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Biden targets Nicaragua’s gold industry in a new move against Daniel Ortega : NPR


Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is pictured in Havana, Cuba, in December 2021. The Biden administration is putting considerable pressure on Ortega’s government in Nicaragua.

Ismael Francisco / AP


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Ismael Francisco / AP

MIAMI – The Biden administration is putting pressure on the President Daniel Ortega’s Authoritarian Rule in Nicaragua, threatening to ban Americans from doing business in the nation’s gold industry, raising the possibility of trade restrictions and the deprivation of US visas for about 500 people in the government.

The actions, which stem from an executive order signed by President Joe Biden on Monday, are the latest and perhaps most drastic attempt by the United States to hold the former Sandinista guerrilla leader accountable for the crimes. his continued assault on human rights and democracy in the Central American country as well as his continued security cooperation with Russia.

Past rounds of punishment focused on Ortega, his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, and their family members and inner circle. But none of those moves could loosen Ortega’s grip on power. The Ortega government’s newest target: the Roman Catholic Church. In August, security raided the residence of a bishop, arresting him and several other clerics.

The new executive order significantly expands a Trump-era executive order that declares Ortega’s appropriation of democratic norms, undermining the rule of law, and the use of political violence against opponents as threats to national security. United States of America.

Coupled with the Treasury Department’s simultaneous sanctions against the Nicaraguan General Department of Mines, this order completely makes it illegal for Americans to do business with Nicaragua’s gold industry. This is the first time the United States has identified a specific sector of the economy that is likely to go off-limits and could be expanded in the future to include other industries that are expected to fill its coffers. government.

It paved the way for trade restrictions with Nicaragua

The executive order also paved the way for US restrictions on investment and trade with Nicaragua – a move that echoes the punitive embargo the US imposed in the 1980s during Ortega’s first term as president. after the country’s bloody civil war.

“The Ortega-Murillo regime’s continued attacks on democratic institutions and members of civil society and the unjust detention of political prisoners demonstrate that the regime feels it is not bound by the rule of law,” said Treasury Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “We can and will use every tool at our disposal to deny the Ortega-Murillo regime the resources it needs to continue to undermine democratic institutions.”

In his daily comments to the official media on Monday, Murillo did not refer directly to the expanded US sanctions, but said that the Nicaraguan people were “the defenders of the United States.” National souvereignty.”

She also read a letter from Ortega congratulating China’s President Xi Jinping, who was appointed to another term as head of the ruling Communist Party on Sunday, in which Ortega questioned “” aggressive imperial ambitions” of the West.

Monday’s action could signal the start of a new assault on the broader economy – something the Biden administration has been reluctant to pursue for fear of adding to the hardships of the country and making it difficult for them to do so. people have to migrate more. For the financial year ending September, US border agents encounter Nicaraguans nearly 164,000 arrivals at the Southwest border – more than tripling over the previous year.

At the same time, frustration is growing in Washington over the way Nicaragua’s economic elite have largely kept quiet amid Ortega’s repression.

Gold is Nicaragua’s largest export

The Biden administration’s targeting of the gold industry could cost Ortega’s government one of its biggest revenue streams. Gold is the country’s biggest export in 2020 and the country, already the largest producer of the precious metal in Central America, is looking to double output in the next five years.

According to the Central Bank of Nicaragua, the country exported a record 348,532 ounces of gold in 2021, and the country’s mining association expects to export a total of 500,000 ounces by 2023.

Among foreign investors operating in the country, there are Golden CondorsThe CEO, Mark Child, appeared in a photo with the Nicaraguan leader during a September presentation to investors prepared by the UK-based company.

“He’s basically completely supportive of the project,” Child said in an interview in March after a 90-minute meeting with Ortega. “That meeting … essentially gave the green light to building finance for the project and mitigating physical risks to the project.”

Toronto and London-listed Condor has permits to build and operate three open-pit mines, the most advanced of which is said to hold 602,000 ounces of gold worth nearly $900 million at current prices. Condor is partly owned by a company belonging to an American mining engineer who has worked for decades in the country.

Shares of Condor rose slightly 2 cents, or 3.8%, following the US announcement. Yet another small Toronto-listed miner with Nicaragua operations, Caliber Mining Corp, saw its share price drop 17 cents, or 17%.

The Vancouver-based company has several mining projects in Nicaragua that are said to contain 2.9 million ounces of gold.

The actions also pulled the US visas of Nicaraguan officials

As part of Monday’s actions, the Treasury Department also froze the US assets of Reinaldo Lenin Cerna, who it described as a close adviser to Ortega. According to the Treasury Department, Cerna was head of state security during Ortega’s first term in office and is accused of helping carry out the assassination of former dictator Anastasio Somoza’s head of security. .

In addition, the State Department will also revoke the U.S. visas of more than 500 Nicaraguan individuals and their family members who work for the Ortega government or help shape, implement, and benefit from policies books undermine democracy in the country, US officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the action. It previously froze the assets of the US Secretary of Defense and other members of the security forces involved in the closure of more than 1,000 NGOs.

Earlier, the Biden administration also sanctioned this state-owned mining company. It also reallocates the country’s sugar quota, taking away a precious US subsidy worth millions of dollars a year.

Nicaraguans began fleeing their country in 2018, initially to neighboring Costa Rica, after Ortega quelled massive street protests. Then, in 2021, security forces began to surround top opposition leaders, including seven potential challengers to Ortega ahead of that year’s presidential election. With no meaningful challenger, Ortega extended to a fourth consecutive term of five years and Nicaraguans left their homeland in greater numbers.

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