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José Miguel Vivanco: The options of the OAS in international negotiations

Director of Human Rights Watch suggests: “A high level OAS, EU, UN commission to deliver an ultimatum to Ortega”

“Daniel Ortega apuesta al cansancio internacional; espero que Boric

Redacción Confidencial

17 de noviembre 2021


The director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division, Jose Miguel Vivanco, applauded the 25 votes of the OAS member states that declared that the elections in which Ortega was reelected without political competition or guarantees, are “without legitimacy”, but warned that taking into account “the precariousness that exists throughout the region in terms of adherence to democratic values, it is difficult to gather the 23 votes necessary to apply Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to Nicaragua and suspend it from the OAS”. 

In an interview with Esta Semana and CONFIDENCIAL, Vivanco advocated for the creation of a high-level commission led by the OAS with the participation of the European Union and the UN Secretary General to “visit Ortega and give him an ultimatum” due to his status as a de facto regime. “It is not easy for Ortega to accept an interaction with a high-level commission” Vivanco admitted, for which reason this must be “a proposal with muscle and that the measures proposed have the necessary strength”. 

The OAS resolution approved this Friday by the foreign ministers transfers the responsibility to evaluate the democratic crisis in Nicaragua to the Permanent Council no later than November 30, to decide whether or not to apply Article 21 of the Democratic Charter. What political options does the OAS have? 

To begin with, the OAS resolution is excellent given the regional context, where populist governments prevail, and governments committed to the rule of law, to the Democratic Charter, to fundamental rights, are the exception. The fact that a significant majority of 25 member states of the OAS have agreed to condemn the elections and declare them illegitimate, the specific points of agreement are really very important, and the terms of that condemnation, to declare that the election or the fraudulent reelection of Ortega has no legitimacy; the fifth point instructs the General Assembly, which is the highest entity of the OAS and gathers the will of the States represented by their foreign ministers, 25 member States instruct the Permanent Council so that, according to the Democratic Charter, they make an evaluation of the internal situation within 15 days and they have to come up with not only a diagnosis, but also some concrete measures. It seems to me that it finally gives this dictatorship all the attention it deserves, and hopefully! Hopefully the OAS manages to gather 23 votes, which is what it needs, 23 member states, not 25, that are willing to apply Article 21 of the Democratic Charter to Nicaragua and that implies, of course, suspension.

I want to be very frank, I think it is always important to tell the truth and not to raise false expectations. Taking into account the precariousness that exists in the whole region in terms of adherence to fundamental rights  and democratic values, it seems to me that it is difficult for those 23 votes to be gathered, 25 were gathered for a strong condemnation, but from there, to assume that there are 25 or 23 Member States willing to suspend Nicaragua for the electoral fraud, is another question and another task.

There was a notorious change in the position of the government of Argentina which distanced itself from Mexico, and instead of abstaining, voted in favor of this resolution of condemnation. What does this change in the Government of Alberto Fernandez mean?

The Argentine vote, which this time joins the majority of the States that condemn what happened in Nicaragua, is a 180 degree change in Argentina's position, in a very short time. I believe that the explanation lies in the internal cost that this had for the Government of Alberto Fernandez. To maintain the principle of non-interference by virtue instead of calling things by their name in the past, so  it was not possible to make a clear statement or condemn the electoral process in Nicaragua.

Argentina has repeatedly maintained that position, which is a real shame, and reflects an abdication of the current Argentine government from what has historically been Argentina's foreign policy since democracy was recovered, since the end of the dictatorship, which has been quite consistent in defending democratic principles and human rights. This time, however, in the election that took place this week, they modified their position by 180 degrees, which is very good, and should be applauded, because this is Argentina's foreign policy, which is consistent with its history, and also, obviously consistent with its international legal obligations.

I also have the impression that it may have been the result of the interaction between the Argentine Government and probably the Biden Administration, because Argentina needs all the support it can get to renegotiate its situation before the International Monetary Fund. Anyway, whatever Argentina's reasons were for changing its position, the important thing is that today Argentina is in the right position as far as the discussion on Nicaragua is concerned.

On the other hand, Mexico continues to invoke the Estrada doctrine of non-intervention, despite the fact that in the OAS in 1979, Mexico itself advocated and supported the replacement of Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship. The Mexican Foreign Ministry says that they do not endorse human rights violations but that they advocate a dialogue around democracy in Nicaragua. Will Mexico's position remain unchanged?

Mexico's position continues to be highly questionable, it takes refuge in the principle of non-interference; although if you look at the text carefully, it is quite incoherent, because although it recognizes that there are human rights violations, and on the other hand it also admits that it is important to respect the rules of the democratic game, it does not take the step, it does not conclude, but makes a series of zig zags and contortions to avoid pronouncing itself on the Nicaraguan issue. The truth is that this makes Mexico regress to the PRI era, to the historical times when Mexico was governed in practice by a single party.

In any case, I believe that it is also necessary to criticize Mexico because it alludes to the need for a dialogue; and one wonders: dialogue between whom? Between the opposition to the dictatorship and the Ortega dictatorship? When the balance between one and the other is enormous; that is to say, the opposition is the victim of persecution by a dictatorship and there is no shared responsibility for the conditions in Nicaragua; the only ones exclusively responsible for the disaster, for Nicaragua’s deplorable record in terms of human rights, and the social and economic situation, are Ortega and Mrs. Murillo, those are the ones responsible and, of course, their entourage, and the Police, and those who have political responsibilities, and also in the judicial field; but the opposition is simply a victim. 

Now, who would that dialogue be between?If it is between the dictatorship and the international community, well, that could be a very different thing.  It seems to me that perhaps one of the proposals of the Permanent Council could be to design a committee of democratic governments committed to the cause of democracy and fundamental rights to visit Ortega, and to give him an ultimatum and explain to him that, if he already lacked legitimacy for having exercised power in a despotic manner, as a tyrant, today he is in an even worse circumstance, because his last election is not recognized as valid, and he is now a de facto regime.

Until today, and the OAS resolution says so, Ortega has not accepted any kind of dialogue neither with the OAS, nor with any other international actor, not even Mexico or Argentina. How effective can these mechanisms of diplomatic, political and economic pressure be to generate what the Nicaraguan people demand, which is the suspension of the police state, to recover freedoms in the face of an authoritarian regime like Ortega's?

It is not easy for Ortega to agree to an exchange, to an interaction, I do not know whether to call it dialogue, but at least to interact and to welcome a high level Commission; it will depend on whether, for example, the OAS manages to join efforts with the European Union, with Canada, perhaps with a representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, this has to have a lot of strength, it has to be a delegation or a proposal with muscle; because otherwise, we know Ortega is shameless and is willing to govern without the slightest facade of legitimacy. He decided a few months ago to kidnap every one of his political rivals and leave them incommunicado in El Chipote; as well as civil society leaders, and the truth is that he cares very little about the reaction both internally and internationally. In order for him to understand where he stands today, a major diplomatic effort is required, which the OAS has the possibility to lead, but hopefully it will also be accompanied by others, with States that belong to the European Union, for example. 

If there is no immediate solution to this crisis, does the international community, the OAS, or the European Union have a medium term strategy? Because the attention that today is concentrated on Nicaragua will possibly cease to exist tomorrow, and will be focused on another country.

That is probably Ortega’s calculation. He may think that what he needs to do is to buy time and delay things, and let the OAS meet, and let the Permanent Council meet, and let there be an extraordinary assembly of foreign ministers to evaluate the situation in Nicaragua; but to the extent that he clings to power, he closes the doors and does not let himself be influenced; It is likely that this is his strategy, thinking that some major crisis will come and distract the attention of the OAS governments, and this is possible, we live in a situation of great instability and every day the attention, not only at regional level, but also at world level, changes and varies.

I hope then that precisely by taking the risks that exist into account, such as Ortega not taking the process and situation in which he finds himself seriously, and that the measures that are designed really have the necessary strength, it is is essential that the member states, especially those most committed to the democratic cause, evaluate all this and propose a series of actions that can be up to the circumstances.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff



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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.