NGOs complain that they’ve tried to register as “foreign agents”, but the Ministry of the Interior refuses to accept them.
By Vladimir Vasquez (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – On January 29, the regulations for Nicaragua’s new “foreign agents law” were published in the official Gazette. According to these norms, those considered “foreign agents” could be sanctioned for incompliance with fines ranging from US $300 to US $500,000. The amount would depend on the gravity of the offense.
In addition, in the event of “serious offenses”, the regime could permanently or temporarily suspend the “foreign agent’s” activities. Moreover, its legal status as a non-profit could be canceled. The latter is the consequence if the regime decides an organization has carried out activities “contrary to its aims and objectives”.
The same would occur with any group that interferes in Nicaraguan politics. Specifically, any group that “finances or promotes the financing of any type of organization, movement, political party coalition or political alliance or association that carries out activities related to Nicaragua’s internal politics. Or, activities whose results promote political proselytism.”
With this law, the regime has closed the door on any group wanting to promote democracy. Article 26, item D of the law establishes administrative measures against “foreign agents” who use their funds in vaguely defined, unapproved ways. In the words of the Article: “for the commission of illicit acts, or to violate the public order.”
Monthly reports required
The Interior Ministry (Migob) has recently created a Registry of Foreign Agents. All those so classified must submit a series of monthly reports. These must indicate the amount and source of funds or goods they’ve received from outside. They must also indicate the purpose of the funds and how they’re being utilized.
The “foreign agents” must file preliminary reports on the Migob web portal when resources are expected from outside the country. They must report and document any such transfer of funds or goods they plan to receive. These procedures are established in Article 13 of the regulations.
In addition, the Ministry demands a monthly report with “detailed information, duly backed by pertinent and verifiable documentation. These reports must include expenses, payments, disbursements, contracts, and any other activities tied to the preliminary report. This is detailed in item B of Article 13.
Lastly, Migob requires a final report on the implementation of the funds received.
Once everything is submitted, the Registry can decide if the “foreign agent” can continue receiving funds from outside, or not. That item appears in Article 14.
“The Competent Authority will notify the foreign agent via the web portal whether they are in compliance with their information. They can then present themselves at the installations of the Registry of Foreign Agents. There, they will receive confirmation of receipt of the preliminary report. They will be notified if the report conforms to their aims and objectives.” This is established in Article 14 of the regulations.
Delays in the inscription process
According to the recently published regulations, failure to register as a foreign agent is a serious offense. However, a series of organizations have told Confidencial that they’ve tried to register with Migob all during January, without success. When they attempted to fulfill the requirements, the Interior Ministry refused to accept their registration.
According to these sources, Migob is supposed to issue letters of solvency. Such affidavits are necessary for processing funds outside the country. Those making the complaint say they’ve been denied these letters for over eleven months. In some cases, Migob has alleged that the delay is because they are “digitalizing” the documents of the soliciting organization.
“Now that we want to register as foreign agents, we can’t, because they won’t extend the needed certificates. They’re telling all the organizations that they’re preparing the files in the system. Can you imagine taking a year and two months to assemble a file? It’s pure inefficiency,” stated the representative of an organization who asked not to be identified.
This representative works with another 20 organizations that have all encountered the same problem. They fear being fined by the Registry of Foreign Agents, despite all their attempts to comply with the law.
“It [the letter of solvency] is a simple document. Before, they extended it to us in two days.” These were the words of an NGO representative who has worked with children for more than seven years.
Confidencial has learned that certain “international funders” have been willing to omit the requirement for this documentation. They’re aware of the situation that exists in Nicaragua. Despite this, however, the organizations still can’t obtain the resources they need to continue functioning. The reason being the local banks demand the letters of solvency in order to process the transfer of funds.
Foreign minister calls on NGOs to “work” with the government
Denis Moncada is the Ortega regime’s foreign minister He called on the non-profit organizations to “work” to reach the “objectives for sustainable development”. A note regarding this was posted last January 12, on the official government website El 19 Digital.
Despite this call to cooperate, many of the organizations that focus on social issues are in limbo. They can’t continue their work without the necessary documentation to obtain funding.
Some of them are able to sustain themselves through donations they receive from people inside the country. Others, though, depend exclusively on external funds and “will have to close” one of the affected parties stated.
“That’s where most of the organizations are at. We can’t register, because we don’t have the certificate of registration. We all feel that the most probable outcome is that there’re not going to issue them,” one of those interviewed speculated.
“Foreign agents” subject to inspections
In order to maintain control over the so-called “foreign agents”, Migob is empowered to realize different types of supervision. This is established in Article 17 of the regulations. The supervision can involve direct inspection, investigation from a distance, or “extraordinary” supervision.
The latter would be “supervision of the foreign agent realized by the competent authority without prior notice, and in an immediate manner. The aim would be to verify specific information. This would occur when there’s known or presumed failure to comply with the obligations established in Law 1041 and the current regulations.” This is established in item b of Article 17.
The Foreign Agents law “segregates” Nicaraguans
The Foreign Agents law entered into effect in October 2020. Lawyers have stated that the law has the effect of “segregating” Nicaraguans. It creates two classes of citizens. There are those considered “foreign agents”, because they don’t sympathize with the regime. Then there are the “true” citizens, who are loyal to Ortega.
During the process of public comments, the Ortega-allied deputies “dressed up” the law. They created some exceptions for legal entities, who wouldn’t be affected. However, the definition of “foreign interference” has been left at the discretion of the regime.
The Ortega regime claims that the law’s objective “is to establish a legal and regulatory framework applicable to national or foreign legal entities or individuals who, in response to certain interests and obtaining foreign financing, utilize these resources to carry out activities that lead to the interference of governments, organizations or foreign individuals in the internal or external affairs of Nicaragua.”