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2 US lawmakers banned from Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s president says he is banning U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from traveling to the Central American country because in protest of the Venezuela sanctions the Republican lawmakers helped pass Wednesday in Congress, according to a newspaper report.

“Just like they (U.S. officials) have their lists, we can make our own lists in Latin America of those who shouldn’t enter our country,” Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega told The Tico Times, a Costa Rican newspaper, during a meeting with Venezuelan officials in his country.

Rubio, R-Fla., mocked Ortega’s decision on Twitter: “Oh no! My summer vacation plans are ruined!” The sanctions, primarily aimed at Venezuelan officials and proxies involved with violently suppressing pro-democracy activists, would ban them from traveling or staying in the United States and would freeze any U.S. assets. President Baracl Obama plans to sign the legislation.

The sanctions legislation Ortega is protesting don’t mention Nicaragua or really involve the country, which has received as much as $3 billion in Venezuelan aid since the Sandinista government returned to power in 2007. Venezuela is also a top ally of Cuba’s government, of which Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. – Cuban-American legislators – are outspoken opponents.

“It’s a badge of honor to be banned by a thug like Ortega. These authoritarian heads of state like Ortega, Maduro and the Castro brothers like to intimidate those who disagree with them and they use their power randomly and ruthlessly,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a prepared statement Saturday. “I’m not worried about being banned in Nicaragua. What frightens me is the erosion of fundamental human rights throughout our hemisphere.”

The Miami legislators say the sanctions would have particular salience in South Florida, where Venezuela’s elite frequently travel and have homes.

“With these sanctions, we can end the days of Venezuelan regime officials and thugs repressing innocent Venezuelans in their day jobs and then coming to Florida to live in the lap of luxury and splurge Venezuela’s wealth,” Rubio said Wednesday in a written statement after the Senate passed the sanctions legislation.

For Rubio, the opposition of Ortega has a political upside in the United States as he considers running for president. Ortega led the Sandinista government in Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, during which time Ronald Reagan’s administration helped fund the contra rebel group.

Rubio has made Venezuela a top issue for months. In February, he gave an impassioned speech on the U.S. Senate floor, where he denounced Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela for its violent suppression of protesters.

For months, Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen worked to pass personal sanctions legislation aimed at those Venezuelan officials and proxies who have ordered, carried out or assisted that government’s “significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses in Venezuela against persons associated with the antigovernment protests in Venezuela that began on February 4, 2014.” Also facing sanction: those regime elements who have helped arrest or prosecute anyone in Venezuela “primarily because of the person’s legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly.”

The legislation stalled in the dysfunctional U.S. Senate. But it finally passed Wednesday. The following day, a White House spokesman said Obama would sign the bill.

“We have not and will not remain silent in the face of Venezuelan government actions that violate human rights and fundamental freedoms and deviate from well-established democratic norms,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary.

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