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9:49 A.M. EDT
MODERATOR:  I am extremely sorry for our delay today.  We had a last-minute scheduling conflict.  But I thank you all for joining this call on Nicaragua.  I will be very brief. 

Not for reporting purposes — on the call we have [senior administration official].  We also have [senior administration official] and [senior administration official].  Again, that’s not for reporting purposes. 

The call will be on background, attributable to senior administration officials. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  And I reiterate my apologies for the delay.  I’m very sorry for keeping everybody waiting.  And thank you for your time and patience with us today. 

Today, the Biden administration is taking several coordinated actions out of significant concern about the government of Nicaragua and its continued repression of the people of Nicaragua and their exploitation of migrants.  These actions are taken as a part of the President’s efforts to crack down on irregular migration and in support of his affirmative agenda for the Western Hemisphere for a more democratic, secure, and prosperous region. 

We are very concerned about the ways in which the Ortega-Murillo regime continues to engage in a repressive campaign that silences civil society and unjustly detains individuals for exercising their fundamental freedoms. 

Today, the Treasury Department designated three Nicaragua-based entities: a Russian military training center that supports repressive activities by the Nicaraguan National Police to prosecute political opposition and two gold companies that generate revenue and enrich the Ortega regime. 

At the same time, the State Department imposed visa restrictions on over 250 members of the Nicaraguan government, non-governmental actors, and their immediate family members for their roles in supporting the Ortega-Murillo regime’s attack on human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people, and repression of civil society organizations. 

The regime is also responsible for the weaponization and profiting off of desperate and vulnerable migrants.  Among other issues, the regime sells visas upon arrival at their airports for migrants that require them to leave the country in 96 hours.  So they are profiting quite substantially off of facilitation of irregular migrants who ultimately, in many cases, make their way up towards our Southwest border. 

As part of our comprehensive approach to addressing this issue, today the Treasury, State, and Department of Homeland Security are also issuing a policy alert to inform the aviation and travel industry of the ways in which smugglers are facilitating this illegal migration and to remind the industry of key steps that they should take to avoid complicity in these actions. 

These actions are — in addition to standing on their own, they’re also a follow-up to the third Los Angeles Declaration Ministerial in Guatemala last week, where the United States pledged $578 million in humanitarian development and economic assistance, and secured support from partner countries to help respond in supporting the regularization and integration of migrants. 

As I know all of you know, our Latin American and Caribbean partners are hosting more than 80 percent of the nearly 8 million Venezuelan migrants that have fled the Maduro regime.  And this is critically important because it helps keep them in place and reduce the numbers at our Southwest border. 

It was also highly encouraging to see, in advance of the ministerial, actions like the one taken by the International Air Transport Association and its members, issuing a statement reminding its members of the importance, consistent with our policy alert today, of taking steps to minimize the risk that their airlines are being used to facilitate and support irregular migration.  And this also follows on our imposition of visas on Colombian companies that are engaged in transport of migrants as well. 

And combined, all of these efforts collectively send a strong signal not only to the Ortega regime to stop its nefarious actions, but also to private sector actors to remind them of the important steps that they can and should take to help avoid exploitation of their systems. 

The U.S. government will continue to take actions to promote accountability for those involved in the Ortega government’s relentless attacks on the human rights and fundamental freedoms.  And we will continue to take steps to address and hopefully, ultimately, stop the exploitation of vulnerable migrants and to respond to the, really, cynical ways in which the Ortega regime is profiting off of facilitating the movement of these migrants. 

And finally, I’ll just end by stating what I think is obvious, which is that we strongly urge the Ortega regime to cease its repression of democracy and allow Nicaraguans to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to cease their practice of facilitating irregular migration. 

I will now turn it over to the State Department for additional comments.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, and good morning, everyone.  Just to piggyback on much of what [senior administration official] has said, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, and those under their command, continue to unjustly detain their own countrymen for bravely advocating for free civil society, religious freedom, and freedom of expression.  They’ve chosen to align themselves with Russia’s authoritarian government and follow its playbook of repression. 

The Ortega-Murillo regime has deeply involved itself in profiting, as [senior administration official] said, from the exploitation of vulnerable migrants.  We are committed to promoting accountability for those who act on behalf of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo and facilitating or sustain their assaults on democracy and human rights. 

So to elaborate a little bit more on the actions by the Department of State today, we took steps to impose visa restrictions on over 250 members of the Nicaraguan government, including police and paramilitary personnel, penitentiary officials, prosecutors, judges, public higher-education officials, as well as select non-governmental actors for their roles in supporting the Ortega-Murillo regime in its attacks on human rights and fundamental freedoms, repression of civil society organizations, and profiting off of vulnerable migrants, all pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 10309. 

In addition, the Department of State is joining Homeland Security and Treasury to jointly issue a policy alert to warn airlines, air charter operators, travel agents, service providers of the ways in which smugglers are facilitating irregular migration and migrant smuggling and trafficking networks to the United States, and the importance of preventing the exploitation of their legitimate transportation services. 

In particular, the actions by the Nicaraguan government are of grave concern, where President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo have put in place permissive, by design, migration policies such as the 96-hour cap that have introduced opportunities to exploit migrants and fuel dangerous irregular travel towards the Southwest U.S. border. 

We urge Ortega and Murillo to cease their repression of democracy and allow Nicaraguans to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  Good morning, everyone.  I will just run through the Treasury actions that we are rolling out today. 

On the sanctions front, Treasury will sanction three Nicaragua-based entities to hold the Ortega-Murillo regime to account for its continued repression of the Nicaraguan people and its profiting from exploitation of vulnerable migrants. 

The first entity is the Training Center of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs in Managua, a Nicaragua-based subdivision of the government of the Russian Federation Ministry of Internal Affairs.  The Training Center of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs in Managua enabled anti-democratic behavior and repression by the Ortega-Murillo regime.  Our targets are Compañía Minera Internacional, Sociedad Anónima, known by its Spanish acronym as COMINTSA, and Capital Mining Investment Nicaragua, Sociedad Anónima — which are government-affiliated gold companies generating revenue for the Ortega-Murillo regime. 

As you know, by imposing sanctions, all U.S. persons are prohibited from transacting with these entities, which effectively cuts them off from the U.S. and much of the international financial system.  And any assets they have in the United States are blocked. 

The designations of the RTC and the two gold companies that enrich the Ortega-Murillo regime demonstrate the United States’ enduring support for the Nicaraguan people and condemnation of a regime that exploits vulnerable migrants for profit while facilitating irregular migration to the United States. 

In addition to sanctions, Treasury is also joining the policy alert that our colleagues have mentioned.  At OFAC, we see every day the destabilizing effects of illicit finance on countries around the world.  That’s why we want to very clearly identify the risk to the business community of engaging in activity that exacerbates instability and enables exploitation. 

We have and will continue to use our authorities, including the Transnational Criminal Organizations Sanctions authorities, to hold smugglers accountable and cut them off from using the U.S. financial system. 

So with that, I’ll turn things back over to [moderator].

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much to our three speakers for joining us today. 

At this moment, I will turn it over to questions.  If you have a question, please raise your hand and I will unmute you.  As a reminder, the call is on background, attributable to senior administration officials.  And as noted in the media advisory, the call is embargoed until 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time today. 

We’ll turn it over to Michael Wilner, please.

Q    Thanks.  I appreciate this.  And thanks, everyone, for doing the call.  If you could just provide some more details on the policy alert and, you know, what it means to — what steps are required of the aviation and travel industry to avoid complicity.  What are you asking them to do?  And, really, any more details on that would be appreciated.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m happy to respond to that if you’d like. 

The statement conveys the U.S. government’s efforts to promote responsible practices in the industry, but it also notifies the airlines that they are being exploited — that migrant smuggling and human trafficking networks are exploiting these legitimate transportation services to facilitate irregular migration to the United States. 

So, the alert has a number of suggestions that can be done by the airlines.  There are five different suggestions that include participation in the document validation process.  There are suggestions that the airlines could undertake proactive measures to identify flight segments and routes that are known to be used by migrants and migrant smuggling.  And the United States is closely tracking this issue and can also provide and share information to support airlines’ efforts. 

Industry participants can also report concerning activity to the United States Customs and Border Protection to be able to work to avoid irregular migration and migrant smuggling.  Carrying out appropriate due diligence also protects the exploitation of services. 

And then finally, encouraging all airlines to comply with government regulations by transmitting accurate and timely API, or advanced passenger information, prior to departure beginning at least 24 hours prior to scheduled takeoff to enable proper record checks and so on.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  And if I could just add one quick thing to that which I think is important, which is that this follows on, as I said before, the International Association of — IATA’s own — the industry issuing a statement last week, the International Air Transport Association, in which the airlines themselves noted the value of implementing commercial measures to minimize the risk of irregular migration. 

And so, this alert follows on to that, and it provides — it’s actually four, not five, but it provides four concrete measures that airlines can take, and talks about the ways in which the U.S. government can assist them in doing that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  I will also flag for our friends on the line that we will have the policy alert, a Treasury press release on the sanctions, and a statement on the visas posting later this morning for everyone’s reference as well. 
We’ll turn to Salome Ramirez next.

Q    Thank you.  Good morning.  Just to follow up on the policy alert and to have some clarification, does this mean that maybe airlines who don’t comply or don’t take the actions that the U.S. is encouraging would have some kind of repercussion or some kind of consequence for being complicit in this illegal migration?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, I’ll start with that.  One thing that I think is really important to note, as we already said during the opening, is that the U.S. government, particularly the State Department, has taken steps already through its 3C visa restrictions to impose visa restrictions on executives who are — executives of charter companies who have supported the movement of migrants, largely to Managua.  And those actions have had a really important effect on the numbers of charter airlines that are engaged. 

This is something that the U.S. government is watching closely.  There’s not any specific enforcement action threatened or accompanying this at the time, but it is something that we continue to watch and look at very closely.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  I recognize that we started late and that we are over five minutes already, but if there are any other questions, please do raise your hand.  Otherwise, we can wrap up, and we can take maybe a couple more — maybe one or two more questions.
Let’s go to Pedro Rojas, please.  Please also say your outlet.

Q    Thanks so much.  Pedro Rojas with Univision.  I just wanted to find out if there is any consideration to — in order to stop these charter flights, to at least temporarily close the airspace over Nicaragua.  I know that sounds extreme, but if there’s any consideration to some measure like that, to prevent this.  We have known that there’s a lot of flights coming from Cuba and places like that into Nicaragua in the last few months (inaudible).  Thank you. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks for that.  Again, I think what we’re taking today are a series of incredibly robust and strong measures to both respond to the democracy and human rights abuses of the Ortega regime and also make explicitly clear — respond to the ways in which they are profiting off of migrants. 

We are working — as I said, there are a number of steps that we’re taking and that have been taken by the private companies, including their own voluntary statements, and this will build off of them. 

Obviously, we need to act in ways that address the problem but also continue to allow for what is also legitimate travel into Nicaragua and other countries in the region as well. 

And so, we think these are a set of strong measures that both convey the seriousness with which the Biden administration takes these issues, and also we expect and hope that they will have a concrete effect, and we will continue to evaluate and monitor and adjust as needed depending on what we see on the ground.

Q    Thank you.

MODERATOR:  We’ll go next to Tracy Wilkinson.  You should be able to unmute yourself.

Q    This is Tracy Wilkinson with the Los Angeles Times.  I want one more clarification on the alerts and the airlines and the warnings and so forth.  It’s only in connection with illegal migration, is that correct?  You’re not addressing at all regular tourism that, you know, tons of American tourists go to Nicaragua, and obviously, that helps enrich Ortega and his comp- — and so forth, his associates.  So I just wondered if at all tourism is something that you’re going to — are or will address at all in related policies.  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks for that question.  I mean, we are not trying to stop or preclude tourists and legitimate travel to and from Nicaragua.  We are very focused explicitly on the ways in which the Ortega regime is profiting off of the movement of migrants to their country.  And as I said at the start, they’re in very cynical ways selling visas upon arrival that require individuals to leave within 96 hours.  This is the Ortega regime profiting off the movement of migrants and facilitating the smuggling of migrants.  And that is the issue that we are focused on.

Q    Thanks. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  I think that’s all the time we have for today.  Again, our sincere apologies for starting a little bit late.  We will have the statements from our agencies, including the policy alert, posted.  We will be issuing a statement also from the White House that links to all three actions today for ease, so please stay tuned for that. 

Thank you again for joining.  Thank you to our speakers.  Again, the embargo of this call will lift at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time.  And the call was on background, attributable to senior administration officials. 

10:13 A.M. EDT

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