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Senate Poised to Pass Nicaragua Sanctions Bill

Central American nation has been riveted by violent protests since spring

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is one of the sponsors of a bipartisan bill that would impose sanctions against Nicaraguan government officials. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is one of the sponsors of a bipartisan bill that would impose sanctions against Nicaraguan government officials. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate is poised to pass legislation that would impose sanctions against Nicaraguan government officials and place conditions on international lending to the Central American country, which has been riven by violent protests since the spring.

The bipartisan legislation from Texas Republican Ted Cruz and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez has been added to the Senate calendar and is expected to pass by unanimous consent. The measure advanced out of the Foreign Relations Committee late last month.

The bill has been two years in the making, gradually picking up co-sponsors and growing lengthier along the way. Though the House has twice passed similar legislation, it was not until this spring’s crackdown on protesters by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s security forces that senators were moved to take definitive action.

Nicaraguans have taken to the streets to protest the leftist government’s plans to reduce welfare benefits. An estimated 300 people have been killed since April, and hundreds more have been imprisoned, according to human rights groups.

An initial 2016 bill from Cruz would have directed U.S. representatives at international financial institutions, including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to use their leverage to block any Nicaraguan government lending requests until certain overhauls were implemented. The legislation was twice refiled in 2017 but with more government overhaul conditions added to it.

The Foreign Relations Committee merged the Cruz bill with sanctions legislation filed in July by Menendez. The sanctions provision orders the seizure of any U.S.-based assets and the denial of visas to any Nicaraguan officials found to have engaged in “significant” acts of corruption or violence against protesters since April or actions that undermine the nation’s democracy.

Senate staff touted the bill’s expected passage as proof it is still possible for senators to work in a bipartisan fashion on foreign policy even as partisanship is rising overall.

“Right now, American taxpayer dollars are going to a dictator who undermines American interests globally and who has signaled that he’s willing to kill as many of his own people as it takes to stay in power,” Cruz said. “That money, which he gets from international financial institutions, is keeping his regime afloat. I’m proud we’ve been able to move forward with this bipartisan bill, and I urge the Senate and House to vote on it soon and send it to the president.”

Nicaragua is the Western Hemisphere’s second-poorest country, ahead of only Haiti, according to the World Bank. The Ortega government is heavily reliant on international loans and a potential end to that lifeline could have serious ramifications for its stability. Nicaragua has borrowed $1.15 billion from the Inter-American Development Bank and at least $580 million from the World Bank.

Since the House has already twice approved earlier versions of the Nicaragua bill cutting off U.S. support for international loans, lawmakers there are expected to take up and quickly pass the Senate version when they return after the November midterms.

In July, the House passed a resolution that condemns “the violence, persecution, intimidation, and murders” committed by the Ortega government.

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