This week in the U.S. House of Representatives Members of Congress approved, by voice vote, an anti-corruption measure that seems to have struck a political nerve in Managua. Among other things, the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA) of 2017 could result in less U.S.-backed lending to Nicaragua from international financial institutions such as IMF and the IADB, among others. The proposal has been spearheaded by a bipartisan coalition led by the chairman emeritus of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Rep. Albio Sires (D-New Jersey).
If you reach this blog, you’ll likely have read something we say quite a bit: Access to the U.S. market is a privilege, not a right. Whether a visa or a bank account, foreigners must abide by American rules. In the case of Nicaragua, the progressive Sandinista regime has been destroying a young democracy through a variety of ways including rigging elections; eroding the rule of law by using the legal system, to silence and in some cases destroy, political opposition as well as broader civil society.
The NICA Act is an indirect economic sanctions measure that telegraphs to Nicaragua’s progressive political elites, and those who help them stay in power by turning a blind eye to the abuses, that American taxpayers want Nicaragua to clean up its act. If not, American taxpayers will no longer serve as guarantor of loans at global lending institutions that are making billions of dollars in loans to a crooked government that has lost its way. Progressives will need to look elsewhere for the money.
Critics of the bill, including specific business sectors, for months, have deflected and urging the Congress to kill the commonsense measure because, among other things, it would “hurt the Nicaraguan people.” “Hurting the people” is a typical, albeit flawed argument of opponents of economic sanctions that those of us who follow these matters have grown accustomed to refuting.
The problem is not U.S. law, or Donald Trump or the U.S. Congress, but the regimes that lord over its people in places such as Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and, yes, Nicaragua.
The repressive regime of Daniel Ortega has deftly managed to straddle many issues with Uncle Sam over the years that have allowed it to appear as if the Sandinistas have turned over a new leaf. If you will, a “kindler and gentler” Sandinismo. That is not the case. The U.S. has tolerated, and in some cases ignored the lawlessness.
While there are Sandinistas who do not agree with Ortega and his cronies, they are the exception. The people of Nicaragua are hostages in their own country. The majority wants to live free without progressives bossing them around and abusing fundamental liberties. The want free markets, not crony capitalism or statism.
In addition to abuses at home, Ortega continues to assist adversaries of the United States including Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran. It also may be involved in laundering money for terrorists organizations such as the FARC, Hezbollah, as well as other criminal and terrorist organizations.
There are reports, albeit not officially confirmed by the Nicaraguan government, that Russia has loaned Nicaragua $80 million to buy tanks. Meanwhile, the Chinese have allegedly invested a few million more in a canal that seems more fantasy than reality. Could these loans be things other than their stated purpose, a ruse to fund terrorist groups or other criminal activities? These and many other questions should be looked into by the Congress and the Trump administration.
The Nicaraguan people have repeatedly been robbed, at the ballot box, the legislature, and the judiciary, of another way forward. The best way forward is for the private sector to side with the people.
The most impoverished nation in Central America and, by some metrics, the entire Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua needs jobs and economic growth and an end to statism progressivism. The NICA Act, in a minimal way, draws an American line in the sand. It sides with the free people of Nicaragua and reminds the progressives in Nicaragua, and the world over that access to the U.S. market is a privilege, not a right.