US restricts Nicaragua visas over crackdown on opposition

Washington (AFP) –


The United States said Friday it would refuse visas to another 50 Nicaraguans linked to President Daniel Ortega in response to an increasingly harsh crackdown on the opposition ahead of elections.

Hoping to make sanctions bite, the State Department said it would refuse entry to 50 family members of Ortega-linked officials, expanding a July 12 announcement of visa restrictions on more than 100 people including legislators and judges.

The announcement came after Nicaraguan authorities detained Berenice Quezada, a 27-year-old former beauty queen who announced a run as the opposition candidate against Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is Ortega's wife.

"Ortega and Murillo once again demonstrated that they are afraid of running against anyone who they feel might win the support of the Nicaraguan people," said State Department spokesman Ned Price, hailing Quezada as a "brave Nicaraguan."

"The United States will continue to use diplomatic and economic tools to promote accountability for those who enable Ortega and Murillo's repression," he said.

Authorities have already arrested seven presidential hopefuls as Ortega prepares in November to seek his fourth consecutive term since returning to power in 2007.

A former leftist guerrilla, Ortega also governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 when the United States backed armed opposition to his Sandinista movement.

Ortega later rebranded himself as a business-friendly pragmatist but Western nations and the opposition say he is increasingly turning into a dictator as he seeks a stranglehold on power.