Logo de Confidencial Digital




Ally or interventionist? The FSLN’s ambiguous, historical relationship with the OAS

In 1979, an OAS resolution promoted by the Sandinistas brought about the fall of Somoza; now the Orteguistas accuse the organization of interference.

In reality

Vladimir Vásquez

14 de junio 2021


“Interference.” That is the word that the Ortega-Murillo regime uses more often when referring to an unfavorable resolution issued by the Organization of American States (OAS). But in 1979, a pronouncement issued after The Seventeenth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs helped to create the conditions for the fall of the Somoza dictatorship. In those times, the OAS was useful to the sandinistas. 

In 1979, Panamanian diplomat Juan Antonio Tack gave his chair to the exiled Sandinista government junta, so that Miguel D’Escoto Brockman could expose the situation of Nicaragua to the other countries, in a forum that was integrated by 13 military dictatorships and 12 civilian governments. 

According to the resolution issued on June 23, 1979, “from the point of view of The Seventeenth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs , the solution (to the serious problem of  Nicaraguans) should be inspired by the following bases”, and went on to list a series of proposals which included, in the first place, the “immediate and definitive replacement of the Somoza regime”. 

In addition, they recommended the installation of a democratic government in Nicaragua, composed of all actors in opposition to the Somoza regime “and which would reflect the free will of the Nicaraguan people”.

Human rights above any principle of non-interference

Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, lawyer and former president of Costa Rica, was one of the protagonists of the historic reunion of foreign ministers held by the OAS in 1979. In an interview given to the TV show Esta Semana, the Costa Rican politician described it as “the largest meeting ever held against a regime”, and noted that the diplomatic effort “worked so well that the Somoza regime fell after a month of that condemnation”.

Calderón explained that the main promoters of that resolution were Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, even though Latin America was, for the most part, immersed in governments that were “under the military boot”. The support of the United States was important to convince other representatives, but that country’s position became more forceful once it became known that Bill Stuart, one of the most renowned journalists at the time, had been assassinated at the hands of Somoza’s Guard. 

During the interview, the former Costa Rican president asserted that “the defense and struggle for human rights has nothing to do with another country’s internal affairs. It is above any principle of non intervention or interference, because the respect for life and respect for the fundamental rights of human beings come before all else,” he said.

Now that the OAS General Secretariat - through its Secretary General Luis Almagro - has called for an urgent meeting, scheduled on June 15, to discuss Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, Calderón hopes that, as in 1979, “they will, once again, have a strong resolution for the defense of the human rights of Nicaraguans.”

Now, Ortega accuses the OAS of violating the “sovereignty of the people”

In 2018, the Ortega regime unleashed a massacre against an unarmed civilian population that was protesting for him to give up power, which he had held since 2007 and maintains to date, supported by police and paramilitary forces. According to a report by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), Ortega's onslaught against demonstrators left at least 328 dead.

In a communiqué issued two days after the protests began, on April 20, the OAS condemned the violence and called for peace. “The General Secretariat condemns all types of violence and the murders committed against civilians Richard Edmundo Pavón Bermúdez and Darwin Manuel Urbina Urbina, and Deputy Police Inspector Rafael Manzanares Alvarado. At the same time, it calls for peace, respect for institutionality and to clarify the crimes committed,” said a portion of the communiqué, issued on April 20, 2018. 

The 49th General Assembly of the Organization of American States was held in June, when Valdrack Jaentschke, Nicaragua’s representative, intervened to state that he considered the events to be “interference”, given the fact that the other countries discussed the situation of Nicaragua and that the Ortega regime considered that it “did not contribute to peace”.

"We have once again witnessed another exercise of interference by a group of countries that forced this vote throughout the day, an interference in the internal affairs of Nicaragua that is nothing more than a modern rendition of what the Nicaraguan people have had to face throughout our history," said the deputy foreign minister and representative of Nicaragua to the OAS, when the organization issued a resolution on the situation of Nicaragua. Ambassador Jaentschke was removed from the diplomatic service of the Ortega regime in February 2021, without an official explanation issued by the government. 

For this coming June 15, a new meeting of the Permanent Council of the OAS has been convened to “address the situation in Nicaragua”, at the request of Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, the United States, Paraguay, and Peru. “During the meeting, the resolution project for the situation in Nicaragua will be discussed”, according to the call made by the official website of the organization. 

Almagro's ambiguity

Since the beginning of the political crisis in Nicaragua, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States has been under the magnifying glass of opposition groups for refusing to recognize that there is a dictatorship in Nicaragua. For instance, Monsignor Silvio Baez, auxiliary bishop of Managua, questioned the position of Almagro in 2018, saying that he was “severe” when referring to other Latin American countries, but “ambiguous and evasive” when it comes to Nicaragua. 

Similarly, Almagro participated in a social-democratic event in Chile in 2019, and while he referred to Cuba and Venezuela as dictatorships, he omitted talking about Nicaragua. 

However, in an interview given to CNN on June 10, 2021, Almagro expressed to Fernando del Rincón that “the General Secretariat has no doubt that today, the exercise of power (in Nicaragua) does not conform to the democratic rule of law, that the exercise of power is delegitimized by these circumstances and that it is therefore necessary to take actions that have consonance with Article 21 of the Inter-American Charter (...) I am using the terminology of the Inter American Charter, which does not use the word dictatorship at any point, but if you want to categorize it that way, if the exercise of power is not in accordance with the democratic rule of law, it is a dictatorship,” he said on TV. 

Julio Icaza, former ambassador representative to the United Nations, explains what this change of position from the OAS General Secretariat could mean. “Almagro's position on what is happening in Nicaragua has changed substantially since the events of April 2018. He has been very clear in his latest statements and reports, in the sense of considering that human rights are not respected and that there is no democracy or rule of law in Nicaragua. But the criteria of the Secretary General, although important, is not definitive: the OAS member countries have the last word. We will see what the position of each of them is, when this proposal is put to a vote next Tuesday,” said Icaza. 

There will be no expulsion or suspension

According to international analyst Ricardo de León, Nicaragua will not be suspended from the organization this Tuesday. On the contrary, a Permanent Council meeting has been called, which at the same time could decide whether to convene a General Assembly meeting to discuss the suspension of Nicaragua. De León clarifies that the figure of expulsion is no longer contemplated in the organization. In fact, the only country to which it was applied was Cuba in 1962, because it was contemplated in the Constitutive Charter of the OAS. 

Although the analyst explains that the word expulsion has never been contemplated in the organization, exclusion is used. 

“It has already been relegated and the legal figure of suspension is now used, with the purpose of making the suspended State consider its actions and revert the situation in order to return to the Inter-American System”, explained the analyst. 

In article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the OAS determines that “when the General Assembly, convened for a special session, finds that there has been a breakdown of democratic order in a Member State and that diplomatic efforts have been unsuccessful, it shall decide to suspend that Member State form the exercise of its right to participate in the OAS with the affirmative vote of two thirds of the Member States, in accordance with the OAS Charter. The suspension shall take effect immediately”. 

The arguments are the same 

In 2018, educator Carlos Tünnerman explained to CONFIDENCIAL that words such as "interference, terrorist actions or distortion" that the Somoza regime used to refer to the guerilla struggle of the Sandinista Front, are similar to those used by the regime today to describe those who denounce the serious human rights violations committed by Sandinismo against opponents. 

Before the OAS in 1979, the then Foreign Minister of Nicaragua, Julio Quintana, alleged that the situation in the country had been "distorted by foreign forces for political purposes and spread abroad with the purpose of discrediting the country and the legitimately constituted government".

Rosario Murillo, vice-president of the regime, has qualified the denunciations against the regime as “fake news”. In order to control the conversations around the subject, Ortega had the Special Law on Cyber Crimes approved at the National Assembly, which is controlled by his party. The law punishes information which is considered false by the dictatorship with imprisonment. 

Proposed resolution from Canada

In a draft published on the website of the Organization of American States, Canada proposes a draft resolution in which they propose to condemn the arrest of opponents, and express their concern over the fact that the Ortega government did not implement the electoral reforms that were recommended by the body, for which the deadline expired in May 2021.

“Unequivocally condemn the arrest, harassment and arbitrary restrictions imposed on potential presidential candidates, political parties and independent media, and call for the immediate release of potential candidates and all political prisoners”, says point two of the resolution that will be discussed next June 15.

But the organization is also preparing to make other recommendations to the country, despite the fact that the modifications to the Electoral Law were not made as advised. On the contrary, the regime even took away legal status to new parties such as the Democratic Restoration Party (PRD).

“Strongly urge the Government of Nicaragua to implement, without delay, legislative and other measures in accordance with applicable international standards in order to promote free and fair elections in November, including the welcome reception of credible electoral observers from the OAS and other countries,” reads the last point of the resolution. 

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Ana María Sampson



Your contribution allows us to report from exile.

The dictatorship forced us to leave Nicaragua and intends to censor us. Your financial contribution guarantees our coverage on a free, open website, without paywalls.

Vladimir Vásquez

Vladimir Vásquez