The US and the EU have accused Ortega — along with his wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo — of human rights abuses and undermining democracy and the rule of law.
In a coordinated move designed to put pressure on the Ortega-Murillo regime on what was meant to be a day of celebrations, the US and EU added several high profile officials, including the defense minister, to their growing lists of sanctioned individuals.
The US Treasury announced new sanctions against six Nicaraguan officials over accusations of state acts of violence, disinformation and targeting of independent media. Those targeted include the Defense Minister Rosa Adelina Barahona De Rivas and Military Chief of Staff Bayardo Ramon Rodriguez Ruiz.
Separately, the US Department of State announced it was taking steps to impose visa restrictions on 116 individuals, including mayors, prosecutors, university administrators, as well as police, prison, and military officials.
“The Ortega-Murillo regime continues its subjugation of democracy through effectuating sham elections, silencing peaceful opposition, and holding hundreds of people as political prisoners,” Brian E. Nelson, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement.
“The United States and our partners are sending a clear message to President Ortega, Vice President Murillo, and their inner circle that we continue to stand with the Nicaraguan people in their calls for the immediate release of these political prisoners and a return to democracy,” Nelson said.
Meanwhile, the European Council added seven more people, including members of Ortega’s family, to its own list of sanctioned Nicaraguan officials.
“Those targeted are responsible for serious human rights violations, including repression of civil society, supporting the fraudulent presidential and parliamentary elections and undermining democracy and the rule of law,” the European Council said in a statement announcing the sanctions — which now target total of 21 individuals.
The EU has also added three entities — the National Police of Nicaragua, the Supreme Electoral Council and the company overseeing telecommunications and postal services — to the list.
Ortega claimed a landslide victory in November election after a months-long government crackdown on his potential political rivals. One by one, the Ortega regime locked away any credible opposition, paving the way for the elections.
At least half a dozen likely presidential contenders had been detained ahead of the vote, clearing Ortega’s path to another five years in office. Though five other presidential candidates were listed on the final ballot, none were seen as strong challengers.
Ortega came to power as part of the Sandinista rebels who overthrew the Somoza dynasty in 1979, and fought against the US-backed Contras during the 1980s. First elected in 1985, he has since demolished Nicaragua’s presidential term limits, allowing him to run over and over again.
Increasingly, however, Ortega has retreated from the public eye, with weeks and even months passing between appearances. His wife, Rosario Murillo, is now the recognized face and voice of the administration, with an idiosyncratic daily radio broadcast.
Over the years, the pair have inexorably consolidated power, appointing loyalists to top government roles and exerting an increasingly tight grip on the country’s social and political spheres.
CNN’s Caitlin Hu and Natalie Gallón contributed reporting.