During a meeting on January 11, the foreign ministers of Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic all described the Nicaraguan crisis as an “urgent priority” for the region. They offered this assessment one day after Daniel Ortega’s inauguration, marking his fifteenth consecutive year in power. The ceremony took place in Nicaragua under the shadow of his regime’s illegitimacy and amid denunciations of grave human rights abuses.
The foreign ministers of the three countries participated in a virtual meeting sponsored by the Wilson Center in the United States. The meeting was facilitated by Cynthia Arnson, director of the Center’s Latin America Program. The three cabinet officials spoke about the Alianza para el Desarrollo de la Democracia [Alliance for the Development of Democracy] a group founded four months ago, and through which they’ve expressed their views on Nicaragua.
Rodolfo Solano Quiros, Costa Rican Foreign Minister, said that democracy, human rights and freedom of the press “are under attack” in the region, and that the situation calls for an intelligent and strategic regional response. The events have played out in the context of the pandemic, which has triggered a deterioration in the quality of democracy, high levels of corruption, and restrictions on the press.
“Nicaragua has a regional impact, because democratic institutions should not only respect human rights, but also promote human rights. I believe that’s a topic we should take into consideration,” the minister stated, in response to a question regarding the Nicaraguan crisis.
Solano feels they must continue working with the international community to encounter “an intelligent way” to bring the neighboring country back onto a “more democratic” path.
Last November 12, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic voted with the 25-country majority in the Organization of American States to denounce the electoral farce that took place in Nicaragua on November 7th as illegitimate. The resolution approved in the OAS at that time also demanded the immediate liberation of the political prisoners and the full restoration of Nicaraguans’ democratic rights.
The current regime truncated these democratic rights, beginning in September 2018. Violations then escalated beginning in May 2021, when the repression was increased to eliminate any electoral competition.
OAS secretary general Luis Almagro extended to mid-January 2022 the deadline for sending a report on his attempts to contact with Ortega regarding the regional resolution. However, diplomatic sources informed Confidencial that these efforts were at a dead end.
During the forum with the Wilson Center, Solano said they’re waiting for the Nicaraguan authorities to positively demonstrate their understanding of the regional demand that democracy, human rights, and free expression be qualities that “identify the Central American region, and that the world know us as a peaceful and democratic region.”
Costa Rica insists on diplomatic measures
Solano stated his view that they must continue working diplomatically. “We can develop different actions so that Nicaragua can create its own strategies, and we must support them, in conjunction with different key figures in the region such as the US, Canada, the European Union, and even with figures such as the Vatican. (…) It’s a concept that’s on the table, but we must be very clear in this historic moment that democracy and human rights are the principal agenda, not only for Nicaragua, but for the entire region. They’re necessary conditions to advance towards an inclusive development.”
Erika Mouynes, Panama’s foreign minister, urged the group to maintain close connections despite the pandemic, in order to address situations of urgent priority, such as that in Nicaragua and in other countries of the region.
According to Mouynes, the group has a responsibility to attend to these cases appropriately, which means they must continue exerting pressure, and also carry out a humanitarian response.
One of the topics the minister emphasized from the beginning was that of migration. She explained that in the case of Panama, for example, at least 140,000 migrants crossed through their territory last year.
“Most of them came from Haiti, and this should be a matter for collective analysis. No country alone can respond to this. We’re the first country that offers medical attention, shelter, COVID tests. This alliance is extremely useful for promoting this discussion,” noted Mouynes.
Not a substitute for the regional organizations
The Dominican Republic’s foreign minister, Roberto Alvarez, stated that, although they’re discussing the topic of Nicaragua, the alliance isn’t meant to be a substitute for regional organizations like the United Nations or the OAS.
“Our intention isn’t to replace the existing institutions, but to work in favor of what exists,” Alvarez affirmed.
Mouynes backed the position of her colleague from the Dominican Republic, and noted that the OAS has been working in Latin America for decades. However, she proposed, they can all join forces to “assure a more active forum, one that creates change and directs us towards what we want to accomplish.”
The three foreign ministers also touched on other regional topics, such as global trade, supply chains, the effects of climate change, and the search for sustainable development, in addition to democracy. They’re also considering the possibility of an alliance with the United States, which will be discussed at a summit this March in Costa Rica.
The Development of Democracy Alliance comprised of Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic arises at a moment when the region is witnessing a new wave of authoritarianism in countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.