US pulls defence attaché out of Nicaragua after comments

The United States government has pulled its defence 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 Lieutenant Colonel Roger Antonio Carvajal Santamaria during a Sept. 23 gathering of Nicaragua’s military leadership and military attaches from several countries.

Colonel 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 defence 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 General Julio César Avilés Castillo, commander-in-chief of the Nicaraguan army. General Avilés was present at last week’s event.

The Nicaraguan military has been criticised 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. Colonel Carvajal’s comments raised questions among Nicaragua’s opposition of whether it signalled a change in the U.S. position toward Mr. 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 behaviour and by their suppression of the Nicaraguan people.”

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

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