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Manuel Orozco: "Nicaragua has become an outlaw state in impunity"

Orozco explains the keys to the failed rapprochement of the Ortegas with the US and the strategy of international pressure on the regime

The Nicaraguan political scientist, Manuel Orozco, of the Inter-American Dialogue. Photo/ Elmer Rivas

Redacción Confidencial

10 de mayo 2022


The main political parties in the United States are currently seeking how to define “lines of action” in the case of Nicaragua based on a consensus for the effective implementation of the Renacer Law, warned Nicaraguan political scientist Manuel Orozco, director of the Migration, Remittances and Development Program of the Inter-American Dialogue. 

For Orozco, “Nicaragua has become an outlaw state” and “self-isolated” according to an interview he gave to the television program Esta Semana, in which he analyzed the failed rapprochement last March of the presidential family with the State Department. He also commented on the recent nomination to the post of ambassador to Nicaragua of diplomat Hugo F. Rodríguez, whom he remembers for asking for more pressure on the dictatorship in Europe and even sanctions for the Nicaraguan Army in 2019 and 2020.  

This week The New York Times revealed the rapprochement the regime sought with the United States, through Laureano Ortega. A State Department envoy traveled to Managua in March, but the presidential family backed out, what does this mean?

The regime is looking for a way to have some kind of communication, which it had suspended. In January 2022 they said “clean slate”, and that they would not have contact with the rest of the world. However, since the war started in Ukraine, Nicaragua has seen that the level of isolation it is suffering is much greater than what they had been betting on. Somehow, there was an attempt at communication. The family made it known that it was not the time. 

The State Department said that any rapprochement implies discussing the release of political prisoners. In what way can they press for a genuine opening of the regime?

The possibility of dialogue is open, as long as Nicaragua shows signs of rapprochement regarding the situation of the political prisoners. The U.S. is not going to have any other kind of reaction as long as Nicaragua does not respond. 

What the United States is trying to do is to use other avenues of diplomatic pressure; within its possibilities is the Renacer Act which includes, among other things, revisions of the relationship with Cafta, as well as sanctions, including the Army. It is also strengthening pressure within the Inter-American system since we are approaching the Summit of the Americas.

President Biden announced the nomination of a new U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua, Hugo F. Rodriguez, what is known about his background?

Hugo Rodriguez is an official with many years of experience in U.S. foreign policy. He has held several positions and one of them has to do with advising on the situation in Central America and, in particular, Nicaragua. Already in 2019, and even in 2020, he traveled to Europe and clearly said that the pressure had to be stronger and would even include sanctions on the Nicaraguan Army.  It represents a greater fang in his foreign policy. The expectation is not that the US is coming to solve the problem, but the pressure will increase depending on how to get out of the crisis in which the country finds itself. 

In your most recent report for the Inter-American Dialogue, you state the need to guarantee this democratic transition through international pressure, in which the U.S. would play a leading role. From your point of view, what should that leadership look like?

Leadership depends on the realignment between the Republicans and the Democrats on the pressure on Nicaragua. One of the reasons why the Renacer Act has not been fully implemented has been because of the internal debate in Congress between the two parties.

However, a consensus is being shaped, or reshaped in some ways between the sides, starting with the boundaries of where Nicaragua should be dealt with. For example, the idea of having any kind of conversation with Nicaragua is outside of any level of communication, any level of approval, on the part of the Republicans and Democrats. So, from there, a greater consensus is being defined (on) what the lines of action are. The next step is to make the Renacer Act effective.  

Within that, one of the important issues that is being taken very seriously is how to suspend Nicaragua from Cafta, starting with the implementation in some cases of penalties such as the violation of the labor agreement and other components that are located within the trade relationship with the US. 

Sanctions are another aspect. The relationship with Russia is one of the major issues of concern. Nicaragua has imported arms, and purchased arms from Russia in the last ten years, with a value similar to that of arms imports from the rest of Central America, especially Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. They are not even weapons that have been purchased directly from the United States but from third countries. There are different elements that the U.S. is using and that it is going to use practically after the Summit of the Americas.

How does the U.S. view the issue of migration from Nicaragua?

It is clear to them that, from the perspective of what is happening in Nicaragua, people are voting with their feet. The level of people continuing to leave has already reached 60,000 Nicaraguans in the last four months. This is an unprecedented number, not only in migration history but in the outflow of Nicaraguans in the last 40 and 50 years.  The United States is looking for ways to improve the humanitarian condition, the second is to address the root causes of this political crisis. There is a realignment here of the Biden strategy for Central America on the causes of migration.

How do you assess the role of economic sanctions against the regime?

Sanctions have a specific function. The purpose is to provide a form of alternative justice in the absence of a rule of law and democracy, that makes use of justice to hold its public officials accountable. The international system tries to intervene with its own mechanisms of penalization. 

In the case of Nicaragua, sanctions have had quite a strong impact. It can be seen from different elements. One of them is the way the regime has responded with a tantrum by imprisoning many people, through political trials. They practically have one person in jail for each sanction.

There is an outflow of the circle of power that has been fleeing the regime and the country, precisely for fear of being sanctioned. There is more internal pressure on how to prevent those sanctions, if you see the way Rosario Murillo's son tries to approach the United States it is an example that they are very concerned about the impact.

Sanctions eliminate your economic life internationally. They declare you a persona non grata in the economic context and they are affecting many of those close to the circle of power. The continuity of these sanctions is very possible and it is very likely that the Nicaraguan Army will be one of the next to be sanctioned since it has been one of the accomplices of human rights violations recently.

In a recent report, you also raise the use of economic diplomacy, under what conditions could these mechanisms be used?

International pressure has different components. There is the political pressure itself, which operates at the diplomatic level. From condemnation, protest, suspension, and international isolation. 

There is economic pressure, which includes sanctions, boycotts, embargoes, and other more specific forms of pressure in international economic treaties. For example, the complete elimination of (Nicaragua from) Cafta or association with the European Union.

But there are also economic diplomacy efforts that would involve giving signals to the regime of willingness to work on some kind of reconstruction of the country, as soon as Nicaragua shows signs of returning to the rule of law, starting with the release of political prisoners.

That calibration of different measures makes international pressure successful. A series of elements that, together, can resolve this issue. Economic diplomacy would be a subsequent tool to any kind of show Nicaragua gives. At this point, the responsibility is on the Sandinista regime to try to be more conciliatory. It is a rather complicated condition given that Nicaragua has practically become an outlaw state. That exposes it to greater forms of international pressure, including economic pressure.

What is the importance of a regional approach to a Nicaraguan solution? 

A regional approach remains the main method for a solution to the dispute in Nicaragua, especially in Central America. The Central American countries have a key responsibility and role because Ortega is measured in relation to those countries. Now, in each nation, there are important political demons. 

For example, in Honduras, Manuel Zelaya is basically trying to assume the de facto role of political leadership. In El Salvador, there is a pseudo-dictatorship where abuses of authority are already going to levels of impunity, like what we are seeing in Nicaragua. This makes the situation somewhat difficult. 

The rest of Latin America and the Caribbean is not ignoring what is happening in Central America. They are seeing that Nicaragua is a key piece to return to a process of democratization in the region.  Much of this depends on the leadership of countries like Chile, Costa Rica, the United States, Canada, the Dominican Republic, as well as Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and even Peru itself. 

The Summit of the Americas is trying to address precisely that situation. Then there is the English Caribbean, generally not looking towards Latin America, but looking towards the members of the Commonwealth of States that were associated with the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Their loyalties are different, however, there are already some countries that have seen that the international level of impunity in Nicaragua exaggerates and transgresses any kind of activity that these countries have had.

The Inter-American system today, within the Caribbean, has responded quite forcefully. At this point, it is possible that another resolution will come out before the Summit of the Americas that will lead to even more pressure on Nicaragua.

Why should the U.S. have greater and better involvement in the search for a solution to Nicaragua?

In the last two years, the U.S. has assumed the role of betting on regional multilateralism. However, the political situation in the midst of a pandemic and a deterioration of the rule of law in many Latin American countries has reemphasized the urgency for the US, along with other countries such as Canada and Chile, to assume a more proactive leadership role in the defense of the democratic interests of Latin Americans.  

At this time, the US is reconsidering how to penetrate Latin America with greater leadership. Nicaragua is basically one of the neuralgic points of this leadership transition. The fang they are going to put on the Renacer Law, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the influence they are going to exert within the OAS, is going to be another form of pressure. 

There are other forms of pressure that will occur later on, but the US is definitely clear that its international role is paramount and it is part of its foreign policy strategy, after the Trump Administration.

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.