AP NEWS

Nicaragua creates new fuel firms after December US sanctions

February 12, 2020 GMT

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaragua’s Parliament approved the creation Tuesday of four state companies that will handle the importation, storage, distribution and sales of oil and gas, two months after the country’s main energy company was sanctioned by Washington for allegedly laundering money for family members of President Daniel Ortega and then sold to the government days later.

The measure passed without debate, analysis in committee or consultation with other government or business entities under rules for urgent legislation in a Parliament controlled by Ortega’s Sandinista party.

Wálmaro Gutiérrez, a Sandinista who heads the legislature’s economic commission, called the decision “wise” and said it would “guarantee better service, high-quality and efficiency,” through specialization by the different companies.

Members of the opposition, who have accused Ortega of running the petroleum sector without being accountable to Parliament, saw self-interest behind the measure.

Creation of the new companies is an attempt “to evade the U.S. Treasury Department sanctions, in case they sanction them again,” said lawmaker Jimmy Blandón of the opposition Liberal Constitutionalist Party.

Treasury levied the sanctions Dec. 12 on the fuel distributor DNP, accusing it of being used by members of the Ortega family for their personal enrichment.

DNP, along with Albanisa, had commercialized crude from Venezuela since 2007, the year Ortega returned to power. Albanisa was founded the same year and was linked to Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, also sanctioned by Washington in 2019.

Days after the December sanctions were announced, Ortega’s government nationalized the company and took over its assets — a move that was also fast-tracked by Parliament.

The four new entities are known as Enigas, Eniplanh, Enicom and Enih, the latter of which focuses on exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons.

Sandinista lawmaker Edwin Castro said that in the case of Enih, the government offered incentives for exploration on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, though without identifying wha t c ompany benefited.

“It is possible that if we do not find oil, at least we may find gas,” Castro said.