July 5 (UPI) — The U.S. Treasury Department put sanctions on three top Nicaraguan officials for alleged human rights abuses and corruption, the agency announced Thursday.
“We condemn the violence perpetrated by security forces and others that have resulted in the death of at least 220 demonstrators, and nearly 1,500 injured,” the Treasury Department said in a statement. “Since protests began on April 18, the Nicaraguan government’s violent response has included beatings of journalists, attacks against local TV and radio stations, and assaults on mothers mourning the deaths of their children.”
Nicaraguan National Police Commissioner Francisco Javier Diaz Madriz and Fidel Antonio Moreno Briones, secretary of the Managua mayor’s office, were sanctioned for “serious human rights abuse” in the country. And Jose Francisco Lopez Centeno, the vice president of Nicaragua’s membership in the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of our America, an international cooperative with Venezuela and a handful of other countries, was sanctioned for “engaging in corrupt activities.”
Nicaragua’s National Police, led by Diaz, has been accused of firing on protesters, leading to nearly 100 deaths in less than two weeks when protests first broke out in April against social security reforms. The Treasury Department pointed out one of the more egregious allegations against the police force, which involved setting a house on fire with a family inside, including two small children, and shooting at people who attempted to save them. Six people were burned to death in the June incident in Managua, including the children.
The Nicaraguan government denied that its police officers were responsible for the incident and blamed “right-wing, masked delinquents” for the deaths.
The Treasury Department described Moreno as the link between municipal governments and the Sandinista Youth, a youth organization in support of the country’s ruling party the Sandinista National Liberation Front. The Sandinista Youth has been accused of acting as a paramilitary force against the people and in support of the police for several years, but especially since the April protests began.
Lopez, who also is the president of Petronic, the country’s state-owned oil company, is accused of using his two positions to exploit large amounts of money generated from taxes and fees for the personal use of Nicaraguan leaders.
“When involved in infrastructure projects, Lopez would syphon funds by negotiating personal fees, has placed numerous individuals throughout the government who have helped him steal millions of dollars on an annual basis, and has used his position to his and his family’s benefit by using companies they own to win government contracts,” the Treasury Department said.