US pulls defense attaché out of Nicaragua after comments

FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2018 file photo, Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, lead a rally in Managua, Nicaragua. As international health organizations warn of increasing infections in Nicaragua and independent Nicaraguan doctors call for a voluntary quarantine to slow the spread of the delta variant, the government has made clear that comments out of step with its line are unacceptable as Ortega seeks a fourth consecutive term. Murillo has accused doctors of “health terrorism.” (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File)
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MEXICO CITY (AP) — The United States government has pulled its defense attache out of Nicaragua following comments complimentary of Nicaragua’s military that drew the ire of the political opposition.

Last week, the Nicaraguan government published comments from Lt. Col. Roger Antonio Carvajal Santamaria during a Sept. 23 gathering of Nicaragua’s military leadership and military attaches from several countries.

Carvajal said Nicaragua’s military is a “large part of the growth and stability of this country,” according to a statement published by Nicaragua’s defense ministry.

The U.S. government has been highly critical of President Daniel Ortega’s government, especially since a crackdown on street protests in April 2018. In May 2020, the U.S. government sanctioned Gen. Julio César Avilés Castillo, commander-in-chief of the Nicaraguan army. Avilés was present at last week’s event.

The Nicaraguan military has been criticized for supporting the crackdown, which left at least 328 people dead and more than 2,000 wounded, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Carvajal’s comments raised questions among Nicaragua’s opposition of whether it signaled a change in the U.S. position toward Ortega’s government.

A U.S. State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the relationship with Nicaragua’s military “is constrained by the Nicaraguan military’s support for Ortega and (Vice President Rosario) Murillo’s anti-democratic behavior and by their suppression of the Nicaraguan people.”

Carvajal’s comments “did not accurately reflect” U.S. government policy, the official said, adding that Carvajal had concluded his mission and departed Nicaragua.

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