On Friday, Oct. 19th, Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), addressed the organization’s Permanent Council. He affirmed that “something terrible is happening” in Nicaragua and that a continuation of the repressive policies of Daniel Ortega’s regime will obligate the organization to initiate “the proceedings of Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”
Article 20 of this charter states that when an alteration of the constitutional order is produced in a member state, seriously affecting its democratic order, any other member state or the Secretary General can request an immediate session of the Permanent Council to collectively appraise the situation and adopt the decisions it finds appropriate.
The application of Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo’s regime would be a precursor to Article 21, which would suspend Nicaragua’s membership in the OAS, explained former foreign minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa on the nightly television news program Esta Noche.
“Article 21 is where the OAS would really begin to exert pressure. However, in order to approve a country’s suspension from membership – a measure that some OAS members have requested for Nicaragua – 24 votes are necessary. Even in the case of Venezuela, they haven’t reached that number yet. Some Central American countries have shown ambivalence. I don’t expect a meeting to consider the application of Article 21 to happen the day after tomorrow, but the OAS is moving in that direction,” Aguirre Sacasa stated.
Applying Article 21 would mean isolating Nicaragua within the hemisphere. Aguirre Sacasa recalled that the suspension was applied to Honduras in 2009, following the overthrow of democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya. On that occasion, the United States voted with the majority of the countries on this measure. They also rescinded the visas of the new authorities and the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) suspended its disbursements and blocked any new credits. Other financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, also withdrew in that case.
“Something of that nature could happen in the case of Nicaragua’s suspension from the OAS, but in point of fact it’s already happening. If you look at the budget that the government just presented to the National Assembly, the disbursements of the World Bank, the IDB, and the IMF for 2019 are much less than what they would be in normal times,” the former foreign minister affirmed.
Mauricio Diaz, a former diplomat for the Nicaraguan government, coincided with Aguirre Sacasa with respect to the possible approval of Article 21 of the Democratic Charter and the resulting suspension of Nicaragua. However, he didn’t feel very optimistic about the possible reaction of the Sandinista leader.
“The problem is that Ortega doesn’t have in his playbook any plans to amend his behavior. They [the OAS] can say whatever they want to him, and he can just go on being indifferent to any compliance with the international commitments, as far as the OAS goes. In any case, the suspension would be a political and moral sanction, but it wouldn’t coerce him,” Diaz explained.
The former diplomat maintained that the OAS could influence the member states to adopt bilateral measures needed to reinforce Nicaragua’s constitutional and democratic order. Diaz offered as an example the steps the United States is taking with the proposed “Magnitsky Nica act.” [“Nicaragua Human Rights and Anti-Corruption act of 2018: S 3233].
Diaz felt that the OAS’ concerns for Nicaragua represented a collective defense of democracy on the part of the member states. He felt that these measures and concerns in no way violate the country’s sovereignty, since human rights have no borders; in this context, the Ortega government has trespassed on something as fundamental as the right to life.
“How far is this going to go? I don’t know. At this point, a responsible government would be concerned about reconstructing the country’s institutions. Nonetheless, Ortega’s reaction is force, violence and terror. What I see is the Venezuelan-izing of Nicaragua, mixed with some components of the Cuban system,” Diaz explained.
One of the sanctions that could also be approved as a “means of pressure” towards Daniel Ortega’s regime is the “Magnitsky Nica” law, that’s one step away from being introduced to the U.S. Senate.
“This would enter us into a very undesirable club, along with Russia, North Korea and Venezuela,” commented Aguirre Sacasa.
The proposed new law would limit access to credits from international financial organs, would designate individual sanctions similar to the Global Magnitsky Law, and contemplates blockading capital, rescinding visas, and imposing economic penalties, a collection of measures that have already been put in place by the United States and intensified since the onset of the crisis.
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are currently in recess. Upon their return at the beginning of November, they “could pull the trigger,” the former foreign minister declared.
OAS working group warns of the “climate of fear”
The OAS Working Group for Nicaragua, integrated by 12 countries, warned of a “climate of fear” in Nicaragua and said they’d observed an increase in arrests of those who protest against Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega.
The Chilean ambassador to the OAS, Hernan Salinas, presented the latest report of the working group during the extraordinary session of the Permanent Council. The working group was created on August 2, and is comprised of 12 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, United States, Guyana, Mexico, Panama and Peru.
The report concludes that “while the violent repression of the summer months has been contained, a climate of fear prevails” in Nicaragua due to “the increasing reports of detention and victimization, as well as the continual acts of repression and intimidation.”
The protests against Ortega erupted on April 18 for some later-repealed reforms to social security. Up until the present, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights has documented 325 citizens killed during the crisis, over 300 detained, and thousands of wounded.
In this context, the working group declared that “there’s been no progress” towards the reinstallation of the national dialogue mediated by the Catholic Church. Previously, the executive branch of the government had entered into this dialogue along with the opposing Civic Alliance, an agglutination of the private sector, civil society, students and farmers.
IACHR warns of a “new wave of repression” in Nicaragua
Paulo Abrao, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), presented a report that speaks of “six months of a dramatic situation that affects the lives of Nicaraguans.”
The IACHR, using information documented by the Special Follow-up mechanism for Nicaragua during the past few weeks, observed an increase in the acts of violence and repression to discourage public demonstrations in Nicaragua. Abrao advised of the detention and criminalization of political and social leaders. At the same time, he expressed his concern for the particular effects that the crisis has generated in the lives of women, children and adolescents.
The Commission’s most recent documentation of the number of mortal victims counts 325 people dead – 21 of them police officials and 24 children or teenagers. In the face of the inconsistent data given by the Nicaraguan authorities and their questioning of the IACHR registries, the Commission reiterated to the Nicaraguan state the urgent necessity that they allow access to detailed information regarding those who have died in the context of the current situation, so that the IACHR can check their data against the numbers offered by the state authorities and verify the toll.
In addition, the IACHR expressed “concern” for the “persistent use of detention as a form of repressing social protest [against Ortega]”. Last September 28, Ortega’s government declared illegal all demonstrations that don’t have express permission from the authorities.
Abrao referred to the press note from the National Police – “note number 115-2018 from September 28” – that classifies all public demonstrations as illegal for the sole fact that certain violent acts have occurred during them, and declares those who have called for and organized the demonstrations legally responsible for such acts.
“In this sense, the IACHR and their Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression manifested their extreme concern for the position of Nicaragua’s National Police, which has declared protest demonstrations illegal and made their organizers criminally responsible,” Abrao noted.
The IACHR Secretary General declared that the organization energetically condemns any barriers imposed on a person’s right to use the mechanisms available in the inter-American system of human rights protection, or any type of reprisals or stigmas imposed by a state against people or organizations that engage with the organs of the inter-American system in the exercise of their conventional rights.
Advocating for dialogue and an end to repression
The Nicaraguan representative to the OAS, Luis Alvarado, categorically rejected the report presented by Paulo Abrao and stated that the IACHR “finds itself in a new stage of aggression, as an arm for promoting a coup d’état.” Further, while Nicaragua accepted at the time the visit of this organism “believing in its good intentions”, there are no “neutral organisms” within the OAS, “only two-edged swords.”
Alvarado reaffirmed that the Nicaraguan state doesn’t recognize the existence of the OAS Working Group on Nicaragua, and doesn’t give any validity to the document presented by these countries; in the same way, he refused to recognize the IACHR report.
“We call on the member states to dissociate themselves from actions in support of a coup that the far-right sectors of the United States are promoting against our country, and we demand that those actions cease,” affirmed Alvarado.
Numerous member countries regretted the declarations of the Nicaraguan representative and reaffirmed their concern and commitment to supporting a reinstallation of the national dialogue in the country with all of the involved parties.
Carlos Trujillo, the US representative to the OAS, asserted that the situation in Nicaragua has worsened, noting that there has been international condemnation for the campaign of intimidation on the part of President Ortega’s regime. He insisted that the actions carried out by the government aren’t acceptable and represent attempts to put pressure on organizers and to criminalize protest.
“The president has responded to the tension via armed groups for all his objectives. The unarmed citizens who are exercising their human rights aren’t terrorists and shouldn’t be treated as such. Those actions of the government damage their image before the world. We join in with the other members from the region to call on the Ortega government to put an end to violence and to hold responsible those who have engaged in repression,” Trujillo declared.
Elisa Ruiz Diaz, Paraguay’s ambassador to the OAS, reaffirmed that the actions of the Nicaraguan government are not contributing to a solution to the crisis in the country, but only deepen the differences, in addition to making clear the regime’s lack of a will for dialogue. She reiterated her profound concern for the increasing severity of the crisis in Nicaragua.
“We desire the fulfillment of what has been enthroned in the lines of the Nicaraguan national anthem: “Hail to thee, Nicaragua! On thy land roars the voice of the cannon no more,
nor does the blood of brothers now stain [your glorious two-colored flag],” Ruiz Diaz concluded.
Paula Maria Bertol, Argentina’s ambassador to the OAS, said that Nicaragua “far from improving, worsens day by day.” She stated that the Ortega regime feels secure through a repressive system of human rights violations and insisted on giving names to the numbers of dead, wounded and abducted by the Sandinista government.
“We’re convinced that these people who are suffering have first and last names. Today I want to name Alvaro Conrado, a death that all of Nicaragua has regretted. Alvaro died from a sniper’s bullet, his last words were” “It hurts me to breathe”, and today in Nicaragua many are finding that it hurts them to breathe,” declared Bertol.