“Nicaragua has become an outlaw state with impunity”

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The main political parties in the United States are currently looking at 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 Migration, Remittances and Inter-American Dialogue Development Program.

For Orozco, “Nicaragua has become an outlaw” and “self-isolated” state, 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 appointment as ambassador to Nicaragua of diplomat Hugo F. Rodríguez, whom he remembers for calling for more pressure on the dictatorship in Europe and even sanctions for the Nicaraguan military in 2019 and 2020.

This week, the New York Times revealed the rapprochement sought by the regime with the United States, through Laureano Ortega. A State Department envoy visited Managua in March, but the presidential family backed down, what does that 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 have no contact with the rest of the world. However, since the start of the war in Ukraine, Nicaragua has found that the level of isolation it experiences is far greater than it had bet on. Somehow there was an attempt to communicate. The family let it be known that now was not the time.

The State Department said any rapprochement involves discussing the release of political prisoners. How can they push for a real opening of the regime?

The possibility of a dialogue is open, as long as Nicaragua shows signs of rapprochement regarding the situation of political prisoners. The United States will have no other type of reaction until Nicaragua responds.

What the United States is trying to do is use other means of diplomatic pressure; within its possibilities is the Renacer law which includes, among other things, revisions to the relationship with the Cafta, as well as sanctions, including the army. It also reinforces the pressure within the inter-American system in the run-up to the Summit of the Americas.

President Biden has announced the appointment of a new American ambassador to Nicaragua, Hugo F. Rodriguez, what do we know about his background?

Hugo Rodriguez is a public servant with many years of experience in American 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, in Nicaragua. Already in 2019, and even in 2020, he traveled to Europe and made it clear that the pressure must be stronger and would even include sanctions against the Nicaraguan army. It represents a bigger fang in its foreign policy. The United States is not expected to come 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 last report for the Inter-American Dialogue, you affirm the need to guarantee this democratic transition through international pressure, in which the United States would play a leading role. From your perspective, what should that leadership look like?

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

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

In this framework, one of the important issues that is taken very seriously is how to suspend Nicaragua from the Cafta, starting with the implementation in some cases of sanctions such as breach of the labor agreement and other elements that are in the commercial relationship with the United States.

Sanctions are another aspect. The relationship with Russia is one of the main areas of concern. Nicaragua has imported arms and purchased arms from Russia over the past ten years, with a value similar to that of arms imports from the rest of Central America, particularly Honduras, El Salvador and the Guatemala. These are not even weapons that were purchased directly from the United States but from third countries. There are different elements that the United States uses and will use practically after the Summit of the Americas.

How does the United States view the issue of migration from Nicaragua?

It is clear to them that, from the perspective of what is happening in Nicaragua, people vote with their feet. The number of people continuing to leave has already reached 60,000 Nicaraguans in the past four months. This is an unprecedented number, not only in the history of migration, but in the exodus of Nicaraguans over the past 40 and 50 years. The United States is looking for ways to improve the humanitarian situation, the second is to address the root causes of this political crisis. There is a realignment 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 aim is to provide an alternative form of justice in the absence of the rule of law and democracy, which uses justice to hold its public officials to account. The international system tries to intervene with its own penalizing mechanisms.

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

There is an exodus from the circle of power fleeing the regime and the country, precisely for fear of being punished. There is more internal pressure on how to prevent these sanctions, if you see the way Rosario Murillo’s son is trying to approach the United States, that is an example that they are very concerned about the impact.

Sanctions destroy your international economic life. They declare you persona non grata in the economic context and they affect many people close to the circle of power. The continuity of these sanctions is quite 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 mention 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 is exercised at the diplomatic level. Of 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 de) Cafta or the association with the European Union.

But there are also economic diplomacy efforts which would consist in giving the regime signals of a desire to work on a 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.

This calibration of different measures makes international pressure work. A series of elements that together can solve this problem. Economic diplomacy would be a later tool for any type of show given by Nicaragua. At this point, the responsibility lies with the Sandinista regime to try to be more conciliatory. This is a rather complicated condition considering that Nicaragua has practically become an outlaw state. This exposes it to greater forms of international pressure, including economic ones.

How important is a regional approach to a Nicaraguan solution?

A regional approach remains the primary method of dispute resolution in Nicaragua, particularly in Central America. Central American countries have a key responsibility and role as Ortega measures himself against these countries. Now, in every nation, there are important political demons.

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

The rest of Latin America and the Caribbean knows what is happening in Central America. They see that Nicaragua is a key element to return to a process of democratization in the region. Much 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 attempts to remedy precisely this situation. Then there is the English Caribbean, generally not oriented towards Latin America, but oriented towards members of the Commonwealth of Associated States of 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 type of activity that these countries have had.

Today’s inter-American system in the Caribbean has reacted forcefully. At this point, it is possible that another resolution will come out before the Summit of the Americas, which will put even more pressure on Nicaragua.

Why should the United States become more and better involved in the search for a solution in Nicaragua?

Over the past two years, the United States has assumed the role of betting on regional multilateralism. However, the political situation amid a pandemic and deteriorating rule of law in many Latin American countries has again underscored the urgency for the United States, as well as other countries like Canada and Chile, to assume a more proactive leadership role in defending the democratic interests of Latin Americans.

Currently, the United States is reconsidering how to enter Latin America with greater leadership. Nicaragua is fundamentally one of the nerve centers of this leadership transition. The fang that they will put on the Renacer law, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the influence that they will exert within the OAS, will be another form of pressure.

There are other forms of pressure that will come later, but the United States is clearly convinced that its international role is paramount and 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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