Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar to Nicaraguan president: ‘You cannot oppress your people’

MIAMI – Miami U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar said on Thursday that there is a bipartisan effort in Congress to put more pressure on a dictator in Central America with new sanctions.

Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist-Leninist guerrilla fighter and convicted felon over his role in a bank robbery, has been the president of Nicaragua since 2007. He served a term as president from 1979 to 1990 when Violeta Chamorro, a newspaper publisher, halted his bid for reelection.

Pro-Democracy activists say Ortega, 75, and his wife, Rosario Murillo, 69, the vice president, are violating human rights to crush dissent and stay in power. The presidential election is in November.

Salazar had a message for Ortega: “If you want to trade and sell your goods and services to the United States we are very happy to buy them, but you cannot oppress your people.”

This file photo of Felix Maradiaga, center, shows him singing the national anthem of Nicaragua during a news conference in Managua. He is among the opposition leaders who have been arrested. (AP Foto/Alfredo Zuniga, Archivo) (Copyright 2019. The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Ortega has been using the judicial system to crack down on his opposition, which has the support of many Nicaraguans who live in South Florida. Ortega and his supporters rely on laws that criminalize alleged misinformation and the use of foreign funds to support political activities.

Ortega’s list of contenders include Félix Maradiaga, 44, a human rights activist, and two relatives of former Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro: Juan Sebastián Chamorro, 49, her nephew, and Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, 67, her daughter. They have all reported harassment.

Nicaraguan authorities issued an arrest warrant on Thursday for Humberto Belli, 75, the country’s former minister of education under Chamorro’s administration. On Tuesday, officers arrested Luis Rivas Anduray, the executive president of Banco de la Produccion, a private Bank known as Banpro.

This file photo shows Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, right, and his wife, Rosario Murillo, the vice president, during an inaugural ceremony in Managua, Nicaragua. (AP Foto/Alfredo Zuniga, Archivo) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The Organization of American States passed a resolution on Tuesday condemning Ortega’s regime and “the recent deterioration of the political climate and human rights situation.”

In June, Ortega’s officials ordered the house arrest of Cristiana Chamorro and seized her computers and phones. The U.S. State Department called for her release. Juan Chamorro and Maradiaga were also arrested.

Nicaragua’s Catholic bishops released a letter on June 10 to denounce “arbitrary and illegal restrictions of citizens’ freedoms and the persecution of the opposition and media outlets.” Murillo accused the bishops of spreading hatred.

From left, Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro. AP Photos

Eduardo Gamarra, a political scientist with Florida International University, said the only other countries in the hemisphere with similar situations are Cuba and Venezuela. He doesn’t believe Ortega and Murillo have any intentions of stopping.

“They have this calculation that it doesn’t really matter what they do — that they are going to get away with it,” Gamarra said.

Salazar is hoping to change that. In the House, she introduced Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform Act of 2021, or the RENACER Act, in April. She has the support of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other Democrats.

Sen. Marco Rubio co-sponsored the bill in the Senate with the support of several Democrats including Sen. Robert Menendez.

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About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.