NicaNotes: Guest Blog: Who Is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and What Does She Have Against Nicaragua?

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This week’s guest blog is by a correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous due to their job in Nicaragua. H.R 5708 will not be voted on by the Senate during the remaining days of the lame duck session, but could be reintroduced as a new bill in the House after the new Congress reconvenes in January. It is worth writing to your Congressperson and Senators now and again if the legislation is introduced as a new bill next year, telling them it will affect your vote if they co-sponsor or vote for legislation cutting aid to Nicaragua. You may even want to reference the 1986 World Court decision that the US owes Nicaragua billions in reparations which morally needs to be paid. Current US aid does not even cover the interest that accrues on the reparations debt. For those who inquired about my health issue, I am fine now and back to work. I just have to make some lifestyle changes and take some additional prescriptions. I plan to be around making trouble for US imperialism for a good long time yet! — CK


 

Who is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and

What Does She Have Against Nicaragua?

On Sept. 21, 2016 The US House of Representatives passed without objection H.R.5708: The Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA) of 2016. This legislation states that it will be US policy “to oppose any loan or other fund use for the government of Nicaragua’s benefit, other than for basic human needs or to promote democracy, unless the Department of State certifies that Nicaragua is taking effective steps to: (1) hold elections overseen by credible domestic and international electoral observers, (2) promote democracy and an independent judiciary system and electoral council, (3) strengthen the rule of law, and (4) respect the right to freedom of association and expression.” (https://projects.propublica.org/represent/bills/114/hr5708) Given the amount of influence the US has with international monetary institutions, if this became law, Nicaragua would be denied accesses to the international credit that every state needs to function. The legislation is the baby of Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Miami-Dade County in Florida. H.R.5708 is such terrible legislation it is hard to know where to start in talking about it. So, first, who is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and what has she got against Nicaragua?

She is an extremely popular and extremely powerful congresswoman who has served Miami-Dade County since 1989. She was the first Latina and first Cuban-American elected to Congress. She was the first Republic woman elected from Florida. She has been reelected ten times never with less than 58% of the vote. Talk about job security! Certainly, Ros-Lehtinen is a conservative, and most of her positions are consistently right-wing, but there are some idiosyncratic aspects to her politics. She breaks from the Republican Party with her forceful, unapologetic support of gay rights, including marriage equality. She has a transgendered son and you have to give her credit for putting personal experience and the family above the party line.

Watching videos of Ros-Lehtinen, it is clear she is a bright, articulate woman. Whether speaking in English or Spanish, she presents what she has to say in a straight forward, organized, cogent manner. There is little of the bombastic, speechifying so common to Republicans on a roll. And yet, when she takes on an issue it is with a close minded, determination that admits no other point of view, no subtlety, and no compromise. Nowhere is this more true than in her crusade against the leftists governments of Latin America. Of course, the original fight was about Cuba. Her father has been an anti-Castro activist for years. However, history seems to be, at last, moving on from that long, drawn out, Cold War conflict. Now Ros-Lehtinen focuses on Venezuela and, most recently, Nicaragua.

This is Ros-Lehtinen’s justification for The Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA) of 2016: “This bill is aimed at holding Ortega and his regime accountable for violating human rights and manipulating the electoral process for his own political gain. In addition, the NICA Act directs the Department of State to issue a report on how Nicaraguan regime officials in the Supreme Electoral Council, the National Assembly, or the judicial systems are directly involved in acts of public corruption and human rights violations.  By passing this bill, the House has taken action to prevent Ortega from accessing international funds until reforms are implemented that promote democracy, strengthen the rule of law, respect human rights, and until Nicaragua holds free, fair and transparent elections overseen by electoral observers. We will continue to support the people of Nicaragua and assist civil society in democracy and governance programs but we must not allow Ortega to continue down this dangerous path without any serious repercussions.” (http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/ileana-ros-lehtinen-takes-aim-daniel-ortega)

What’s wrong with that? Plenty. First of all, the underlying premise of the bill is that if the United States doesn’t like the way a country is handling its internal affairs, we have the right to step in and impose our desires on them. Nicaragua claims that H.R.5708 is a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. They are right, but good luck getting either enforced. Second, the claims of corruption and human rights violations are exaggerated. Of course, Nicaragua is not perfect, but it is a country where lively and open political discourse takes place. Compare it to its neighbor to the north, Honduras, where the political opposition and press are regularly murdered with impunity and where the president has just declare he’ll run for another term even if the constitution says this can’t happen. If Ros-Lehtinen was really worried about democracy wouldn’t she have also proposed legislation about Honduras?

A third thing that is wrong with H.R.5708 is that it ignores the terrible history that the US has regarding Nicaragua’s sovereignty. We have such dirty hands when it comes to this tiny, non-threatening country, that the only legitimate thing we can say is, “We wish you luck. If there is any way we can help, please feel free to ask. Oh yeah, and sorry about the ways we’ve acted in the past.” The final, and perhaps most ironic, thing that is wrong with this legislation falls under the glass house rule. Democracy is so flawed in the United States that it takes a hell of a nerve to tell some other country how to do it right. To offer just one example, Ros-Lehtinen’s party and the state she represents have acted to systematically disenfranchise the voters who are the most likely to vote for their opposition. If the congresswoman wants to work for a more democratic world the place to start would be with her own party, in her own state.

What to do? Ros-Lehtinen is a true believer. She is not going to change her mind on this. She is also not going to be voted out anytime soon. However, it would be very worthwhile to write your own representatives and express your dismay at H.R.5708. Ask your congressman how such a wrongheaded piece of legislation got through unopposed. There is a bill with the same name currently making its way through the senate. Let your senator know that you are against any law that inserts the United States into the internal affairs of Nicaragua.


References:

Wikipedia: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

El Diario: “Quién es Ileana Ros-Lehitien?”

House Committee on Foreign Affairs: “Ros-Lehtinen Opening Statement at Hearing on Peace Corps Volunteer Safety” (re: Peace Corps)

TicoTimes: “U.S. Congress looks to Condition Loans to Nicaragua on Political Changes”

Sunshine State News: “Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Takes Aim at Daniel Ortega”

Yahoo News: “Defying Term Limit, Honduran President to Run in 2017”


 BRIEFS 

  • The Nicaragua Ministry of Health will be allocated US$47.5 million in the 2017 national budget. A salary adjustment of 8% is contemplated for workers in this sector, as well as recruitment of 700 new employees. The Public Investment Program is US$57.5 million for the execution of a portfolio of 62 projects, including 19 new constructions. Among the projects are the construction and equipping of Family and Community Health Posts in Puerto Cabezas, San Carlos, Wiwilí, Siuna, El Viejo, and Chiquilistagua in Managua department. (Nicaragua News, Dec. 6)
  • Family remittances in the third quarter showed the largest percentage increase from Nicaraguans working in Spain while sending money home to their families. Showing nearly a one-fifth increase (19.7%), families with kin in Spain received US$30.4 million compared to US$25.4 million in the same period in 2015. Dollar-wise, the largest amount of remittances came from the United States which showed a 3.6% increase to US$170.8 million. Remittances from Costa Rica showed the second highest increase at 11.9% over last year, reaching a total of US$65 million. Total remittances from all countries increased by 4.7%. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 12)
  • Speaking at the graduation of cadets from the military academy, President Daniel Ortega praised the labor of the military and police so that “families are able to work in stability, security, and tranquility.” He contrasted Nicaragua with its northern neighbors saying it is “unlike other countries where a humble worker sees himself obligated to pay taxes to criminals.” He noted that the problem was imported from the United States where Central American youth were recruited into gangs and then deported to their country of origin. He said Nicaragua is “one of the safest countries in the region and the world.” (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 13)