US to Continue Pressuring Ortega for Democratic Reforms

Joe Biden, Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega. File photos:

Former diplomats feel the latest US State Department press release marks the “approach” the Biden administration plans to follow on Nicaragua.

Por Juan Carlos Bow (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The recent change of government in the United States won’t bring any substantial changes in US policies towards Nicaragua. That’s the reading of several former diplomats. These foreign policy experts weighed in on a recent press release from State Department spokesperson Ned Price.  In it, the State Department accuses the Ortega regime of leading the country towards “dictatorship”.

“This [the move towards dictatorship] will further isolate his regime from the global community,” the communique states. “The Biden Administration is committed to supporting the Nicaraguan people and their demand for democracy.”

Mauricio Diaz, former Nicaraguan ambassador, predicted: “the old Ortega guard are going to be left with their [vain] hopes. They think the Democrats will be coming with an olive branch in their hands.”

“The State Department’s declaration confirms that there’s no substantive change in North American policy towards the Nicaraguan regime. Nor, eventually, towards the so-called “evil troika”, made up of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua,” Diaz added.

Michael Shifter, president of “Inter-American Dialogue”, was recently interviewed on the internet television news show Esta Noche. He felt Biden would maintain “a very firm and hard posture with respect to the dictatorships in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.”

“However, Biden’s style is completely different from Trump’s. He concentrates much more on diplomatic and multilateral efforts, without being soft,” Shifter declared last November.

Arturo Cruz, former Nicaraguan ambassador to the US, noted that a statement “holds more international weight than a simple tweet”. It’s “probable that its drafting was the result of high-level discussions on the topic. They most likely spent time defining the Biden Administration’s foreign policy towards Nicaragua.”

A setback for democracy

Price’s press release began: “The United States is deeply concerned about the escalating crackdown by the Government of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.” It specifically notes the “Foreign Agents Law”. This new measure “forced the closure last week of two bastions of free expression: the Nicaragua chapter of PEN International and the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation.” 

The Foreign Agent’s Law was approved last October 15th, by the Sandinista majority in the National Assembly. The law entered into full effect last week.

Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, former Nicaraguan foreign minister, also commented on the probable direction of the new administration. Under Biden, he stated, the State Department professionals returned to a more “belligerent” stance. “They’re aware that President Ortega has been taking a series of actions they see as problematic for Nicaraguan democracy.”

“To the professionals from the State Department, the Foreign Agent’s Law (…) marks a setback [for Nicaraguan democracy],” he commented.

The report from the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mauricio Diaz noted the US State Department press release was well in line with other initiatives. “It’s in accord with the last declaration from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In this statement, they reiterated that the path to free elections [in Nicaragua] is being totally boycotted. They’re setting up more stumbling blocks, as the OHCHR says.”

In their latest report on human rights in Nicaragua, the OHCHR reviewed the 14 recommendations they’d given the Ortega regime. The organization indicated that these recommendations – extended to the Nicaraguan government 15 months ago – had not been adhered to. “The Office has observed that the government has implemented few measures. Unfortunately, they haven’t demonstrated any notable advances up to now.”

According to the report, the Ortega government hasn’t complied with the reestablishment of a dialogue to overcome the crisis. Nor has it implemented “guarantees for the exercise of peaceful assembly, or the right to freedom of expression and association. Nor with sanctions for those who attack or intimidate human rights advocates.”

The OHCHR states that the Nicaraguan government has only complied “partially” with the recommendation not to realize arbitrary detentions. Also, with freeing people “apprehended within the context of the crisis”. Rather, the report emphasized, such actions continue in Nicaragua.

Support for civil society organizations

In his release, Price highlighted: “We are focused on empowering civil society and improving respect for human rights. We urge President Ortega to change course now.”

Aguirre Sacasa emphasized that the Foreign Agent’s Law “triggers” a reaction from the State Department. The new law impacts Nicaraguan institutions tied in with the international organizational community.

“Both institutions [PEN International Nicaragua, and the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation] are well plugged in with the international NGO universe.,” he stressed.

The former foreign minister warned that the law “could provoke a reaction from the Biden administration and the US Congress. There are people there who are following up day-to-day on the situation in Nicaragua.”

Mauricio Diaz pointed out that US pronouncements “aren’t going to transform reality” in Nicaragua. However, “they’re additional factors in exerting international pressure.”

“We’ll have to see how other international bodies align. For example, the European Union, the European Parliament and the international human rights organizations.”

In a recent interview on Esta Noche, Richard Feinberg, political analyst, economist and former US official also weighed in. He felt that Biden’s policies towards Nicaragua would be “more realistic. It won’t be just threats or sanctions, but coached in more realistic strategies. Also, they’ll be working with the European countries and other countries of the region. They’ll be entering into negotiations with the regime and other living forces of the country.”

Alex Zamora, from the National Unity’s political council, commented that the US statement “goes along” with President Biden public positions. Biden has articulated “his commitment to the causes of Nicaraguan citizens, and the reestablishment of justice and democracy in Nicaragua.”

“The National Unity also has a commitment to work with all democratic governments. With all those that express their intention to accompany us in this process,” Zamora concluded.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.