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The OAS at a crossroads: The Almagro report and the absence of the U.S., do they have the 24 votes?

The Permanent Council meets this Wednesday: Ortega does not respond to diplomatic efforts, and the OAS has yet to define next steps

The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) is awaiting the results of the report of its Secretary General, Luis Almagro, to define the next step on the socio-political crisis in Nicaragua. Diplomatic sources linked to the regional organization expect the report to be presented on Wednesday, January 19, during a session of the Permanent Council scheduled for that day.

The permanent representative of St. Kitts and Nevis to the OAS, Warren Everson Alarick Hull, will hold the chairmanship of the Permanent Council until March 31, 2022. 

The content of Almagro’s report and the result of his alleged diplomatic efforts with Ortega is being handled with secrecy, while in the corridors of the OAS different negotiations are being discussed to know in advance if there are 24 votes to apply Article 24 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to Nicaragua. 

On January 10, despite his international isolation and the illegitimacy of his “electoral triumph” of November 7, Daniel Ortega wore the presidential sash for the fourth consecutive time. The Ortega regime maintains an exit process from the OAS which began on November 19 and which, according to established procedures, must be completed in two years from that date. 

Ortega’s persistence in maintaining his dictatorial cycle places the OAS and its instruments of diplomatic pressure and democratic guarantees at a crossroads, which have not been sufficient to reach a solution to the serious socio-political crisis in which Nicaragua is immersed after the massacre of April 2018, perpetrated by the regime against citizen protests.

Canada: Almagro’s report first

During an event sponsored by the renowned think tank Inter-American Dialogue entitled “Nicaragua 2022: Is a political transition possible?”, Canada’s ambassador to the OAS, Hugh Adsett, acknowledged that the regional body has not yet defined what steps they will take on the Nicaraguan crisis, but that it will have to be discussed after the secretary general presents his final report on the results of his dealings with the Ortega regime.

Canada, together with Chile, coordinates the OAS Permanent Council Working Group on the situation in Nicaragua. On December 17, Almagro asked the Permanent Council for a deadline until mid-January to present the report on the results of its efforts with the Ortega regime.

Ambassador Adsett insisted that the international community must articulate the diplomatic pressure against the regime, with the demand made by the Nicaraguan diaspora and the pro-democracy groups that have a presence within Nicaragua.

Gonzalo Koncke of the OAS: difficult to work with Ortega and Murillo

Gonzalo Koncke, Chief of Staff of Secretary General Almagro, who also participated in the Inter-American Dialogue event, expressed that the regime’s intention of a “clean slate”, which Ortega expressed in his inauguration speech, “is not acceptable”. 

However, he acknowledged that “working with Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo was very difficult” due to the unwillingness of the dictatorial couple to accept the regional organization as a mediator to find a way out of the crisis. 

Koncke insisted “that Secretary General Almagro is working at all times and focused on reaching an agreement that will help overcome this crisis for the Nicaraguan people”. He recalled that the role of regional organizations such as the OAS is to help bring about an internal consensus to achieve the necessary objectives to reestablish democratic guarantees in the country. 

Although the effectiveness of the OAS in its role to facilitate a solution to the Nicaraguan crisis is in question, analysts and specialists consulted by CONFIDENCIAL insist that pressure from OAS member countries towards the Ortega regime should be maintained and even increased.

“It is essential that OAS member states continue to make a rigorous analysis of the conditions in the country and the lack of compliance with the recommendations of the December 8 resolution, which include freeing political prisoners, carrying out electoral reforms, repealing laws that restrict political participation and allowing the return of international human rights bodies of the UN and the Inter-American system”, insisted Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting director for the Americas of Human Rights Watch. 

The urgency of Article 21 of the Democratic Charter

Taraciuk Broner stated that from her point of view, the implementation of the new cycle of government by Ortega and Murillo as of January 10 is a consolidation of the dictatorship in Nicaragua.

This is in addition to the dramatic deterioration of the human rights situation in the country, the arrests of political opponents and critics and the arbitrary judicial processes against them, as well as the open attacks on the fundamental institutions of any democracy, such as civil society and the independent press.

“Faced with the escalation of this crisis, the international community has responded with statements of concern. The OAS initiated the discussion on the application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and in cases such as the United States and the European Union, sanctions were adopted against public officials involved in the brutal repression. Unfortunately, it has not been enough,” Taraciuk Broner acknowledged.

“If that does not happen, which is frankly quite difficult to imagine, they will have to urgently apply Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, according to which Nicaragua could be suspended from the OAS with a two-thirds majority vote,” she added. 

The position of the interim director of Human Rights Watch is shared by other personalities such as the former president of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, who also demands a more energetic attitude from the regional body.

“If at this point, after almost a month since the last action was taken, (Ortega) has not responded and rather slammed the door in the face of the OAS, it seems to me that the next step must be taken, which is to move towards the application of Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” said Chinchilla in an interview on the Esta Noche program. 

Lack of qualified majority limits OAS action

Former Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis also regretted that despite the high degree of consensus among the member countries of the regional organization, it has not been possible to reach the required votes to apply sanctions or even the suspension of Nicaragua established in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

“Unfortunately, as long as there is no majority in the (Permanent) Council or in the OAS General Assembly that forcefully proposes and sustains a strict line of repudiation against the dictatorship of Ortega and Murillo, it will be impossible for the role of the organization to be decisive,” said the former Costa Rican president.

 Solis remarked that from his point of view, the consensus among OAS member countries on the Nicaraguan crisis has grown, due to what he described as a “mock election preceded by a campaign of terror”, in reference to the repressive escalation that began in May of last year. 

“This entire repressive wave placed the regime on the road to a suspension of its membership in the Organization in a definitive way for the first time. In anticipation of this, Nicaragua went ahead and announced its unilateral withdrawal from the OAS. At this moment, the General Secretariat is going through the processes established in the Charter for these cases and Nicaragua will certainly withdraw from the OAS within the two-year term provided by the Charter”, warned the former Costa Rican president.

Michael Shifter: “disappointing and late” reaction 

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, also emphasized what he described as a “disappointing and belated” reaction by the hemispheric community to the worsening crisis of civil liberties and human rights violations in Nicaragua.

“While the OAS has limited tools in the face of a de facto police state like Nicaragua, it is also true that the reaction of the hemispheric community to the barbarities committed by the dictatorship has been late and disappointing. On the one hand, it must be recognized that the resolutions have been progressively harsh, the last one quite good, which is encouraging. But at the same time it is difficult to understand, given the gravity of the violations, that so far the Democratic Charter has not been invoked and Nicaragua has not been suspended from the OAS,” Shifter remarked. 

U.S. still without an ambassador to the OAS

The role of the United States as the driving force behind the pressures against the Ortega regime is decisive, but the fact that the U.S. does not currently have an ambassador to the OAS has become an obstacle that affects the work related to the Nicaraguan crisis.

“A significant limitation has been not having an ambassador in place yet, which is regrettable. In order to spearhead initiatives on Nicaragua within the OAS, it is crucial to have an authoritative and credible U.S. ambassador,” said Shifter. 

Taraciuk Broner added that the role of Joe Biden’s Administration is fundamental to lead the efforts in the OAS and that in parallel, the mechanisms of sanctions against officials of the Ortega regime must be strengthened. 

“For sanctions to work, they must not be an end in themselves. And for them to hurt, they must go to the highest levels and include Ortega himself. The U.S. should take that step and, in addition, coordinate these sanctions with other governments. On the other hand, the Biden Administration should take advantage of the fact that it has now returned to the Human Rights Council in Geneva to promote the creation of an independent international mechanism to document and expose the very serious human rights violations committed by the Ortega regime  in the next sessions of the Council in February or March 2022,” he pointed out. 

Costa Rica: tense, but pragmatic relations

Another key country at the crossroads of the OAS is Costa Rica, one of the strongest democracies in Latin America and the main recipient of Nicaraguan exiles fleeing the repression and persecution of the dictatorship. The country faces its next elections on February 6, but this would not imply a change in the role of denouncing the abuses of Ortega’s dictatorship.

“Costa Rica will maintain tense but pragmatic relations with regard to the dictatorship. On the one hand, it cannot ignore the very serious human rights violations. On the other hand, neither can it ignore the fact that it has a border of almost 400 kilometers with Nicaragua and that more than 500,000 asylum seekers, economic refugees or displaced persons live in its midst, whose attention requires an operational platform with the Government of Nicaragua”, warned the former president. 

Everything indicates that the next move to unravel the complex web of the Nicaraguan crisis, at least in the scope that the influence of the OAS may have, will depend in the short term on what the member countries of the regional organization define after the report of Secretary General Luis Almagro is known.

From then on, it remains to be seen if the outrages of the Ortega government finally determine a firm and definitive position of the organization based on what its norms establish, or if it simply becomes a secondary issue, trapped in the tug-of-war of hemispheric diplomacy.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff

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