Lawmakers call on Trump to investigate Nicaraguan government in deaths of protesters

Lawmakers are calling on the Trump administration to investigate the Nicaraguan government's alleged role in the deaths of as many as 40 people during violent protests that have threatened Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s grip on power.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is leading a bipartisan group of senators pressing President Donald Trump's administration to work with the Organization of American States to open an investigation into the deaths of dozens of protesters and consider punishing officials who, they say, have censored the media and fostered a corrupt system that has propelled Nicaraguans to protest, according to a letter obtained by McClatchy.

“These events are emblematic of the impunity and arbitrary abuse of power present in Nicaragua and reinforce protesters’ demands for a national dialogue that includes reforms to ensure the independence of political and judicial institutions,” the lawmakers wrote in the joint letter.

The five Democrats and three Republicans also want the administration to assist with international investigations of Nicaraguan Supreme Electoral Council President Roberto Rivas, sanctioned last year by the U.S. Treasury, who is under scrutiny by the Costa Rican and Spanish governments for alleged money laundering.

The senators' action reflect Washington’s growing concern about the Ortega government as weeks of unrest triggered by the implementation of controversial pension reform has grown more violent.

Eight lawmakers signed the letter, including Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fl, Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Richard Durbin, D-Ill, and Tim Kaine, D-Va.

Last month, Rubio and Menendez urged OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to work with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the recent attacks. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fl., called for more sanctions.

Vice President Mike Pence joined the chorus of lawmakers this week.

“In Nicaragua, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to show their anger at their aging socialist leader, and their demand to return to democratic order,” Pence said during a special OAS meeting. “But the repressive Ortega government has responded with deadly force, killing dozens of peaceful protestors and closing down independent media outlets that dared to cover their deadly actions.”

Lawmakers hold Reyes responsible for overseeing fraudulent elections rigged to keep Ortega in power. He "embodies the government malfeasance and corruption" that Nicaraguans have been protesting, the senators write.

Last month, the .State Department ordered the departure of U.S. government employees and their families from Nicaragua.

Last year, the U.S. Treasury blocked Rivas’s access to U.S. financial institutions and froze any assets Rivas could have in the United States.