US Congress ups pressure on Nicaragua ahead of polls

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A motorbike drives past a banner of Nicaragua's President -and presidential candidate- Daniel Ortega and his wife and running mate Rosario Murillo, placed on a mobile clinic, in Masaya on November 2, 2021 (AFP/Oswaldo Rivas)
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The US Congress on Wednesday approved legislation to sharply increase diplomatic pressure on the government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, who has arrested a slew of leading opponents running against him in elections this weekend.

The so-called RENACER Act was adopted by 387 votes in favor and 35 against in the House of Representatives, after approval by the full Senate in August and amendments made on Monday.

The bipartisan legislation, which was supported by more Republicans than Democrats, must now be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

It provides an arsenal of measures to address what Washington considers to be corruption and human rights abuses by the government of Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, who is his vice president and running mate.

The measures include increasing, in coordination with Canada, the European Union and Latin American and Caribbean countries, a number of US sanctions against people involved in human rights abuses and the obstruction of free elections.

In addition, it expands the supervision of loans from international financial institutions to Nicaragua, and calls for a review of Nicaragua's participation in a free trade pact among the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic.

It also adds Nicaragua to the list of Central American countries subject to visa restrictions for corruption, and requires more intelligence reports on the Russian government's activities in the Central American country, including reports on Russian military sales to Managua.

The move came as a group of leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, slammed Sunday's elections, citing an atmosphere of repression, forced disappearances and restrictions on civil and political liberties.

The elections "do not guarantee human rights," said the NGOs in a report in which they urged the international community to "redouble their efforts to end the crisis" in the Central American country.

Ortega, 75, will be seeking a fourth successive term after 14 years in power, with about 40 opposition figures, including seven presidential hopefuls, rounded up since June.

Hundreds of people have died since massive protests calling for Ortega's resignation erupted in 2018. The human rights organizations cited arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances and noted that "100 people perceived as critical remain in detention."

They also expressed concern about "the lack of judicial independence and violations of the right of access to justice."

The report came a day after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell branded Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega a "dictator" staging "fake" elections at the weekend.

"Mr Ortega has occupied himself imprisoning all the political contenders who have presented themselves to run in these elections and we cannot expect that this process will yield a result we can consider legitimate. Quite the opposite," Borrell said on a visit to Lima, Peru.

"The situation in Nicaragua is one of the most serious in the Americas at the moment," Borrell said.

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