Weekly Report - 18 November 2021 (WR-21-46)

NICARAGUA: Making good a threat

The US, UK, and Canada have all announced new sanctions on Nicaraguan officials and institutions following the 7 November general election which was widely panned as undemocratic [WR-21-45]. US President Joe Biden took the added step of announcing that President Daniel Ortega, First Lady and Vice President Rosario Murillo, their family, and members of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) government would be banned from entering the US. With further sanctions likely, it remains unclear what action the Organization of American States (OAS) will take following a recent resolution which declared that the elections were “not free, fair or transparent and have no democratic legitimacy”.

The three countries have previously sanctioned Nicaraguan individuals and institutions (in the form of asset freezes and travel bans) in recent years over human rights and democracy-related concerns. On 15 November, in a concerted effort, the US targeted a further nine individuals and the attorney general’s office; the UK sanctioned eight individuals; and Canada, 11. This also followed President Biden’s promulgation last week of the ‘Renacer Act’ which would “dramatically increase US diplomatic engagement” in Nicaragua.

Three days earlier, following a general assembly which took place in Guatemala from 10-12 November, the OAS, whose previous efforts to pressure the Ortega government over democracy-related concerns had little impact, issued a resolution. As well as rejecting the legitimacy of the vote and reiterating calls for political prisoners to be released, it concludes that, based on the principles set out in the Charter of the OAS and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, democratic institutions in Nicaragua have been seriously undermined by the government. The resolution instructs the OAS permanent council to undertake an immediate collective assessment of the situation, to be completed no later than 30 November and for unspecified “appropriate action” to be taken. Some speculate that this “appropriate action” could result in OAS member countries declaring a rupture of the democratic order in Nicaragua, triggering the suspension or termination of its member state status.

Yet in a sign that the FSLN could be seeking to pre-empt this, and is unperturbed by the prospect of Nicaragua becoming a pariah state, on 16 November the FSLN-controlled legislature approved a resolution calling on President Ortega to denounce the OAS charter, citing foreign intervention in Nicaragua’s affairs. Eliseo Nuñez, a local political analyst and opposition member, tweeted that if Ortega denounces the charter, it would initiate a two-year process for Nicaragua to exit the organisation.