US Legislators Toughen the “Nica Act”
This new version of the “Nica Act” omits the agreement between the Ortega government and the OAS.
The new version of the “Nica Act” (Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act) presented Wednesday by 25 members of the US House of Representatives, “has toughened” the proposal of conditions on loans from multilateral organizations to the government of Daniel Ortega.
The bill demands the reestablishment of diplomatic institutions and that corruption be tackled, including investigating high-ranking officials. Under the legislation the US State Department would be required to report on the progress in 90 days, and not in 120, as in the earlier piece of legislation.
The project is being introduced six months after its initial version, which was unanimously approved by the US House of Representatives in September 2016, but didn’t become law because it wasn’t taken up by the Senate. The new “Nica Act” demands that the United States take a “firm” stand so that an electoral observation mission is sent through the OAS to oversee municipal elections next November.
However, it doesn’t mention anything about the “discussion rounds” and the subsequent agreement which was pushed by Ortega’s government and the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro earlier this year, with the commitment to “strengthen” democratic institutions in the country.
It didn’t take long for Almagro’s office to discredit the usefulness of this initiative, which Ortega’s government – almost immediately responding too – called it “a new threat” and has labeled it “meddling”.
The new legislation widely quotes the US State Department’s last report about human rights violations in Nicaragua, and refers to the last general elections held on November 6, 2016, which were held without transparency and political competition, after which Ortega was declared President for a third consecutive term, now in the company of his wife, Rosario Murillo, as Vice-President.
The new bill’s omission of the agreement between Ortega’s government and the OAS doesn’t surprise representatives from Nicaragua’s opposition, who question its “lack of seriousness” to deal with real problems in the country’s political and electoral systems.
Conditions on IDB, World Bank and IMF loans
Just like its first version, the new “Nica Act” proposes that the United States vote against Nicaragua when it comes to loans from multilateral organizations where Washington has a decisive vote, including the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank.
In September last year, when the first version of this initiative was being drawn up, former ambassador Francisco Aguirre Sacasa calculated that multilateral organizations were loaning around 250 million USD per year, on favorable terms. Plus, the sums of these loans have been kept intact even after oil cooperation dropped with the crisis of Ortega’s ally, the Maduro government, in Venezuela.
Under the legislation, exceptions to the US’ veto on Nicaraguan credits would include loans for “humanitarian efforts, or to promote democracy in Nicaragua”, or when they provide aid to NGOs and democracy, governability and human rights programs.
Even though the initiative doesn’t mention the agreement between Ortega’s government and the OAS, it does emphasize the comments and recommendations that the organization made after the 2011 general elections, when Ortega imposed his unconstitutional reelection, and the opposition complained of fraud orchestrated by the Supreme Electoral Council itself.
That year, the OAS recommended updating the voter registration rolls, guaranteeing the credentials of poll watchers for every political party, pluralism and independence at every level of the electoral system and ensuring citizen registration and participation. Nevertheless, the current agreement between the OAS and Ortega leaves out the majority of these recommendations and doesn’t even mention its own report, while also keeping secret the report the OAS prepared in 2016, prior to the November elections.
OAS concerned; Nicaraguan government rejects
The OAS secretary general was quick to speak out with “concern” about the reactivation of the proposed US legislation, as he believes the project “isn’t a constructive contribution to the work that the Nicaraguan Government and his office have been carrying out in the field of cooperation so as to strengthen democracy, elections and institutions within the country.”
Almagro requested the legislators that put forth the bill reconsider the necessary aspects which would allow the Nicaraguan Government and the Secretary General’s office to have the time and space needed to carry out the work agreed upon by both parties.”
In spite of the OAS coming out to defend its agreement with the government almost immediately, Ortega’s government didn’t mention its agreement with the OAS in its reaction to the US congresspersons proposed bill.
“The 2017 Nica Act is just another threat, another out of the many that it has held over Nicaragua throughout history, in the imperialist mentality’s eagerness to take over our country. It’s a new attempt to grant itself the right to destructively intervene in our national affairs,” the press release stated, which was read out by Murillo at a press conference for government media.
“By presenting the 2017 Nica Act, this group of congress people is trying to infringe upon Nicaragua’s right, our people and government, to continue developing our Christian, socialist and solidarity system, where democracy, dialogue, alliances and the search for consensus, ensure peace, social harmony and hope,” Murillo claimed.
“We will be waiting to see how this disastrous initiative develops,” the press release noted.
US Congress harshly criticizes Ortega
The new Nica Act has been signed by fifteen Republican and 10 Democrat representatives, led by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democrat Albio Sires.
The Representatives recalled that in December 2015, Congress approved a law with a number of conditions to help Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, including the fight against corruption, protecting human rights, the fight against human trafficking and improving border security.
“We must continue to hold all governments within Central America to similar standards when it comes to human rights, corruption, and transparency as we examine where to best use US taxpayer dollars and the Ortega regime in Nicaragua is no exception. This version of the Nica Act goes one step further than the previous version Albio and I introduced last Congress by calling for the Ortega regime to actively combat corruption and take significant steps to protect human rights defenders and activists. These are bipartisan concerns, and as many of us have witnessed for over a decade, Ortega’s power grab has brought Nicaragua into a continuous downward spiral,” stated Ros Lehtinen.
Meanwhile, Albio Sires said, “Ortega and his family continue to amass a great amount of wealth while Nicaragua remains the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. He has spent years repressing the political opposition and has created a de-facto monarchy by having his wife take on the role of Vice President.”
In Nicaragua, the Broad Democratic Front (FAD) regretted that the dictatorship-style and corrupt regime of Ortega and Murillo has created conditions which could “once again limit international financial cooperation.”
“This legislation can be avoided if the outcry of the Nicaraguan people is listened to, demanding since 2008, for free, fair and transparent elections. Likewise if the government stops persecuting human rights activists and begins to conduct serious investigations into human rights abuses and violations and into the countless cases of corruption,” the FAD warned.