Bolton: Symptom of a “far deeper malady”

The United States is still the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. Just ask John Bolton.

John Bolton was interviewed by Jack Tapper of CNN on Tuesday concerning the ongoing hearings and investigation into the January 6, 2021 attacks on the U.S. Capitol. The exchange, as summarized by the Washington Post: John Bolton, [said the] attack on the Capitol was not a “carefully planned coup d’etat” — and that he would know. “As somebody who has helped plan coups d’etat — not here but, you know, other places — it takes a lot of work, and that’s not what [President Donald Trump] did.” 

Predictably there is much discussion about which coups Bolton may have been involved in; he only admitted to trying to oust Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela in 2019 when he was Trump’s National Security Advisor. Jacob Rosenberg of Mother Jones put an ironic spin on the story while curating a tour of US sponsored regime changes since 1953. Most coverage, however, has simply restated the obvious, e.g., no one is surprised by any of this, except, maybe, the casual tone with which Bolton made the claim. 

The Washington Post did give space to people concerned that Bolton’s admission gives fuel to our “opponents” overseas: “It’s damaging to our efforts to advance and support democracy,” Stanford University-Hoover Institution scholar Larry Diamond said. “We have enough trouble already countering Russian and Chinese propaganda.” 

On the other hand, one former CIA analyst quipped on Twitter that Bolton “never touched a coup.” 

Bolton has always been a bit played in a larger ensemble of neo-conservative foreign policy hawks. Debating Bolton’s role in any of the regime changes the US helped orchestrate seems of marginal importance viewed against the full weight of what the United States government has wrought around the world with its casual disrespect for sovereignty and democratic practice.

In response to Larry Diamond, I’d say the damage to the United States’ reputation is self-inflicted by the actual practice of serial interventions our government has engaged in. The United States is not wounded by “propaganda.” We are, however, deeply wounded by the blowback from the many regime changes our government has supported.

In 2016 Lindsay O’Rourke summarized a study he had conducted into US involvement in coups d’etat around the world during the cold war. His topline: “Between 1947 and 1989, the United States tried to change other nations’ governments 72 times.” Many regime changes and attempted regime changes have ensued in the years since. 

Fifty-five years ago Dr. King called the United States the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. In what is probably the most prophetic speech anyone has ever made about US foreign policy, Dr. King said,

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. 

Dr. King argued that there must be a “radical revolution of values,” if we are to avoid this fate of never-ending crises.

we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.   . 

We should have listened.

The United States remains the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. Our government shows no regard for human rights in discerning where to engage. The US does not support democracy, unless one assumes a “market economy” is a reasonable stand in. Certainly the “market” is what the coups, interventions, and saccharine appeals to “US standing” in the world seem to ultimately be about. Racism, materialism and militarism indeed!

The latest Pentagon budget proposed by the Biden administration for FY 2023 was the largest Pentagon budget ever at $813 billion; Congress promptly bumped it to $839 billion. In reality total national security spending actually tops $1.4 trillion. The United States currently has forces deployed in 85 countries around the globe for the purpose of buttressing counter insurgency operations. Biden has just greenlighted US re-engagement with forces in Somalia, while in Europe, we remain on the brink of war with Russia; Ukraine being the site of one of the many US supported coups in the post-cold war era, though Bolton was not around for this one (2014). Blowback has most certainly followed

One day, maybe, the John Boltons of this world will face justice. Today is not that day. In the meantime, we can only hope he packs up the Yosemite Sam mustache and returns to a closet at the American Enterprise Institute. 

The rest of us must continue to work for peace. Which means cleaning up the messes that Bolton and so many others like him have created.

 

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Migration from Nicaragua is up since October 2021

Between October 1, 2021 and April 30, 2022, the US Border Patrol encountered a number equivalent to 1 out of every 69 Nicaraguans trying to get into the United States – a higher portion relative to population than any other country in Central America this year.  “Encounter” refers to someone apprehended for attempting to enter the United States in an unauthorized manner, or deemed inadmissible at a port of entry, or anyone expelled under Title 42 authority.

Border Patrol Encounters Nicaragua

The number of Border Patrol encounters with people from Nicaragua stands at 92,037 this fiscal year (between Oct 1 and April 30). The total for all of FY 2021 was 50,722. There were only 3,164 encounters from Nicaragua in FY 2020. Adjusted relative to population, the number of people from Nicaragua the US Border Patrol has encountered so far this year represents the largest group from Central America. [Encounters as a percent of population in FY 2022 = 1.45% for Nicaragua, 1.124% for Honduras, 0.76% for Guatemala, and 0.90% for El Salvador.]* 

For anyone trying to get into the United States, Border Patrol processes them under either Title 8 or Title 42 authorities. Title 42 refers to an order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that permitted the Trump and Biden administrations to summarily expel anyone encountered by Border Patrol. This order effectively denies asylum to anyone crossing between ports of entry, and also denies asylum and other humanitarian relief at ports of entry.   

When Title 42 first went into effect in March of 2020, Mexico refused to accept people being expelled unless they were Mexican nationals, or from Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras. As a result most Nicaraguans were processed under Title 8. Title 8 simply means they are processed under “normal” (pre-Title 42) authority. 

Entering under Title 8 authority does not mean Nicaraguans will get to stay.  Most will be detained, or enrolled in an ankle monitoring program, while they await hearings, and most of them will eventually be deported. For example, of all Nicaraguan asylum claims processed from 2001 to 2021, an average of 29% were granted. In recent years the percentage of approvals is up, but the total number of cases is way down as immigration courts are seriously backlogged. In FY 2021, the US granted 43% of asylum claims from Nicaragua, but the total number of cases considered was 446. 

Many people seeking asylum from Nicaragua are also redirected to wait in Mexico. Nicaraguans make up 73% of enrollments in the revamped Migrant Protection Protocol (“Remain in Mexico”). Processing under Title 8 authority has never been easy, and this has certainly not changed for the better during COVID. Indeed, in preparation for the possible end of Title 42, the Biden administration is looking to expand expedited removal, and give “credible fear” screening authority to agents at the border, which does not bode well for people trying to stay in the country no matter where they are from. Finally, the Biden administration recently negotiated an agreement with Mexico to accept Nicaraguans expelled under Title 42. The current agreement is limited in scope; it totals about 60 people a day (which still adds up to 1,800 people a month). This could expand depending on what the courts ultimately decide about Title 42’s future.

Some reason why

So, for the first time in many, many years, an increase in migration from Nicaragua to the United States is outpacing other countries in Central America relative to population – in absolute terms, the number of people from Nicaragua has already surpassed El Salvador and is not far behind Honduras and Guatemala. There is no single reason, of course. And it is difficult to assign a weight to various causes. But we can discuss what some of the factors are, and what might be unique in the case of Nicaragua versus other countries in Central America.

Political instability in Nicaragua is the only reason ever given much weight in US media accounts of Nicaraguan migration. While this is certainly a part of the reason for the increase, it is very far from the whole story.  Indeed, political instability is hardly a factor unique to Nicaragua. Political repression and social violence is still far worse in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. If Nicaragua is outpacing its neighbors in migration right now, it is not due to more political instability. 

Economic stress from COVID-19 is no doubt part of the equation, as it is for much of Latin America. Indeed, Border Patrol encounters are up across the board, to the highest levels in 20 years. That said, while Nicaragua has been battered like the rest of the region, its economy is in recovery. So, economic retraction from COVID would not be worse for Nicaraguans than the rest of Central America – though sanctions complicate this picture.

The factors that are unique to Nicaragua viz other countries in Central America are: 1) US sanctions; 2) the decline in opportunities for seasonal migration to Costa Rica; 3) as noted above, the fact that until April of this year, Nicaraguans have mostly been de facto exempted from Title 42 at the US border. 

US sanctions against Nicaragua have taken two forms: individual sanctions against members of the government and their families; and generalized sanctions in the form of restrictions placed on multilateral loans. Forty-one people have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in Nicaragua. It is difficult to know what impact this has on the economy, but certainly many of the people involved are in positions of authority in government, which would disqualify them from joint ventures with US based business interests. Generalized sanctions hit at the same time as COVID-19. The World Bank issued no new loans to Nicaragua between March of 2018 and November of 2020, and the IDB offered few new loans until a COVID support program of $43 million in the summer of 2020 – compare that to $1.8 billion in new lending to El Salvador during the first 7 months of 2020, including $300 million to address COVID.

The easing of some multilateral lending on humanitarian grounds after hurricanes struck Central America in November of 2020 led the United States to impose further monitoring on these loans, a provision included in a new round of sanctions called the Renacer Act passed in November last year. Renacer also directs the Biden administration to investigate the removal of Nicaragua from the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Whether or not the United States would impose trade sanctions at this level (or even if it can take such unilateral action) the discussion of such an outcome might chill investment. 

What all of this has meant for Nicaragua’s economy and employment is hard to disaggregate from the overall chilling effect of COVID-19. In recent months the country has seen growth in the economy. Would this recovery be more robust absent sanctions? Probably. Certainly sanctions have not helped. What we can say with some certainty, however, is that from the standpoint of US policy, sanctions have backfired, having likely contributed to an increase in immigration, and led to Nicaragua’s re-engagement with China, which was announced by Nicaragua shortly after the signing into law of the Renacer Act. Meanwhile, Ortega shows no signs of going anywhere. Calls for even more sanctions in response seem quite short-sighted.

When I wrote about migration from Nicaragua last October, an important dynamic in the increase in people heading north was the decline in people heading south – to Costa Rica. In 2020 and 2021 net migration of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica was negative. The reduction was stark, from 800,000+ border crossing annually pre-COVID, to just 270,000 in 2020, with 143,000 Nicaraguans returning to Nicaragua, vs 130,000 traveling to Costa Rica. From August 2020 to September of 2021 the number of crossing was down to 170,000, again with more Nicaraguans returning to Nicaragua than traveling to Costa Rica. In short, Costa Rica’s economic woes have largely closed off the economy to Nicaraguans migrating there for seasonal work, and the decline in opportunity in Costa Rica, has as its corollary, more migration toward the United States.

The impact of Nicaraguans being left out of Title 42 expulsions is harder to know. Anecdotally, I have heard from a number of people in Nicaragua that the word on the street is Nicaraguans are “getting in” to the United States. People migrating are also coming from all walks of life, and all political affiliations – it is not just the poor, and certainly not only people from opposition neighborhoods. There seems to be a general understanding that Nicaraguans will have an easier time at the border than other Central Americans, and that may be a factor in encouraging more people to try and migrate. As noted above, however, nothing is easy here. The Biden administration has already looked to increase expulsions of Nicaraguans to Mexico, and if Title 42 remains the policy, as it appears it will for the next few months, those numbers may increase.

It is difficult to draw firm conclusions about which factors weigh most heavily. Economic stress seems to be a major part of the big picture here (impacts of COVID-19, sanctions, employment issues) as they are for most of the region, even as a rough recovery is underway. Certainly some of the increase is people seeking asylum from ongoing political conflict. The United States government should reconsider its policy of sanctions – which has thus far only exacerbated tensions. Turning Nicaragua into a meso-American version of Venezuela by levying more and more sanctions, including trade restrictions as some have advocated, would be a disaster. Finally, US border policy remains an inchoate mess – leading to misinformation and much confusion. For Nicaraguans, and everybody else at our border, creating a humane, sensible process for screening and evaluation is what is needed.  

 

 


*Figures below

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Central American Jesuits’ statement on closure of Asociación Roncalli and IHCA

The following is press release from the Jesuit’s Central American Province and was shared to us by our partners at the  Asociación Roncalli. We have translated it into English, you may find the original version HERE

THE SOCIETY OF JESUS’ CENTRAL AMERICAN PROVINCE PRESS RELEASE

We want to communicate to the Nicaraguan people and to the friends of Nicaragua beyond our borders the following:

  1. On May 9, in the Official Gazette, Issue 83, the cancellation of the legal status of the Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli Association (formerly known as the Juan XXIII Institute) and the Central American Historical Institute (IHCA) was published. Both institutions belong to the mission of the Society of Jesus in Nicaragua.
  2. The IHCA was founded in 1981 as a center for analysis, communication, and social action, positioning itself as the preferential option for the poorest in its service to the Nicaraguan people. For more than four decades, IHCA was dedicated to researching, analyzing and publicizing the national and Central American reality through the magazine “Envio”; accompanying training and organization programs with people disabled by war; training boys, girls, teenagers, and youth in leadership development; and accompanying migrants and their families in the advocacy for and defense of their rights. This benefited hundreds of people across different departments of the country.
  3. The “Asociación Ángelo Giuseppe Roncalli” was born in 1961 under the name JUAN XXIII INSTITUTE OF RESEARCH AND SOCIAL ACTION, being the first institute of the nascent Central American University (UCA). In the 1980s, when the research aspect was passed to the UCA’s faculties, the name was changed to “Institute of Social Action Juan XXIII”. Later, in August 2015, in response to the development of the work and the mission, it changed its name to “Asociación Ángelo Giuseppe Roncalli”, a legal entity that had been established in 1994 by Fr. Antonio Fernández Ibáñez, SJ, then director of the Institute. The site was known as the Roncalli-Juan XXIII Association. Its mission was to contribute to the effective exercise of the human right of Nicaraguans to have access to decent housing and health, through sustainable management in the construction of low-income housing and the subsidized sale of medicines; thus fostering the self-management capacity of people “in their communities”. At the time of closure, it was present throughout the national territory through its different programs: housing (50 municipalities, 3,857 homes built, 15,430 beneficiaries); health (66 municipalities, 122 community farmicies, 42 mobile teams, 350,000 beneficiaries per year); and integral ecology projects (110 communities, 17,740 producers benefited).
  4. We want to assure that both the IHCA and the Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli Association, in exercising their mission to serve the Nicaraguan people, always observed and complied with the laws in force in the country and the Constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua. The ethics, professionalism, and moral solvency of both institutions and the staff that collaborated with them is more than proven by the beneficiaries of their respective missions.
  5. The Society of Jesus regrets the closure of the IHCA and the Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli Association, which since their foundation have been dedicated to ensuring that the most vulnerable populations in Nicaragua can come to “have life and life in abundance” (Jn 10, 10 ).
  6. Given this reality, the Society of Jesus wishes to state that it will continue with its mission of accompanying the Nicaraguan people.

San Salvador, El Salvador, May 11, 2022.

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Asociación Roncalli – Juan XXIII forced to close by the Nicaraguan government

On Tuesday, May 2, the National Assembly in Nicaragua voted to revoke the legal recognition of 25 nonprofit organizations based on the recommendation of the Ministerio de Gobernación (MiGob). The reasons given were failure to comply with financial reporting requirements under the law governing the operation of nonprofits.

Among the organizations who lost their incorporation on Tuesday was the Asociación Roncalli, formerly known as the Institute of John XXIII. We have worked with the staff of the Asociación Roncalli for 38 of the 60 years the organization has existed. The decision of the government to include them in this latest round of disqualifications is unwarranted, and thus, both baffling and angering. 

Over the last two years, we have accompanied the Asociación in a long and tedious process of responding to every request put to them by MiGob for information about how the Asociación is funded. Every request for information from MiGob was met, and the response was always a request for more information, or presentation of some new regulations. Any claim that the Asociación Roncallí was not forthcoming in providing details about their finances is untrue. They, and we, have provided every document requested by the government. 

This, of course, begs the question of why, then, was their non-profit status eliminated. The Asociación played no role in any of the protests, and took no organizational stance concerning the presidency of Daniel Ortega then or during recent elections, nor did the Asociación take a public position on actions by the government since 2018 – pro or con. The Asociación has worked very closely with mayoral offices throughout the country, the vast majority of whom are Sandinistas, on affordable housing projects, education programs and provision of community pharmacies. Those relationships have been cordial, and productive for many years. 

The point is that there seems no reasonable grounds for the Asociación to have been disqualified for failure to report financial information, and there is also no basis for them being disqualified for political reasons. The Asociación’s decertification seems to be collateral damage in the government’s ongoing conflict with “civil society” organizations and universities [the Asociacion Roncalí is located on the campus of the Jesuit University of Central America in Managua (UCA)], but exactly how and why, we do not know.

Whatever the reason, what this means is that the Asociación Roncalli/Institute of John XXIII is being forced to close its doors by the Nicaraguan government. After 38 years of partnership this is a shock, to say the least. 

The staff of the Asociación is engaged in their own discernment. As of now, they are not seeking any kind of public advocacy campaign. We will report more details as we find them out, and continue to accompany our long time friends as they navigate this difficult situation. 

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Women’s History Month Spotlight: Nicaragua’s First Miskitu Doctor

In honor of Women’s History Month ending last week, we are honoring indigenous rights activist and surgeon Dr. Myrna Cunningham, the first Miskitu doctor in Nicaragua.  

Dr. Myrna Cunningham has lived a life of firsts. She was born in a Waspam community located along the Río Coco in northeastern Nicaragua. She became the first Miskutu woman to attend university, where she studied pedagogy. After teaching for several years in her community, she left again to study medicine and surgery, becoming the first Miskitu doctor in Nicaragua.  

 The Miskitu, or Miskito, are a multi-ethnic indigenous group with an estimated population of 700,000 people according to the Miskitu Database. The majority reside along the Atlantic coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras. By the 18th century, the Miskitu people had developed a monarchy, with the British later crowning a Miskitu Sambu (Afro-Miskito) king in 1845 to establish the kingdom as a British protectorate. The Miskitu maintained their autonomy from Spanish or Central American rule for almost 240 years, until President José Santos Zelaya annexed the region in 1894.  

Today, Miskitu peoples face illegal mining and settlements on their land. Like many other indigenous land defenders across Central America, Miskutu community leaders are often the targets of violence, intimidation, and murder for speaking out.   

For over 50 years, Dr. Cunningham has worked to defend the rights of indigenous populations and women’s health both in Nicaragua and across the world. After the Sandinista revolution in 1979, Dr. Cunningham became the first female governor of the Waspam autonomous region. She helped negotiate peace agreements and played an important role in the creation of the Law of Autonomy of the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities from the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (1987), which protects the rights of indigenous peoples and recognizes their sovereignty.  

 She played a major role in building her region’s healthcare, judicial, and governance institutions in order to recognize and incorporate the traditional knowledge, medicine, autonomy, and cultures of over 300 indigenous communities. This work has been crucial to recognizing and integrating traditional medicine that is often disregarded in mainstream medicine.  

 She has also advocated for indigenous knowledge as a way to confront the environmental crisis and support public health. “Through our traditional knowledge, we have solutions for a lot of the current crises,” she stated in a recent interview. “But this knowledge and our innovations are still not taken into account. Modern science doesn’t take into account that the bases of its advances in many cases lie in the knowledge that we have developed and innovated as Indigenous peoples throughout history.” 

 In 1994, Dr. Cunningham founded the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast, which describes itself as the first intercultural community university for indigenous peoples. In 2010, she became the first indigenous woman to receive an honorary degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). At the international level, she has served as chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and adviser to the president of the UN World Conference of Indigenous People 

Currently, Dr. Cunningham continues to work as a public health practitioner in her local community. Most recently, she has focused her concerns on strengthening the resilience and autonomy of Indigenous peoples and improving vaccine equity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic 

 

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BHM Series: Afro-Nicaraguan Artist & Poet June Beer

In celebration of Black History Month, the Quixote Center is launching a weekly series to highlight the history, leaders, and cultures of Afro-descendant communities in Central America, Mexico, and Haiti. 

This week, we are celebrating the life of the Nicaraguan painter and poet, June Beer. In 1935, June Beer was born in Bluefields, Nicaragua. A self-taught artist and the first female poet from Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast, Beer wrote in Nicaraguan Creole English and Spanish. She explored themes of Black identity, feminist empowerment, and her local environment. 

Black Sandino by June Beer

Beer dedicated her work to representing through art and writing her Afro-Nicaraguan heritage. Unbeknownst to many, Nicaragua is home to the largest population of Afro-Latinos in Central America, representing 9% of the total population. Most live on the Atlantic coast, which was occupied by the British for several centuries and is thus culturally distinct from the rest of the country. 

Afro-Nicaraguans are extremely diverse in origin, mostly comprised of several main groups: Afro-indigenous groups, namely the Miskitos who are the descendants of Spanish enslaved peoples and indigenous Nicaraguans; Creoles, the descendants of enslaved peoples from Anglo-Caribbean countries such as Jamaica; and the Garifuna, who are descendants of indigenous Caribbeans and escaped enslaved peoples. 

Throughout her life, Beer was outspoken against repression in all forms. She openly criticized the Somoza dictatorship, leading to her being imprisoned by the La Guardia twice, in 1970 and 1971. Beer stated that Bluefields during Somoza “was a region that was so forgotten and ignored. No one was encouraged to dream, to think of the future, or of art, but only to make a little money for sustenance.”

Beer returned to Managua two years after, where she struggled to carve out a space for herself. Popular artists at the time criticized her work for not being more like the detailed landscapes by the Primitivist artists from the Solentiname Islands. 

However, it was her unique expression of Bluefields and Afro-Nicaraguan identity that led to her widespread recognition. Her art has been displayed internationally, across Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and the United States. After her death in 1986, the government proclaimed four of her paintingsFruit Seller, In Memory of Efie Irene, They Dance and Woman Working—part of the national patrimony, making it illegal to remove them from the country. 

Click HERE to see some of Beer’s most well-known artwork. To read one of her poems, continue below:

LOVE POEM

Oscar, yuh surprise me,

Assin far a love poem.

Ah sing a song a love fa me contry

Small contry, big lite

Hope fad a po’, big headache fa de rich.

Mo’ po’ dan rich in de worl

Mo’ people love fa meh contry.

Fa meh contry name Nicaragua

Fa meh people ah love dem all

Black, Miskito, Sumu, Rama, Mestizo.

So yuh see fa me,

love poem complete ‘cause ah love you too.

Dat no mek me erase de moon

an de star fran de firmament.

Only somehow wen ah rememba

how yuh bussing yo ass

to defend dis sunrise, an keep back

de nigth fran fallin,

ah know dat tomara we will have time

fa walk unda de moon an stars.

Dignify an free, sovereign

children a Sandino.

(from Mujeres de sol y luna: Poetas nicaragüenses 1970-2007,

Edited by Helena Ramos, Managua, ANE Noruega CNE)

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La Purísima: A Nicaraguan Celebration

Alter by Nicaraguan community in New Orleans

This week, Nicaraguans celebrate La Purísima, a novena—or nine-day prayer—in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, the country’s patron saint. The actual celebrations resemble a cross between Christmas, Halloween, and Carnival.

Today, December 7, is known as La Gritería, or “the shouting,” which is as raucous as it sounds. “¿Quién causa tanta alegría?” or “What causes so much joy?” people shout in the streets, with the refrain being “la Concepción de María” or “the Conception of Mary!” Between December 7th and 8th, firecrackers explode in the streets at all hours.

Alter to the Immaculate Conception in Managua

Traditions vary by city, but typically Nicaraguans construct an altar in their homes and host friends, family, and neighbors. Children go from altar to altar singing folk songs and asking, “¿Quién causa tanta alegría?” The homeowners repeat the refrain and hand out small gifts, usually food such as drinks and candy. The best treat of all—equivalent to receiving a king-size candy bar while trick-or-treating—is a nacatamal , a large tamale stuffed with an entire meal of pork, rice, potatoes, and more, that is wrapped and steamed in plantain leaves.

Leon celebrates with “La Gigantona,” a giant puppet that dances through the streets accompanied by drums and horns. Adapted from a Spanish tradition, La Gigantona pokes fun at the original Spanish colonizers. In Granada, locals place their altars on the street, instead of in their homes. La Purísima is also observed by the Nicaraguan diaspora, from Miami to Los Angeles, as a way to reconnect with their heritage.

At its heart, the celebration of La Purísima is about connecting with family, friends, and the wider community. It encourages immense generosity towards complete strangers in a way that has become difficult during the pandemic, but perseveres nonetheless.

Children in Managua stand in anticipation of treats

Due to the pandemic, carolers must gather by the gate instead of inside the home

 

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Sanctions and Sanctimony: The RENACER Act and the futility of US policy in Nicaragua

Two weeks ago, the US House of Representatives passed the RENACER Act by a large margin with the hope, one assumes, of putting pressure on the people of Nicaragua to rethink voting for Daniel Ortega. That election took place on November 15, and Ortega won anyway – though, predictably, with opposition figures decrying the numbers. 

The entire election process in Nicaragua has been under scrutiny by the United States, European Union and multilateral bodies for over a year now. As far as the United States goes, it has routinely called for “free and fair” elections, all while the US State Department puts the whole foot of the US government on the scale in an effort to tip the outcome of the same election. Meanwhile, the United States’ firm commitment to achieving a stable non-Sandinista electoral coalition in Nicaragua is now celebrating 30 years of failure*. In typical US style, it is marking the occasion not with reflection, but by doubling down on that failure with more sanctions.

To be clear, US hypocrisy is not a reason why anyone in Nicaragua should accept the violation of human rights. So, It is certainly worth pointing out that 15 candidates for next week’s national and local elections in Honduras have been murdered since October, while an opposition presidential candidate was just arrested for money laundering. Also worth noting that President Bukele in El Salvador has jailed many of his foes, is in the process of pushing through a new law to scrutinize non-governmental organizations, and is even engineering a path to re-election, despite a constitutional limit of one term. All these moves have been met with silence (Honduras) or muted critique (El Salvador) by US policy makers – certainly no talk of wide-spread sanction. Of course, for people in Nicaragua who are critical of Ortega and see opportunities to voice those criticisms narrowing, the fact that folk in Honduras and El Salvador may be worse off is not much consolation. 

Nevertheless, as evidenced by this divergent treatment, we know, everyone knows, that the United States government is not really promoting democracy in Nicaragua. I’m not sure the State Department actually knows what it is doing – but nothing it has done has helped opponents of Ortega one bit. The opposition is more fragmented today than it was before April of 2018, and that is at least in part the result of US ham-handed “civil society” engagement, conducted alongside a very public commitment to remove the FSLN from power – ostensibly through elections, but who knows what the next step will be now that the electoral route is closed. 

Publicly, at least, the next step is enhanced sanctions. On Tuesday, November 9, Biden signed the RENACER Act into law as an official response to the elections in Nicaragua (to which point it is important to note, the RENACER Act was introduced in March of 2021, and was thus NOT constructed as a response to the elections, but as an effort to sway them).

So, what is in the RENACER Act?

The RENACER Act:

Presents the “sense of the Congress” that Nicaragua’s status under the Central American Free Trade Agreement shall be reviewed by the Biden administration. Threatening the removal of Nicaragua from CAFTA has been discussed by a handful of members of Congress – this bill pushes the initiative further. 

Amends the NICA Act to require extensive reporting and oversight on the part of the Treasury for any loans given under the humanitarian exception written into the NICA Act’s mandate to oppose new loans from the World Bank and Interamerican Development Bank. This is a response to new lending in the wake of the hurricanes that struck NIcaragua last November;

Expands targeted sanctions, e.g. sanctions against individuals which can involve freezing assets held in the United States, blocking travel and/or even invalidating international contracts. This section largely reiterates what is in the NICA Act already, but it goes further in actually providing specific suggestions for sanctions (I quote directly from the act as it is instructive): 

“officials in the government of President Daniel Ortega;

“family members of President Daniel Ortega;

“members of the National Nicaraguan Police;

“members of the Nicaraguan Armed Forces;

“members of the Supreme Electoral Council of Nicaragua;

“party members and elected officials from the Sandinista National Liberation Front and their family members;

“individuals or entities affiliated with businesses engaged in corrupt financial transactions with officials in the government of President Daniel Ortega, his party, or his family; and

“individuals identified in the report required by section 8 as involved in significant acts of public corruption in Nicaragua” [referenced below]; 

 

Adds Nicaragua to a list of countries subject to sanctions over corruption;

Mandates a “classified” report on corruption involving Ortega, his family, and members of the government. (Why classified?);

Mandates another classified report on the activities of the Russian Federation in Nicaragua;

Mandates a report on Nicaragua’s purchases of military equipment and foriegn support for intelligence services.

And, another report on human rights violations in rural areas;

And yet, another report concerning restrictions on press freedom.

 

Sanctioning the families of Sandinista party members is particularly revealing. Sanctioning members of the Sandinista party, for simply being party members, and their families, has nothing at all to do with promoting democracy. Presumably people will have to also demonstrably engage in corruption to be sanctioned. But if that is the case, why identify categories of people based solely on political affiliation for investigation?  Are Constitutional Liberal Party legislative representatives immune to such sanction? It is hard to read this as anything other than an attempt to intimidate Sandinista party members.

Further, the RENACER Act extends multilateral sanctions by doubling down on the NICA Act’s proposed limits on the World Bank and IDB funding. Though William Robinson and others have tried to minimize this impact, the NICA Act did lead to a suspension of assistance from the World Bank, which did not extend any new lending to Nicaragua in 2019 and most of 2020. It also led to a serious reduction in lending from the Interamerican Development Bank, even during the worst months of the COVID-19 crisis last summer – with only one program funded in August of 2020. Lending was haltingly renewed following the hurricanes in November of 2020, but multilateral program funding in Nicaragua still lags behind other Central American governments. The RENACER Act won’t immediately change any of this. Nevertheless, the US government is determined to make new, if limited humanitarian spending harder to deliver.

The one feature of the RENACER Act that could have a huge impact is the threat to Nicaragua’s participation in CAFTA. Nicaragua has done better than other countries under CAFTA’s rules. The much feared impact on rural communities from agricultural dumping from the US was moderated by Nicaraguan government support to rural communities, which was extended through opening credit access, housing and infrastructure expansion.  Nicaragua now imports less food than it did in 2006. Meanwhile, the Sandinista government encouraged foreign investment in multiple sectors and expanded free trade zone operations. The result was that Nicaragua led Central America in economic growth for many years prior to 2018, but also became more dependent on the United States as a trade partner – more so since Venezuela’s economic collapse (thanks to US sanctions) has effectively closed off that market. 

 

It is not clear that the US has the legal standing to unilaterally expel Nicaragua from CAFTA. Certainly doing so will set up a fight in the shadowy trade dispute courts that govern the world’s economy, where investor rights supersede sovereign considerations. The mandated review is thus probably more of a bluff than a serious policy proposal. That said, threatening to expel Nicaragua could scare investors away, and given the fragility of the economy in recovery, that could do damage. Time will tell. 

 

In the end, while the “international left” debates what Nicaraguans should be doing, we remain focused on what US Americans should be doing about the very real democracy deficit in the United States – the one that leads the US government to act with impunity all around the globe as it seeks to pick winners and losers in elections from Haiti to the Ukraine – and, yes in Nicaragua. The US government does not always get the outcome it wants – but it never stops trying.   

 

*Just to note that while it is true that US pressure and financing did lead to the formation and eventual electoral victories of non-Sandinista coalitions in 1990, 1996 and 2001, all of those coalitions collapsed shortly after taking office. They governed little, but oversaw the deconstruction of most public institutions and the impoverishment of the majority of Nicaraguans. Seems that opposition to the FSLN is not really sufficient as a governing strategy. A lesson lost on US policy makers, as well as most of the opposition organizations they fund.

 

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Nicaragua: Updates on Homes for Hope

15 years ago, we launched “Homes of Home,” our campaign to provide affordable housing to impoverished Nicaraguans since reconstruction efforts following Hurricane Mitch. In 2015, we partnered with the Roncalli Association to make housing more accessible for middle to low-income families. 

Juan Omar Quant Lee in front his family’s new home in Ticuantepe, Managua

Over the last five years, 144 homes have been built under the Homes of Hope initiative in the communities of Sebaco, San Marcos, San Dionisio, and Terrabona, as well as in Managua. We construct high-quality homes that can resist future natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. The Roncalli Association also installs soil and storm drainage improvements to prevent flooding, clean drinking water, and electricity. 

There are two main components of this housing strategy: the Community Housing Program, and the Family Housing program. Quixote Center funds cover construction costs, families repay the loan at a concessional rate, and the money flows into a revolving loan fund that will cover the costs of future housing.

Ileana Amparo Mendoza, owner of a Zafiro model house

The Family Housing initiative provides loan guarantees for middle-income families through a special agreement with BANPRO. This serves those who are often excluded from the national financial system.

The Community Housing program works primarily with low-income families and involves families directly in the home-building process. Families within a housing cooperative contribute to the construction of homes under the supervision of Institute staff. This lowers the cost of construction and thus repayment rates. It also provides training for those participating.

Shirlen Ruiz Dávila’s Old Home vs New Home

Through the Community Housing Program, 75 low-income housing units have been built with Quixote Center funds. From these 75 households, 271 people have benefited directly (137 men and 134 women). This has also indirectly benefited at least 446 people, namely the 153 construction workers who were hired for an average of 3 months for each project.

To read more about Homes for Home and the families that have benefited, click HERE to visit our Story Map

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Nicaragua election explainer

Nicaragua election explainer

On Sunday, November 7, Nicaraguans will vote for the president and vice-president of the country, as well as for the National Assembly and for Nicaragua’s representatives to the Central American Parliament. There has been a great deal of controversy about these elections circulating in the US and European media. One result is that the United States Congress just passed a new sanctions bill against Nicaragua (the RENACER Act) on Wednesday, November 3 in response to some of this controversy. (See here for more detail). I’m not getting into the controversy in this post – just a simple explainer about who is running.

Who is running? How does it work?

Under the election reform law published in June of 2021 (see page 3876), the Nicaraguan president is elected by a simple plurality – the candidate with the highest number of valid votes becomes president. When Parties put forward their candidates for president and vice-president, they must conform to the principle of gender equity (one of the candidates must be a woman, one a man). As you can see, in this election cycle the presidential candidates are all men, and the vice-presidential candidates are women.

The parties and their candidates for president/vice president are:

Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC)

President; Walter Edén Espinoza Fernández.

Vice President; Mayra Consuelo Arguello Sandoval

Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) (United Nicaragua Triumphs Alliance)

President: Jose Daniel Ortega Saavedra

Vice President: Rosario Maria Murillo Zambrana

Christian Path Party (CCN)

President: Guillermo Antonio Osorno Molina

Vice President: Violeta Janette Martinez Zapata

Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance Party (ALN)

President: Marcelo de Jesus Montiel Fernández

Vice President: Jennyfer del Carmen Espinoza Blen

Alliance for the Republic Party (APRE)

President: Gerson Gutierrez Gasparin

Vice President: Claudia Maria Romero Cuadra

Independent Liberal Party (PLI)

President: Mauricio Orue Vasquez

Vice President: Zobeyda del Socorro Rodríguez Díaz

The National Assembly Election

There are 92 seats in the National Assembly. Like the president, the assembly is elected to 5 year terms. The seats are divided as follows:

20 seats are National Representatives elected through a system of proportional representations. Seats are assigned based on the percentage of votes cast for the party, e,g, if a party gets 50% of the vote, they get 10 of these seats. Each party submits a list of candidates; every other candidate on the list must be a woman. The seats won are then assigned by going down the list from top to bottom – if a party wins 10 seats, then the first 10 candidates on their list are given the seats.

There are 70 seats that are assigned to department and regional representation. They are assigned as follows:

Department of Boaco (2). 

Department of Carazo (3). 

Department of Chinandega (6). 

Department of Chontales (3 ). 

Department of Estelí  (3).

Department of Granada (3 ).

Department of Jinotega (3 ).

Department of León (6).

Department of Madriz (2).

Department of Managua (19). 

Department of Masaya (4).

Department of Matagalpa (6).

Department of Nueva Segovia (2). 

Department of Río San Juan (1).

Department of Rivas (2).

Autonomous Region of the South Caribbean Coast (2). 

Autonomous Region of the North Caribbean Coast (3).

These seats are assigned in a proportional fashion as well, corresponding to the percentage of the vote each party or party alliance wins in the department or region. 

All of the parties with a presidential candidate have a slate of candidates for the National Assembly. Elections for the Autonomous Regions also include the party YATAMA.

The final two seats in the assembly are reserved for the presidential candidate that comes in second, and the outgoing president (or vice president – if the president is re-elected).  As Ortega and Murrillo are both running again (and likely to win), I am not clear how this seat will be handled. 

Elections for the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN)

Nicaragua’s representatives to the Central American Parliament are determined through a proportional representation system similar to the process for deciding the national level representatives for the National Assembly. 

There are 20 deputies elected to the Central American Parliament from each member country for 5 year terms.

The Central American Parliament is part of the System for the Integration of Central America, and is thus one of a number of institutions that have been built to enhance coordination among countries of Central America. The Parliament itself grew out of regional peace talks during the 1980s, and was launched in 1991.

The Process

Results for the elections will be presented by the Supreme Electoral Council beginning Sunday night. Voting will take place in 13,459 polling stations, with votes then tallied in 3,106 voting centers. Just under 4.5 million people have been registered to vote in the election. 

There will be an international presence during the election, including a delegation of people invited by the government to accompany the process, as well as official election monitors from the European Union.

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Contact Us

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    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

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