trump administration has slapped sanctions against three top Nicaraguan officials - including an in-law of President Daniel Ortega. U.S. lawmakers, including Ros-Lehtinen, Menendez and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., are urging Trump to impose new sanctions on more officials, including Nicaragua’s minister of health who is accused of blocking medical aid to protesters and two of Ortega’s sons.

“What started as legitimate peaceful protests has turned into a months-long massacre as Nicaragua’s citizens face state-sponsored violence from police and paramilitaries,” Menendez said after introducing his legislation.

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez