The United States and its allies still have several 'tools' at their disposal to try to put the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo on a path that will lead to the democratization of the country, according to Ryan Berg, researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
This tuesday, the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration and International Economic Policy Subcommittee of the US Congress held a hearing, to which it invited former president of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla, human rights defender Berta Valle, and international experts, to analyze the case of Nicaragua, and explore new lines of action against the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
One of these is to approve the law to Reinforcing Nicaragua's Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform (Renacer, approved by the Senate last August), to combat corruption and attacks on human rights, either by sanctioning Ortega's accomplices, or by suspending Nicaragua from the U.S. Free Trade Agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic (Cafta-DR).
The expert pointed out that the United States is working closely with partners such as the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada, all of them important clients of Nicaragua, so “there are more tools that can be used to pressure the regime”.
“The RENACER Act is important, because it would give some hope to Nicaraguans; it would tell them that the world is watching what is happening in Nicaragua, and is responding with the tools it has available.” One of them is the possibility of tightening the NICA act, so that it prevents not only loans from multilateral agencies, but also investments.
The RENACER Act is the most far-reaching, because it would hit the economy as a whole, and could be ready in two weeks if the will to do so is there. The US political establishment can also apply selective sanctions, as it has already been doing with more than thirty officials sympathetic to the regime, or direct members of the family in power, who have been cut off from the global financial system, or have lost their visas to travel to the United States, or both.
Despite the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the researcher recognizes that the Biden Administration will need to take a more active role, especially taking into consideration that in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. President questioned the Cuban and Venezuelan dictatorships, but failed to mention the Nicaraguan dictatorship.
“I see little interest from the Administration, which has blocked entry visas for several people, but is much more active when it comes to the Northern Triangle than Nicaragua”, attributing this lack of interest, to the fact that “the focus continues to be on migration from the Northern Triangle, but we must recognize that migration from Nicaragua is also increasing”, which could lead to “the administration paying more attention to Nicaragua”.
“We still have several tools available. It’s just a matter of attention and will”, he said.
Berg ruled out negotiations at this time. “Not with a regime like this...it's time to put pressure on it. We will see if there is a more appropriate time for talks, but it is not now. We have to demand new elections, a change of behavior, release of political prisoners, etc.”.
The suspension of Cafta
“The suspension of Cafta has only one audience: the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep). The most important group of businessmen of the country and of the Nicaraguan economy is playing both sides: a little with Ortega, a little with the opposition”, assured Berg when he was interviewed on Esta Noche, a programme which is only broadcasted online due to the regime’s television censorship.
The researcher assured that it is the businessmen, not the citizens, who will feel affected if the country loses access to the US market, because “Nicaragua sells about 60% to 65% of its export products to the United States”, a country that bought 1402 million dollars in Nicaraguan goods, not including free economic zones.
“Nicaragua is the least diversified country in terms of foreign trade in Central America, and with respect to most people in Nicaragua, I don't think they are going to feel much if there is a suspension of DR Cafta, because the economy in Nicaragua was not working well for most people before the crisis in 2018”, the researcher argued.
“As several congressmen mentioned, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the region, so there is not an economy that is working for the majority of its people right now... I see this, (the RENACER Act) as a tool with only one audience. One audience: the Cosep”, he insisted.
The Nicaraguan Army
The possibility of sanctioning the National Army, who keep Ortega in power, was also explored, for example by taking away all support from the U.S. Southern Command, although that country may not be interested in applying such a measure.
“Ortega has always maintained his cooperation with the Southern Command in the anti-drug fight, because he thinks that this cooperation buys him a little space in terms of the democratic backsliding of the country. The United States pays a lot of attention to the anti-drug fight, so, from Ortega's point of view, it is very important to maintain this cooperation with the Southern Command,” in order to roll back democracy with impunity, the expert explained.
Other options that may derive from the hearing in the Subcommittee, beyond the RENACER Act and the suspension of Cafta; is the application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter of the OAS, and perhaps even a resolution of the highest continental body declaring the illegitimacy of the elections in Nicaragua. Other options are the Central American Integration System (SICA); or to reinforce the NICA Act, to stop investments in Nicaragua.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff