What is the U.S. track record in Nicaragua and how has the country been impacted by sanctions imposed by the United States?
Professor Rick Kohn, Erik Mar and Camila Escalante recently addressed these questions and discussed a current piece of legislation which is being considered by the U.S. Congress and which, if passed, will impose new sanctions on Nicaragua. Below is a transcript of the remarks from Richard Kohn, Professor at the University of Maryland.
As we all know, the U.S. already has imposed sanctions on Nicaragua, but they haven’t yet brought about the kind of hunger and poverty and suffering that some U.S. policymakers think is necessary to overthrow the popular Nicaraguan government. So there is a new sanctions bill co-sponsored by Marco Rubio and Tim Kaine that will try to further depress the Nicaraguan economy, increase unemployment, decrease revenue for the government’s popular programs so the government will be less popular.
The stated goal is the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government and a “free and fair election” to replace Daniel Ortega. Another target is the repeal of the foreign agents law, a law in Nicaragua that prohibits foreign governments from funding its elections and requires the registration of lobbying activities on behalf of foreign governments. It’s very similar to U.S. laws, but the bill’s authors demand that foreign governments be allowed to underwrite political parties in Nicaragua’s elections.
That’s why they call it the ‘sovereignty bill’, because all of the sanctions bills are ironically named. The foreign government they’re referring to, of course, that should be allowed to meddle in Nicaragua’s elections is the U.S. government.
Even with these sanctions, the U.S. is Nicaragua’s biggest trading partner currently followed by Mexico and Honduras. The new sanctions would be devastating to U.S. trade with Nicaragua.
The new bill calls for suspension of Nicaragua’s participation in the Dominican Republic Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). The U.S. government will be ordered to review any benefits that Nicaragua might receive from the agreement.
Now, the task isn’t to evaluate whether Nicaragua has violated the agreement or not, but simply to indicate that they have. DR-CAFTA was signed before the Sandinistas returned to power in 2007.
Additionally, the neoliberal governments did not relieve poverty and hunger. The intent was for U.S. companies to sell government subsidized food to Central America, increasing their dependence on the United States. Central American countries would be permitted to export non-essential things back to the U.S. Under Nicaragua’s previous neoliberal government, poverty and hunger were not tackled and little DR-CAFTA was simply exploitative. The intent was for U.S. companies to sell government-subsidized food to Central America, increasing their dependence on the United States, while Central American countries would be permitted to export non-essential things back to the U.S.. However, this has changed: today Nicaragua produces 90% of its own food, and it exports food to its neighbors, including Honduras, as well as exporting goods to the U.S. more goods than it even imports.
Contrary to expectations, DR-CAFTA has become important to building Nicaragua’s economy, and it makes it possible to provide health care and education and other infrastructure for development. The U.S. is targeting and pressuring other countries that are parties to the agreement in an effort to block trade with Nicaragua across the region, which would have severe consequences to all of Central America. The U.S. government would order U.S.companies to end imports of two more leading export commodities from Nicaragua, coffee and beef. These fill a particular niche in the U.S. market for sustainably produced commodities. Nicaragua is a leader in agroecology. Both large scale commercial and co-operative-based fairtrade coffee are produced using low impact, organic methods. Most of the beef for export is sustainably produced using grass fed systems with trees that capture more carbon than is admitted to the atmosphere.
And these sanctions on Nicaragua will shift U.S. consumption to less sustainable sources with less favorable greenhouse gas impacts. More acutely, more important to Nicaraguans, it will cost them jobs and funding to provide for people’s needs. Moreover, the last round of sanctions aims to further restrict loans for economic development by also including the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), and force an end to contributions from Mexico, Taiwan, Argentina, Colombia, Spain and the Republic of Korea, which are all named in the bill. The U.S. economic influence can devastatingly destroy a country by bullying its allies. Most other loans have been stopped already, so the CABEI has become vitally important for programs like reforestation and maintaining forests that help Nicaragua fight climate change.
The bill would also block the property rights of U.S. citizens and permanent residents by outlawing them from investing in Nicaragua. If a U.S. citizen or resident attempts to invest in a business or improve a residence in Nicaragua that they may own, they can be faced with a combination of civil and criminal penalties, including twice the value of the investment for a civil penalty and $1,000,000 in fines and 20 years in prison. Many U.S. residents currently own property or businesses in Nicaragua, and maintaining those assets might require further investment.
In addition, a proposed U.S. sanction calls for greater propagandistic warfare against Nicaragua. For example, it orders the US government to find and disseminate examples of violations of religious freedom and examples of corruption. In fact, because of the link between the propaganda war and the economic or sanctions are practically irreversible, the sanctions and propaganda are justified by propaganda, and the increased propaganda only confirms the need for more sanctions.
Although living conditions have been improving for most Nicaraguans over the past ten years, the sanctions aim to end that. What we see in the sanctions regimes against Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran could be the future for Nicaragua. What we saw in Nicaragua in the 1980s with the destabilization of the entire region could happen again.
In the 1980s there was a very difficult sanction regime and a proxy war which resulted in immense suffering. Eventually, the Nicaraguan people did vote for a US backed neoliberal government, which did not improve conditions for most people in Nicaragua, which is why the Sandinistas were reelected.
The important thing to understand about these sanctions is that they are simply another escalation of war against the Nicaraguan people. And it is the intent for the US government to continue escalating sanctions and war until the Nicaraguan people give in and elect the government which the US government and corporations want.