A group of fifteen U.S. Democratic and Republican senators demanded – through a letter sent to Secretary of State, Antony Blinken – that the U.S. Administration of Joe Biden pay more attention to the crisis in Nicaragua, and take “urgent action” to stop the repression led by the Ortega regime. The senators demand that sanctions be applied to President Daniel Ortega and the Nicaraguan Army’s investment fund.
For experts Cynthia Arnson, political scientist and director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America program, and Jennie Lincoln, expert in electoral observation and senior advisor to the Carter Center on Latin America, the senators’ message is the strongest the Biden Administration has received, in “regard to the future of Nicaragua after the elections”, since, in addition to calling for action, it recognizes the sanctioning of the Nicaraguan Army investment fund as “an option” on the table.
“The Administration is looking for ways to influence the (Ortega-Murillo) couple, to remove the terrorism they are implementing on their own people,” Lincoln stated in an interview on the program Esta Semana.
Even though U.S. policy is still being defined and the Latin American region is polarized, Arnson and Lincoln agree that the days following the elections scheduled for November 7 in Nicaragua will be fundamental to know what measures will be taken, not only by the United States, but also by other states that support democracy, particularly those of Central and Latin America.
This Friday, 15 senators demanded that Joe Biden’s Administration take tougher action against Daniel Ortega, including sanctions. Is there a Biden Administration policy toward Nicaragua at this time?
Jennie Lincoln: Right now there are several; there is one from the State Department, from the Treasury Department and from Congress, what is needed is to harmonize the policy. What was done with this letter was to send perhaps the strongest message of attention to Nicaragua’s future after the elections, with attention to Nicaragua’s economy and what is going to happen after this failed election.
The U.S. Government also signed a statement with seven other countries, affirming that the November 7 elections have no validity or legitimacy. Does this mean that the Biden Administration will not recognize the result of this election, of Daniel Ortega’s reelection?
Jennie Lincoln: I wouldn’t be surprised because it’s the signal. But there is another thing about this list of countries, it is noticeable that there are no Central American countries, so the messages to Daniel Ortega are not in harmony in the region, and that is a difficulty for U.S. policy. It is worrying that the neighbors are not paying attention to the difficulties of the Nicaraguan people, then, it is not only the United States that can have an influence after the November elections, it has to be a group of all the countries in the region.
The United States has said it wants to work with the OAS, with the European Union. What is happening in the OAS? Are there conditions in the OAS to declare a majority vote on the rupture of the Democratic Charter in Nicaragua?
Cynthia Arnson: I can’t say whether there are enough votes to expel Nicaragua by calling for the Democratic Charter, but what happened last June, when there was a huge majority condemning what was happening in Nicaragua at that time, I think is also remarkable.
I agree with Jennie that there is no coordinated policy with the other countries, but I think this is the beginning, because you have to remember that Undersecretary Brian Nichols was confirmed less than two weeks ago; so now he can act more actively. I believe that this joint declaration with Chile, Colombia, with other countries, is precisely the result of the efforts made by the undersecretary during and next to the United Nations meeting.
We know that the region is very polarized, fragmented, but it would have been preferable to have an impulse from the region, even from Central America. But we have not seen the end and I believe that everyone is going to declare that the November elections are not legitimate and they are going to act forcefully in the days and weeks after the days of the elections. We will have to wait and see if Costa Rica, Panama, Dominican Republic, the other democratic partners, Nicaragua’s good neighbors and all the regimes, for lack of a better word, in the north of Central America react jointly.
Are we talking about a possible declaration from the OAS, of the chancellors of the OAS, after November 7, or that each country will define their position in the face of illegitimacy, as this group of eight has already done? Could this group of eight grow, or will the OAS have the space to play an important role in this crisis?
Cynthia Arnson: I do think there is an important space in the OAS. The big question with all these condemnations is, who cares if the Ortega-Murillo regime is expelled from the OAS? They could say, okay, we are going down the path off Russia, China, the other antidemocratic countries; then, I don’t think the expulsion from the OAS is necessarily the appropriate path, but a convincing condemnation by part of the member states of the OAS, the members of the maximum Council of the OAS, would be very important.
What can the OAS do regarding the elections in Nicaragua? The OAS will not send an observation mission, nor will the Carter Center or the European Union, but can they politically or technically issue a pronouncement regarding the quality of the elections?
Jennie Lincoln: I think that will be difficult, because up until now the evidence is enough to declare that the elections are illegitimate, there is no doubt about that. With the preparation that was interrupted in June to strip the candidacy from all those aspiring candidates, what happened with the parties and the access to media, the evidence is very striking; thus, it will not be difficult to declare these elections illegitimate, it should be easy for the countries individually and also for the OAS as a whole.
The declaration from the senators demanded that the Biden Administration apply sanctions to the Nicaraguan Army Investment Fund. Is this measure within the options of the Biden Administration?
Jennie Lincoln: Exactly. The Administration is looking for a way to influence the couple, up until now nobody has had an influence on them, to stop the terrorism that they are implementing on their own country.
Cynthia Arson: I think the option is on the table, the director of that fund has been sanctioned by the Treasury Department. Given that the entity (the Nicaraguan Army) as such has not been sanctioned, I think it is certainly a measure that can be taken to make it harder for the fund to invest abroad.
How do you interpret the withdrawal of the United States military attaché in Managua, who praised the head of the Nicaraguan Army, General Julio César Avilés, who has been sanctioned by the United States Government, in a meeting with other military advisers?
Cynthia Arnson: I think that statement was a shame and if that military officer had not been withdrawn it would have been a huge mistake for the United States; So, I believe that the least they could do was to withdraw him, because what he said was truly regrettable.
The Renacer Law project contemplates demanding that the Biden Administration review Nicaragua’s participation in Cafta, but there are sectors that argue that, an eventual separation of Nicaragua from Cafta, could have an indiscriminate effect on the economy, on employment, in companies and that, ironically, could make Ortega more of a victim in this conflict with the United States.
Jennie Lincoln: This mechanism is not easy to change and for the United States to take independent action would be difficult, because the Treaty belongs to the countries as a whole. So yes it is something that some people are recommending, but they must realize the difficulty of a change like this.
What the opposition in exile is demanding is first, the declaration of illegitimacy of the elections, the release of political prisoners, the annulment of the trials, the suspension of the police state, to eventually have an electoral reform and go to other elections. How does this roadmap fit with US policy?
Cynthia Arson: I think some space needs to be given after November 7 to see what route the United States will take, and to see what combination of measures they will take after the elections to demonstrate their disagreement. For me, something very important is freeing the political prisoners, the people who are suffering in jail, and the cases against them have no merit and the lives of these people must be preserved; thus, a humanitarian and diplomatic response, through third parties, should be part of a priority policy.
Jennie, in a forum that you participated in in Costa Rica, you referred to the business role of the private sector in Nicaragua. Currently, there are several leaders of the business sector imprisoned, and businessmen played a role in promoting civic politics in Nicaragua, but at this time they are in total silence for fear of repression.
Jennie Lincoln: So far I do not understand, they do have authority in the economy, and I do not know if they have not suffered enough to make the decision to act, but they have an influence over the decisions of the government and are a source of hope for the people. So, while it is true this is something difficult to understand, this deep silence is appalling.
Can the Vatican, Pope Francis, play a role in these efforts for the release of political prisoners? The Vatican witnessed the second National Dialogue, where Ortega promised to suspend the police state, however, there was no accountability for this failure by the Government.
Jennie Lincoln: Right, it is an opportunity for the Pope to speak and directly ask President Ortega and his wife, the Vice President, Rosario Murillo, to release political prisoners on behalf of their Church. On the other hand, I do not understand why they have not yet taken this action, it seems that everyone is watching Nicaragua, but they are not taking the steps forward to ensure that the situation improves.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff