New US Government Sanctions Hit Nicaragua’s VP Murillo and ‘Magnitsky NICA appears next’
Trump declares the regime a “threat.” Former diplomats: Ortega must “renegotiate” his exit; they warn of more repression.
Juan Carlos Bow
20 November 2018
In less than six hours, the United States increased the political, economic and diplomatic pressure against the Daniel Ortega regime. First, President Donald Trump issued an “Executive Order” against the Government of Ortega and his close associates, sanctioning Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo, and the national security advisor Nestor Moncada Lau.
Afterwards, the United States Senate unanimously approved the legislation known such as “Magnistsky Nica Law,” which is designed to punish Daniel Ortega’s government. In both cases, the message was clear: the regime must put an end to the repression against its citizens and return to a negotiated solution to the crisis, experts told Confidencial.
The approval of the “Magnistsky Nica” was taken for granted, but the sanctions against Murillo and Moncada came as a surprise. An early Christmas gift for those who demand an increase of the external pressure and international condemnation of the regime, as counterweight to the repressive drift—which adds up to 325 confirmed deaths since last April to date—while the presidential couple has turned deaf ears to the national and international requests of the OAS, UN and European Union (EU), to advance the general elections.
Murillo and Moncada Lau were sanctioned for their “responsibility” and “complicity” with the “serious” human rights abuses in Nicaragua, and for their links to acts of corruption, according to the Executive Order signed by Trump. Both will not be able to enter the United States and are prohibited from making transactions with US companies and citizens.
Jose Luis Velasquez, a former Ambassador of Nicaragua to the OAS, said the two measures reflect that there is a “full and profound” consensus in the Legislative and Executive branches of the United States that sanctions are needed to stop the radicalization of Ortega’s repression, which this week has focused on harassment of journalists and independent media outlets.
“All the actions are on the table and they (the United States) are ready to directly hit just where it hurts Ortega the most, which is his wife and his right-hand man, Moncada Lau, who are managing the repression in Nicaragua,” said Velasquez.
A call to negotiate
The sanctions against Murillo, the wife of the president who represents 50% of Ortega’s power, indicate to the President that he must renegotiate with the United States the terms of his departure, according to Alejandro Bendana, historian and former Ambassador to the UN. “The clear message to Ortega is that whatever we could have agreed before regarding negotiations is no longer valid,” he commented.
During an interview on the program “Esta Noche” (Tonight), broadcasted by Channel 12, Bendana said that from the United States perspective “there was not” a satisfactory answer to their demands, so they decided to sanction the inner circle of Ortega.
He recalled that back in June, one of the critical months of the crisis, Ortega received Caleb McCarry, a delegate from the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, to whom the Nicaraguan ruler had communicated his willingness to advance the elections. However, Ortega broke his promise, and instead of facilitating a process of political negotiation increased the repression. “Now, the United States says that what was there no longer goes, now we go with another type of landing,” mentioned Bendana.
McCarry was sent by the Republican Senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker, Chairmen of the Foreign Relations Committee, which on September 26th approved the merger of the Nica Act and the Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Law in Nicaragua, which passed to be known as the “Magnistky Nica Law.”
This legislation will now pass to the House, where it is expected to be approved without problems, since the Nica Act initiative was ratified there in 2017. The new law includes individual sanctions against those close to the regime, and also establishes a constraint from the US Executive to its representatives to not support loans to the Nicaraguan government from the IDB, World Bank and the IMF. The document will be then sent to the White House for Trump to sign and enter into force.
A threat to national security
“I, Donald Trump, as President of the United States, consider that the situation in Nicaragua constitute an extraordinary and unusual threat to the US national security and foreign policy and, therefore, I declare a national emergency to deal with this threat,” says the executive order.
Raising the national crisis to the level of “threat” is a sign that the country, according to former Nicaraguan diplomat Mauricio Diaz, is governed by a President who “does not see, does not listen, and does not speak.”
“It is an autistic government (that of Nicaragua), an autism that for the United States is interpreted as a threat to its own security,” according to Diaz, who emphasized that in addition to human rights violations, the United States is concerned about the proximity of the Nicaraguan regime to “historically enemy countries”, such as the Russian Federation and now more recently Venezuela.
Velasquez notes that if the United States considers Nicaragua a “threat” to its security, it “rules out” the possibility of an agreement between Ortega and the Trump administration. “Henceforward we go to measuring strengths,” he commented.
Concern over Ortega’s reaction
Precisely, the reaction of the regime is one of the fears expressed by the former diplomats. The first response from Ortega/Murillo was a pronouncement rejecting Trump’s Executive Order. According to the government, it is a “meddling and interventionist” act, and they appeal to the “patriotic legacy” and “heroic heritage” of Generals Augusto Cesar Sandino and Benjamin Zeledon, of the hero Andres Castro and the founder of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), Carlos Fonseca, to reject it.
In its note, the regime declared “inadmissible, inconsequential, disrespectful, false and illegitimate all the accusations that ratify the imperialist perspective and practices of the United States of America, and the servile and abject condition of the local betrayers of the homeland.”
Mauricio Diaz indicated that he would not be “surprised” if the government paralyzes the country with “demonstrations of public employees, and aggressive speeches, deepening the rhetoric of confrontation. The problem is that in the middle are the people of Nicaragua,” he warned.
The issue will be there until this man (Ortega) understands or reads the messages in a rational manner, because a civilian and civilized president would surely interpret this as an opportunity to get out of this crisis, but the government’s reaction is rejection,” explained the former diplomat.
Bendana did not rule out an increase in the reprisals by Ortega against his opponents, who the government labels as “traitors” in its statement, because “each time they have less and less to lose,” which generates a dangerous situation, since “appealing to the reasoning of the two figures that we have misgoverning the country, has failed us over and over again.”
Link to article here
Link to debate on the same here. Taken from Confidencial’s programme Esta Noche with Carlos Salinas and Alejandro Bendaña. Here is an interpretation of an extract of it:
Esta Noche, Carlos Salinas: Interview with the historian and ex-ambassador of Nicaragua to the UN, Alejandro Bendaña about the US sanctions
CS: Yesterday, the United States sanctioned the Vice President and first lady, Rosario Murillo, as well as the collaborator close to the presidential couple, Security Advisor Nestor Moncada Lau, by including them in the list of controls of foreign assets made by the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control). In an Executive Order, signed by US President Trump, it is affirmed that Murillo and Moncada are being sanctioned for their responsibility for and complicity in the serious abuses of human rights in Nicaragua, which have taken place in the wake of the repression undertaken by the Ortega regime. The repression has caused the death of at least 325 persons since April and until this day (28 November 2018). To analyze these sanctions, we are today accompanied by the historian and ex-ambassador of Nicaragua to the UN, Alejandro Bendaña.
AB: I am also a member of the Articulation of Social Movements and Civil Society Organizations (‘La Articulación’).
CS: What message is the Trump administration sending to the Ortega Government by sanctioning Ortega’s wife and one of his closest collaborators?
AB: They are sanctioning Ortega’s left and right hand. The clear message is that ‘what we could have agreed on in terms of negotiation is no longer on the table’ because the letter includes the family circle. Evidentially, there was no satisfactory answer from Ortega as seen from the North American perspective and they are applying a special law on Rosario Murillo. This is new and it signals a repositioning of the United States and a decision of executives to assume greater belligerence, that’s how I read it, vis-à-vis the North American Congress and the NICA Act that seems to be stagnant, although the NICA Act does seem to be coming out within the next few days. In many ways, this is more important (the new executive order), Carlos, because this is not just about the sanction of 2 individuals for the specified reasons. We must pay attention to the framework law that accompanies this specific provision. The decree that was sent to the Congress for its announcement declares in its legal form a state of economic, national emergency that empowers 3 new things: First, it empowers directly the US Department of the Treasury to take appropriate measures and decide on the individuals, and they can thereby put a stop to whatever they are negotiating with the Congress about. Second, it opens up the field for applying the sanctions because now it will not just be corruption or human rights but it will also include what effects your involvement had on the Rule of Law. Third, it covers all employees of the Government of the FSLN since 2007. So, these are 3 new elements, which are now thrown into the game and which were not there before.
CS: You were speaking about the possibility of a change in the politics and strategy of the Trump Government towards Nicaragua, the Ortega regime. We remember that only a few months ago, the US ambassador at that moment (Laura Dogu), met with an emissary of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, Caleb McCarry, who met Ortega. According to what we know from this meeting, there was an offer for a ‘smooth departure’ (salida suave) of the regime that the Washington government was ready to accept. Does this option still exist and remains to be finalized?
AB: They have to renegotiate. A part of the ‘smooth departure’ was that they would neither touch the family nor their collaborators or others close to them, and that there would be some kind of guarantee of impunity. This was what Caleb McCarry put on the table and which was never accepted by Ortega, although Ortega’s style is to never clearly say no. However, the effects we are seeing now is that the United States are saying: “what was there on the table is no longer there!” Now, we are trying another type of landing and you, Mr. President, is the one to decide but it is coming closer to asking for the resignation in an increasingly less unconditional way but conditions there may be. For example, the NICA Act can be approved this week in the congress but the executive will need to sign it to make it into law. They can delay the signature, keep it in the drawer for a while or they can sign it immediately. They can keep the Executive Order as one hit and then keep the NICA Act unsigned for a bit to see if they can get rid of Ortega through negotiating on that.
CS: Do you think there is a consensus in the US legislative system about this sanction, this law?
AB: In the Congress, yes, and unanimously. There was a libertarian senator that did not like the idea for reasons to do with the methodology according to experts in Washington this will be approved tomorrow and will be passed to the executive. They will sign immediately or prolong it to prolong the anguish of the regimen.
CS: Do you think that testimonies like the one by Ligia Gomez, the former Political Secretary at the National Bank of Nicaragua, have affected the Trump administration to take these decisions now?