Nicaraguan lawmakers go after allegedly anti-government NGOs

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — President Daniel Ortega’s allies in Nicaragua’s legislature are canceling the legal status of non-governmental groups identified as supporting months-long opposition protests.

In the past two weeks, Ortega’s Sandinista party, which controls 70 of the 92 votes in the National Assembly, took action against the Center for Health Research, the Institute for Strategic and Public Policy Studies, Let’s Make Democracy and the Nicaragua Center for Human Rights.

The Sandinistas contend the groups promoted and financed what they say was a failed coup attempt against Ortega.

In April, protests against changes to Nicaragua’s social security system were violently repressed. Demonstrations continued for months, but after regaining its footing, Ortega’s government has methodically pursued its perceived enemies, particularly university students.

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The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says at least 320 people have died in the violence.

“Let’s Make Democracy and the (Nicaragua Center for Human Rights) form part of the interventionist policy of the United States through NGOs, which have served to finance the destabilization and attempted coup in the country,” Sandinista lawmaker Jose Figueroa said during a recent legislative session.

Vilma Nunez, the long-time head of the human rights center, said Wednesday that the government is just trying to stop those who draw attention to its abuses.

“They want to silence us, but they’re not going to do it,” Nunez said, adding that her group “will be around for a while.”

Nunez and the other groups say the government has not met due process requirements giving them an opportunity to defend themselves.

Political analyst Oscar Rene Vargas said the cancellation of the groups is the Ortega administration’s response to sanctions imposed by the United States against members of the government, including Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is Ortega’s wife.

“Their objective is to silence the human rights defenders, the NGOs, the non-governmental media outlets,” Vargas said. “The repression is generalized. It would appear that Ortega’s logic is: power or death.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department announced sanctions against Roberto Jose Rivas Reyes, president of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council. The designation was “due to his involvement in significant corruption,” the agency said in a statement. It makes Rivas Reyes and his immediate family members ineligible for entry into the U.S.

Also Wednesday, a group of 12 countries, including the U.S., issued a warning at the Organization of American States in Washington that reports of forced disappearances and kidnappings continue to emerge from Nicaragua despite Ortega’s assurances that everything is under control.

Luis Alvarado, Nicaragua’s representative at the OAS, said the government does not recognize the group. “We denounce that this working group’s objective is to promote the economic, political and social terrorism against the Nicaraguan people,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Luis Alonso Lugo in Washington contributed to this report.

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