It’s a comparatively obscure bill in Congress, especially in light of the “big one” having to do with health care and the flurry of Executive Orders signed by the President. But The Nica Act is legislation that has been floating around the halls of Congress for months now, having recently received new life with a new version submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives in April and a companion version sent to the Senate several weeks later. It’s a bill that likely won’t even register on most U.S. citizens’ radar. But for Nicaraguans- and especially the poor- it’s a very big deal, indeed.
The U.S. has made an entire history out of intervening in Nicaragua’s politics, nearly always to the detriment of that country and its people. The history is easy to find, so it does not warrant recounting here. But if the intention of the U.S. government is to improve the lives of Nicaraguans, once again it seems to have itself in a backwards posture, facing the usual unintended consequences.
The draft of the Nica Bill [Nicaraguan Investments Conditionality Act], threatening to impose economic sanctions on Nicaragua in response to the authoritarian drift and corruption of Daniel Ortega’s regime, was revived recently for discussion in the US House and Senate.
Republican senator Ted Cruz reintroduced the measure, together with Republican Ileana Ros- Lehtinen and Democrat Albio Sires.
“This legislation would direct the United States to use our voice and vote at international financial institutions to oppose loans for the government of Nicaragua until President Ortega’s regime is held accountable for its oppressive policies and anti-democratic actions, and the Secretary of State certifies that Nicaragua is taking effective steps to hold free and fair elections and combat corruption,” Cruz stated. In April, twenty-five members of the House demanded not only the reestablishment of democratic institutions in Nicaragua but also an active effort to combat corruption and to investigate the high officials tainted by this type of action, as conditions to prevent a funds stoppage. In addition, they accelerated the timeline for the State Department to present a report about these conditions, making it a ninety-day period instead of the 120 days stipulated in the original proposal.
The new version of the Nica Act that is now in the Senate, also tends to ignore the agreement between the government and the Organization of American States (OAS). In it, the Nicaraguan government agreed to negotiate over the presence of an OAS electoral observation during the 2017 municipal elections. As a result of that agreement, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has expressed his concern about the reactivation of The Nica Act, observing that “it is not a constructive contribution to the work of the government of Nicaragua and this Secretary General on issues of cooperation for the country’s democratic, electoral and institutional strengthening.” Almagro invited the bill’s sponsors to reconsider the initiative to provide Nicaragua and the OAS “the time and space needed to move forward with the work agreed to by both parties.” The Nica Act does take up concerns from the OAS observation mission’s report, a document that signaled clear flaws in Nicaragua’s electoral system, but apparently doesn’t have any faith in OAS ability to work in concert with Nicaraguan officials to address those concerns. Once again, the U.S. presumes to know best what Nicaragua needs and to force feed it.
The problem, of course, is that if The Nica Act becomes law, those who will pay the price will not be President Ortega or members of his administration or the large business interests aligned with the government. The oppressed will be the same as always: the poor, the marginalized, many of whom still experience the effects of U.S. interventions from decades ago. The poor almost always become the debtors, the ones who must pay the price for whatever U.S. policy dictates. The Washington-based social justice organization Quixote Center, long present in Nicaragua and working on behalf of those without strong voice, concurs that The Nica Act is punitive legislation that will perpetuate the suffering in Nicaragua, one way or another.
Without doubt, there are significant needs that exist in this second-poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere. But before the U.S. makes yet another foray into Central American lives and futures- from whatever motivation- perhaps we should devote our energies and attentions to our own election difficulties and inconsistencies, and the state of our own democracy. Maybe we should take to heart the President’s call for “America First.” Before touting democracy to others, we must first model it well….