U.S. Treasury slaps more sanctions on Venezuela Central Bank, Nicaragua’s first family

Trump says all options on table in Venezuela

President Donald Trump said on Jan. 23, 2019 that "all options are on the table" regarding Venezuela, saying "we're not considering anything," but "all options, always."
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President Donald Trump said on Jan. 23, 2019 that "all options are on the table" regarding Venezuela, saying "we're not considering anything," but "all options, always."

Washington on Wednesday slapped more sanctions on Venezuela and two of its key allies, Nicaragua and Cuba, as it continues to try to push leader Nicolás Maduro out of office.

In a flurry of announcements, the U.S. Treasury said it was sanctioning Venezuela’s Central Bank and the son of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Also Wednesday, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton announced tighter restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, citing the island’s support for the Maduro regime.

The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) “designated” Venezuela’s Central Bank and one of its directors, Iliana Josefa Ruzza Terán, accusing the government of using the bank to “plunder Venezuelan assets.”

Under the order, all Central Bank assets in the United States will be frozen, and U.S. residents and citizens are barred from doing business with the organization and Ruzza. However, Treasury said it is making exceptions so that regular debit and credit card transactions can take effect, and personal remittances and humanitarian assistance can continue.

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In a separate order Wednesday, Treasury hit Laureano Ortega Murillo, the son of Nicaraguan strongman Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, with sanctions, as well as the Nicaraguan bank, Banco Corporativo, or BanCorp.

Treasury said it was targeting Laureano Ortega and BanCorp for their support of a “regime that, since April 2018, has cracked down on political opposition, leading to the death of 325 persons, the injury of more than 2,000, the imprisonment of hundreds of political and civil society actors, and over 42,000 Nicaraguans seeking refuge in Costa Rica.”

“President Ortega, Vice President Murillo, and members of their inner circle continue to engage in blatant corruption, violence, and violations of basic human rights. The corrupt Ortega regime has ignored the Nicaraguan people’s calls for reform, including the freeing of all political prisoners, and early transparent elections,” said Sigal Mandelker, the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “Treasury is sanctioning Laureano Ortega Murillo and BanCorp for their roles in corruption and money laundering for the personal gain of the Ortega regime. These actions send a message to all who continue to prop up the Ortega regime that there is a steep price to pay for abusing the Nicaraguan economy and its people.”

The Trump administration on April 17, 2019, announced new restrictions on travel to Cuba as well as the amount of money Cuban Americans can send to relatives on the island.

BanCorp was founded in 2014 as a subsidiary of ALBANISA, a fund set up by Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA oil company. Treasury accused BanCorp of being used by the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front to launder money and provide a financial safe haven for other people who have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury “allowing designated individuals to continue enjoying banking privileges and their ill-gotten wealth.”

Laureano Ortega, the son of the first couple, is the head of ProNicaragua, which promotes investments in the Central American country. As of 2018, Laureano Ortega “engaged in corrupt business deals in which foreign investors paid for preferential access to the Nicaraguan economy,” Treasury said.

Laureano Ortega is also one of the promoters of the Nicaraguan Grand Canal, which, in theory, would create a transoceanic canal that would compete with the Panama Canal. While that project has largely gone dormant, Treasury said Laureano Ortega continued to use the organization “as a means to launder money and to acquire property along the planned canal route.”

The pressure on Maduro and his few allies in the region comes as Washington is trying to force him to step down and allow interim President Juan Guaidó to take power and call new elections.

Maduro claims he has the right to rule Venezuela through 2025 and has accused the United States of engaging in economic warfare to topple him.