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article imageBianca Jagger, a onetime Sandinista supporter, wants Ortega to go

By Laura BONILLA (AFP)     Sep 21, 2018 in World

Bianca Jagger once defended the Sandinista revolution of Daniel Ortega. But today, the Nicaraguan rights campaigner wants to see the controversial leader leave office in her homeland.

Jagger, the ex-wife of the legendary Rolling Stones frontman, also wants the United States, Canada and the European Union to sanction key members of Ortega's government and cut off all aid to Managua.

"Daniel Ortega is maybe even worse than Somoza," the 73-year-old Jagger told AFP in an interview, referring to the onetime dictator of the troubled Central American country who was ousted in 1979 by Ortega's guerrillas.

Jagger says she feels "betrayed" by Ortega, who has faced months of upheaval sparked in April when his government, backed by armed paramilitaries, cracked down on relatively small protests against now-scrapped social security reforms.

More than 320 people have been killed in the subsequent unrest, according to rights groups. At least 500 opponents of Ortega's regime have been arrested in connection with the protests, rights watchdog CENIDH says.

"Ortega is killing children who are unarmed," Jagger said in the interview, held on Thursday before she delivered a speech at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas in New York.

The dual British-Nicaraguan citizen, president of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, decried the "terror" brought on by Ortega and the "merciless persecution... of all those who raise their voices against his government."

Ortega is due in New York next week for the annual United Nations General Assembly debate.

Jagger says the international community needs to "think of ways to support the Nicaraguan people" and put pressure on Ortega to release all political prisoners.

- 'War criminal' -

Before her speech in New York, Jagger was in Washington for talks with senior government officials and lawmakers, lobbying them to pass legislation that would cut off economic aid to Ortega and sanction members of his government.

Bianca Jagger says Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega is a "war criminal"
Bianca Jagger says Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega is a "war criminal"

That draft could come before the US Senate for a vote next week, she says. A similar bill is before the House of Representatives.

For Jagger, the administration of US President Donald Trump is doing a decent job in its handling of the crisis.

"There are people (in the US government) who are doing important work in defense of human rights in Nicaragua," she said, singling out Washington's ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, for praise.

She also met with the State Department's highest-ranking official for Latin America, Francisco Palmieri, the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Jagger says she does not think a national dialogue of reconciliation will work in Nicaragua but acknowledges that "all avenues must be explored."

As to whether Ortega should be tried, or simply pushed to leave office, Jagger replied, "It would be very difficult for me to say, 'Let's ignore the crimes against humanity committed by Daniel Ortega.'"

"We must find an effective way for Daniel Ortega to leave power and for new elections to be held -- but not under his direction," Jagger said.

"Daniel Ortega is a war criminal."

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