I want to revisit the issue of the NICA Act this week because I may have been too complacent in dismissing it since it is so irrational. As we in the United States are going through a period of greater than normal irrationality, it behooves us to prepare not just for rational events, but for irrational ones as well.
Likely everyone who reads this blog knows what the NICA Act is, but just in case we pick up some new readers, let me briefly describe it. The NICA Act stands for Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act. If it became law it would require the US to vote against all multilateral loans to Nicaragua. Since the US has a virtual veto in the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Inter-American Development Bank (see Brief #1 below concerning IDB) and others, the NICA Act would effectively cut Nicaragua off from international finance, just as Venezuela has been. In Nicaragua’s case, the effect on the economy would be even more devastating and the effect on the US would be to add Nicaragua refugees to the stream coming from its northern neighbors.
Up until now, I haven’t been too concerned that the NICA Act could become law. It was introduced in the House by Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtenin joined by only 23 right-wing Republicans and Democrats. (Co-sponsors were 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats.) Ros-Lehtenin recently announced that she is retiring at the end of this term. (If your windows were open, you could hear the cheers of Cuba and Central America solidarity activists cheering throughout the land.) There has probably not been a greater enemy of Latin America than Ros-Lehtenin since the late and unlamented Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC).
In the last Congress, just before the elections in the US and Nicaragua, Ros-Lehtenin managed to slip the NICA Act through as part of the unanimous consent docket. That is a bundle of bills that the Republican and Democrat leadership determine are noncontroversial. Generally the unanimous consent bills are passed when only the House leadership is on the floor, but the effect is just as if all Members had actually voted.
I hope those of you who are US voters acted on the Alert that I included a few weeks ago in this blog and sent a message to your Congresscritter telling them to block the NICA Act from being passed by unanimous consent. In theory, any Member can do so. If you are a US voter and you didn’t act on that alert, you can still send a message by clicking here.
We have now learned that Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio has introduced the NICA Act in the Senate as a companion bill. According to Lisa Haugaard at the Latin America Working Group in Washington, DC, the fact that the bill is active in both houses of Congress is much more worrisome than if it were only in the House. It is especially significant that the leading co-sponsor is Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) who is the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is generally considered to be a liberal, so his co-sponsorship demonstrates the danger that the NICA Act could sail through Congress due to shear ignorance on the part of the Representatives and Senators about what its effects would be. Still, it is the House of Representatives that would take action on it first, and there the biggest danger is that it would pass as part of the unanimous consent docket, so that is where our focus should lie for the time being. (Although Maryland solidarity activists may want to let Ben Cardin know exactly what you think of his co-sponsorship right now!)
According to Lisa Haugaard, in the House the NICA Act has been assigned to the Financial Services Committee and also to Foreign Affairs. California Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) of Los Angeles is the Ranking Member of Financial Services and Keith Ellison (D-MN) of Minneapolis is on the Committee. At Foreign Affairs, Joaquin Castro (D-TX) of San Antonio is the Ranking Member. If you or someone you know is in any of these three Members’ districts, please let me know at Chuck@AFGJ.org so that we can coordinate talking with them about the bill.
President Trump has shown no particular animosity toward Nicaragua, and it is difficult to think that he would want to add to the flow of migrants and refugees coming to the US southern border before he builds his impermeable wall. But, as I noted at the start of this blog, we in the United States are going through a period of greater than normal irrationality. So, we need to remain vigilant. You can do your part by educating your Congresscritter, and I’ll do my part by keeping an eye out for any movement of the bill in Congress.
- The threat by the United States to apply a kind of economic embargo if the NICA Act should become law has activated dozens of international Nicaragua solidarity committees. The Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign of Great Britain promoted an open letter of solidarity condemning the NICA Act signed by union leaders in the UK, Ireland and EU countries. The letter expressed their “solidarity with Nicaragua to defend democracy and progress.” (Informe Pastran, May 8)
- Former Nicaraguan Ambassador to the US, Arturo Cruz, stated that, thanks to reforms at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) the US cannot veto loans to Nicaragua, eliminating the threat of the NICA Act in that regard. Prior to January 2017, it took a 75% vote to approve loans, but now only requires a simple majority, effectively removing the US veto power. (Informe Pastran, May 8)
- The Rama and Kriol territorial government in the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve in the South Caribbean Autonomous Region has issued an alert. It is calling on the national government and nongovernmental groups to address threats to the reserve from the advance of the agricultural frontier and illegal settlement. Their alert says, “Many of the lands are occupied by settlers. Some have been classified as “living owners” because they have been authorized by communal assemblies to live with us, but there are others who are invading, degrading the flora and fauna and committing a cultural colonization that is making it difficult to protect the land, according to Aldrick Beckford who is territorial prosecutor. He made these declarations at the First National Encounter of Social Actors for the Indio Maiz Reserve attended by over 100 people. [Illegal colonization is also a serious problem in the Bosawas Nature Reserve in the North Caribbean Autonomous Region.] (El Nuevo Diario, May 4)
- The Nicaragua Central Bank reported that family remittances to the country surpassed US$323 million during the first three months of this year, 6.9% over the same period in 2016. The United States, Costa Rica, Spain, Panama, El Salvador and Canada were the main sources of these remittances. The Nicaragua Center for Exports also announced that exports totaled US$1 billion during the first four months of this year, led by coffee, beef, sugar, and gold. Exports were 23.9% above the same period in 2016. (Nicaragua News, May 2)
- The Nicaragua government and the World Bank signed a US$ 55 million dollar loan for the Nicaragua Quality Education Alliance Program. The purpose of this initiative is to continue to strengthen teaching capabilities and improve infrastructure conditions in rural schools in the country, primarily those that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. (Nicaragua News, May 3)
- The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) granted legal status to the Democratic Restoration Party (PRD) and the Citizens for Freedom Party (CxL) week. The PRD President, Saturnino Serrato, said this is an important achievement for Nicaragua democracy and they are prepared to run in the municipal elections of November 5 this year. Nicaragua has 19 legally registered political parties. (Nicaragua News, May 4)
- Ricardo Melendez, vice-president of the Nicaragua Chamber of Builders said the sector strongly supports the 100,000 unit housing construction plan announced by the government this week. “We believe this five year plan will contribute to promote greater dynamism in the construction sector, creating more jobs and improving the quality of life of the Nicaraguan people,” Meléndez said. (Nicaragua News, May 4)
- The President of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), José Adán Aguerri said the Tripartite Alliance Model between government, employers and labor has contributed to growth in formal employment in Nicaragua. “Over the last 10 years the minimum wage grew 214% and formal employment 74%. We continue to work to ensure greater stability and better wages, as well as profitable and productive companies”, Aguerri said. President Ortega, in his May Day speech also called for further strengthening the Tripartite Alliance Model saying, “Nicaragua must continue to strengthen this Tripartite Alliance Model to ensure peace, stability and prosperity for all Nicaraguan families.” (Nicaragua News, May 2)