For Washington, the main “instability factor is precisely Ortega”
The Foreign Relations Challenges Facing Ortega’s “Exhausted” Regime
Arturo Cruz considers it probable that the “Nica Act” and “Magnitsky Nica” will be approved
Daniel Ortega’s loss of credibility with the United States government has grown in recent years, and, after the brutal repression which has left 317 confirmed deaths since April, Arturo Cruz, a former ambassador of Nicaragua to the United States, sees it unlikely that there will be an understanding between Ortega and President Trump, as the Nicaraguan president has suggested in his interviews with the international press.
“I have rarely seen so much consensus in Washington on the subject of a country. Within the Administration (Trump) there are no discrepancies, neither with the Senate, nor between Republicans and Democrats, likewise in the House of Representatives,” said Cruz in an interview with the journalist Carlos F. Chamorro on the TV show Esta Semana.
According to Cruz, the United States policy on Nicaragua “is clear,” and “is totally behind the initiatives of the Organization of American States (OAS) and with an eagerness to apply the Global Magnitsky Act, in an unusual way, compared to other countries.” In addition, he believes that the possibilities of the approval of the Nica Act have multiplied.
¿Is Ortega Effective? No longer
In his recent and unprecedented interviews with several international news networks, which have included Fox News, Euronews and CNN en Español, Telesur and RT, Ortega has insisted on the relevance of Nicaragua as a wall of contention against drug trafficking and organized crime. In addition, Ortega has self-profiled himself as a “stability factor.” However, Cruz believes that it is “very difficult” for Ortega to sell that idea.
“I think he could have claimed it some time ago. And in that context, we could say that, regardless of whether his legality and legitimacy were doubtful, he always boasted, and we could correctly say, of his effectiveness. But today he is neither legal, nor legitimate nor effective,” warned the former ambassador of Nicaragua to the United States for the Ortega government between 2007, when Ortega returned to the Presidency after sixteen years in opposition, and 2009.
Cruz stresses that the Ortega government “is in a very difficult situation” saying he has the impression that for Washington and all its actors, “the instability factor is precisely Ortega”, and for this reason the United States insists on the proposal to advance the elections as a way out of the Nicaraguan crisis.
The next presidential elections in Nicaragua are scheduled for November 2021, and the National Dialogue – now stalled – and the General Secretariat of the OAS, proposed the date be advanced to March 2019. Ortega, who returned to power in January 2007, reformed the Constitution in 2011 to allow for continuous reelection, and in 2016 he disqualified the main opposition from participating to remain in power, along with his wife Rosario Murillo as vice president.
Cruz maintains that since 2016 “we are in a clear deterioration” of relations with the United States and “obviously now” the Ortega government has less credibility.
“Since June 2016, they began to take a series of measures and actions that were truly undermining the Government’s credibility,” recalled Cruz. He added that the United States line on Nicaragua “does not coincide with what the Ortega government says, and since then his credibility is practically nil.”
“There are times when, regardless of whether or not there is a void of authority in Nicaragua, the fact is that if the regime is exhausted, and is substituted, that vacuum of authority will have to be dealt with. And I think that in Washington, regardless of the fact that they do not want such to occur, more and more there is a willingness to confront this void, because they already see the regime as completely exhausted,” said Cruz.
Similarities with Somoza
In less than a month, the OAS published two resolutions condemning the Ortega regime for the repression of anti-government protests, which has already killed at least 317 persons, confirmed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), although Ortega and his foreign minister, Denis Moncada, have tried to disqualify their work.
Cruz insists on the importance of taking lessons from the recent history of Nicaragua, and commented that the positions in the Permanent Council of the OAS remind him of the experience of Nicaragua in the 1970s, when in 1978 a mediating group was created with three members, the United States, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala, and the dictator Anastasio Somoza “accepted that they came”.
However, it did not work and what followed was the historic resolution in which the OAS called for the “immediate and definitive replacement of the Somoza regime.”
“There we could basically have had an intelligent exit for the country and avoid all the misfortune that later came in terms of the dead,” said Cruz.
He said that for the Ortega government “it is definitely a mistake, from the point of view of the vital interests of this country and its government, to put it that way, to reject that offer of the OAS.”
“The problem with autocrats – he reflected – is that they always do the right thing when it’s too late, and if you see it, Somoza was willing to do things that by then his total absence of legitimacy did not allow.”
Sanctions on the way
In this context, Cruz explains that the possibilities of the sanctions of the Nica Act have increased.
“Until three or four months ago, that law had no chance, because it was going to stay stuck in the drawer of Senator (Bob) Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Today no one in the Senate is willing to obstruct the law, which means that if it went to the plenary, there would be no discussion (objection) and what could end up happening is that it is on the desk of President Trump in the coming months, because of what is known as the mechanism of unanimous consent,” Cruz explained.
In addition, the ambassador played down the Ortega government’s statements about the new version of the Nica Act, which has the support of Republican and Democratic senators.
“Believing that it is only a small group of legislators from Florida, plus (Robert) Menendez (from New Jersey) seems to me to be a mistake,” said Cruz, noting that it has the support of senators of enormous weight and great credibility, which are characterized by their liberalism.
According to Cruz, the Nica Act “is going to happen”, because in his opinion “it has great probabilities” of approval.
The initiative would condition the support of the United States on loans from international organizations, an effect that is also highly probable if Nicaragua were suspended from the OAS, due to its non-compliance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
In this regard, Cruz recalled that after the coup d’état in 2009, in Honduras, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank (WB) suspended their disbursements already approved for the country, which were then about 200 million and 270 million dollars respectively. “And that was even before Honduras was temporarily suspended from the OAS,” he said.
In the case of Nicaragua, the percentage of these loans within the country’s international cooperation has grown from 24% to 62 or 68%, since the decrease in Venezuelan assistance, which fell from around 500 million dollars a year to only 31 million in 2017.
Magnitsky for Nicaragua
The Nica Act is no longer the only possible sanction of the United States on the Ortega government in Nicaragua. Between December 2017 and May 2018, four Nicaraguan officials were sanctioned by the Global Magnitsky Act, a sanction mechanism that was born exclusively for Russia.
The now ex-president of the Electoral Power, Roberto Rivas, was sanctioned for corruption and violation of human rights, after being singled out for his inexplicable enrichment, parallel to the collapse of a fraudulent electoral system. Then, after the brutal repression since April 18, which continues without stopping, three more of the Ortega inner circle were sanctioned. These were the de facto director of the National Police and relative by marriage of Ortega, Francisco “Paco” Diaz; the general secretary of the Managua Mayor’s Office and one of the main political operators of the FSLN, Fidel Moreno; and the vice president of Albanisa (the Venezuelan-Nicaraguan conglomerate) and treasurer of the FSLN, Francisco “Chico” Lopez.
After recalling these sanctions, Cruz warned that “the year is not over” and added that “the interesting thing about the Magnitsky is that it has evolved as an instrument of pressure or foreign policy,” because at the beginning there were only two lists per year and now new names can be introduced at any time.
In addition, Cruz indicated that an initiative known as the “Magnitsky for Nicaragua” already has a number and reference for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has zero possibilities of objection, although he explained that by entering the second period of the legislature (as happened with the first version of the Nica Act, in 2016) the time frame is “not so favorable.”
In this case, he said, “we could have an exclusive list (of sanctions), like that of Russia, only for Nicaraguans”, although it will have to pass in the Senate, by unanimous consent, and in the House by suspension of the rule.