THE US Congress has revived a bid to stifle Nicaragua’s economic growth and social progress by blocking loans from international development banks.
The Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (Nica) was introduced into the US Congress last September — as the US was preoccupied with the election contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Its sponsors were Republican Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and senator Marco Rubio — another Florida Republican who lost out in last year’s presidential nominations.
Both are prominent Cuban-American advocates for the hostile US policy towards Havana — still under economic blockade.
While Nica passed a vote of the House of Representatives, outgoing president Barack Obama failed to sign off on its progress to the Senate and the legislation fell by the wayside.
Then at the beginning of April the legislation resurfaced, this time with the added support of Democratic congressman Albio Sires and some 10 other Democrats and 15 Republicans.
Without making any specific allegations — that could be refuted — Nica strongly implies that the Nicaraguan government is corrupt, undemocratic and abuses citizens’ human rights, that elections are not free or fair, that the judiciary and the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) are not independent, that there is no rule of law and that the there is no freedom of association or of the press.
The “investment conditionality” part of the NICA Act is its instruction to the US government to use its veto power at the World Bank and its 30 per cent shareholding in the Inter-American Development Bank to block loans to Nicaragua.
With Nicaragua’s foreign borrowing totalling £192 million in 2016 — for a population of just over six million — such sanctions would have serious consequences.
I asked Ricardo Carioni, the first secretary and deputy head of mission at the Nicaraguan embassy in London, about the wording of the Act.
He points out that Nicaraguan judicial appointments are approved by parliament, as was the extension of the mandate of the president of the CSE, Roberto Rivas, who was appointed by President Daniel Ortega’s predecessor Enrique Bolanos of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party.
There have been no formal corruption charges laid against any government minister. No organisations are banned and six electoral coalitions took part in the last general election in 2016 in which Ortega won by a 72 per cent landslide.
The two main newspapers, La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario, are both critical of the government — although unlike in much of Latin America this is balanced out by several pro-FSLN TV and radio stations.
Learning the lessons of the ’80s, the Sandinistas have integrated their socialist ideas with the values the Catholic church.
Nicaragua is the safest country to live in in Central America and the third-safest in all Latin America — but that could change if Nica goes through, Carioni warns.
Cutting off investment capital would threaten investment in infrastructure, energy, clean water, education, health, poverty alleviation and sexual equality.
Carioni warns it could seriously destabilise the country and sabotage the war on drugs — in which, he says, Nicaragua acts as a barrier between the narcotics-growing regions of South America and the organised crime syndicates of Mexico.
Some sources of investment would remain if the Act is passed. The Central American Bank for Economic Integration currently provides about a third of Nicaragua’s credit and the country has bilateral trade agreements with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. But the shortfall would be hard to make up.
Only the most fringe elements of the Nicaraguan opposition support Nica, Carioni points out.
But the legislation could be the first new move under the Trump administration against anti-imperialist governments in the region — and a vote-winner in the electoral swing state of Florida.
The Washington-based Organisation of American States (OAS), which late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro famously called “The US Ministry of Colonies,” expressed “concern” at the Bill’s reactivation on April 5.
Even OAS secretary-general Luis Almagro, who has led the regional offensive against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro — to whom Ortega is a staunch ally — tweeted the same day that it was “not a constructive contribution to work.”
Anti-imperialist alternative regional bloc Alba condemned the “perverse intention of placing an economic blockade on the people and government of Nicaragua, attacking the right of this brother country to welfare, security, work and peace.”
And on May 8 the general secretaries of British, Irish and international trade unions including Public Services International, Siptu, GMB, Unison, NUT, RMT and BFAWU said: “This legislation is a violation of international law and the UN Charter and reflects a pattern of historic interventionist policies in Nicaragua and Latin America by the United States.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also taken an interest in Nica.
- James Tweedie is international editor of the Morning Star.
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