NicaNotes: New US Sanctions Are Designed to Hit Nicaragua’s Poorest Citizens

By John Perry

[John Perry is based in Masaya, Nicaragua and writes for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, London Review of Books, FAIR and other outlets.]

The Biden administration has announced new sanctions which are intended to hit the poorest Nicaraguans – both in their pockets and in the public services on which they depend. This latest attack on a small Central American country is, as usual, dressed up as promoting democracy saying that the sanctions will “deny the Ortega-Murillo regime the resources they need to continue to undermine democratic institutions in Nicaragua.”

Gold exports provide tax revenue that funds Nicaragua’s massive social expenditures, including this hospital in Bilwi, Puerto Cabezas, which will serve the towns of the Mining Triangle.

But everyone knows the real target is ordinary Nicaraguans who voted overwhelmingly to return a Sandinista government to power in last year’s elections.

Anyone hearing or seeing the NPR news item on the sanctions will have read that they are aimed at “Nicaragua’s gold industry,” with an implicit message that this hits President Daniel Ortega’s personal treasure chest. The reality is very different. Gold mining in Nicaragua – generally speaking carried out in less environmentally damaging ways than in most other countries – is a big export industry, employing thousands of people in one of the country’s poorest regions. It also generates significant tax income for the government, which helps fund its enormous social programs. The sanctions affect not just the gold mining business but all the individuals involved in its management. The obvious aim is to scare away the industry’s investors, administrators and technicians – put your money in Nicaragua and lose any assets you have in US banks, is the explicit message.

Was it a coincidence that the sanctions were announced on the same day that the Sandinista government presented its annual budget for 2023? The budget is 14% higher than this year’s with more than half of the expenditures devoted to social investment. Included in this are the construction of no fewer than nine new public hospitals, adding 4,300 homes to the stock of social [affordable] housing, bringing electricity to an additional 35,000 households and massive improvements in water and sanitary services. Much of the new investment is directed towards the country’s under-resourced Caribbean regions, now properly connected to the main population centers on the Pacific coast by recently completed highways and the huge new River Wawa bridge. These regions are a priority – in part – because they were heavily damaged by recent hurricanes. The government’s careful plans to protect people and rebuild affected settlements helped secure the highest levels of support for Daniel Ortega in any region during last year’s elections. Is it another coincidence that these are the areas where gold mining is a major source of employment, now to be the specific target of US sanctions?

The NPR segment repeats the Trump-era argument that Nicaragua is “a threat to U.S. national security.” This ridiculous claim, rolled out again to justify Biden’s latest actions, has no basis in reality. Nicaragua is one of Latin America’s smallest and poorest countries, with a population of under seven million, one of the lowest levels of defense spending in the world and a gross national product equivalent only to that of a mid-sized US city. The idea that it threatens the security even of its neighbors is absurd, much less that of the United States.

The State Department’s press release discloses another reason for the sanctions: Nicaragua’s alliance with Russia. Behind this is Washington’s fear that Latin American countries, and not only those with left-wing governments, are building closer ties both with Moscow and with Beijing. A second message is: make alliances with our enemies and you will be punished. Within this is a third implicit message: you may think you are a sovereign state, but, according to the “rules-based international order” where we decide the rules, you must do as we say.

As I write this, news comes in about another example of US interference in the affairs of another country, this time in neighboring Honduras. The US ambassador, Laura Dogu, is trying to protect the interests of US companies involved in unconstitutional projects known as “ZEDEs” or model cities, set up by the previous corrupt government, replaced in January by the progressive President Xiomara Castro. Castro’s foreign minister has formally requested Dogu’s attendance to explain why she is trying to undermine government attempts to reestablish the rule of law in the zones where the ZEDEs were set up, and why she opposes Castro’s other measures to clear up the previous government’s corruption. As a previous ambassador to Nicaragua, Dogu was involved in similar interference here.

In yet another recent example, The Intercept has just revealed that, in a report to the US Congress, the Biden administration continues to endorse claims of electoral fraud in Bolivia’s 2019 election, which at the time opened the door for a right-wing takeover of the government that lasted until near the end of 2020. As it happens, the left-wing governments in both Honduras and Bolivia are currently under threat from the right. In Bolivia, the opposition has mounted a general strike in the rich region of Santa Cruz. In Honduras, opposition politicians are calling for their supporters to have ready their ”white shirts,” a symbol of support for disgraced former president Hernandez and the corrupt clan that surrounded him. This is precisely the moment when Washington should be supporting elected governments, with whom they may have disagreements, not undermining them. Or is this what the State Department means when it “promotes democracy?”

These actions are part of a wider failure on Biden’s part to come to grips with the renewed emergence of progressive governments in Latin America. The most notable recent example of this was, of course, the embarrassing Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, which many of the continent’s governments boycotted. Since then, Colombians have elected the progressive Gustavo Petro as president and Brazilians have, at the second attempt, the chance to bring back to power their former progressive president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, “Lula”. [Lula won the Oct. 30 elections, defeating right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.]

In an article for Aljazeera, Canadian academic John Kirk recently wrote that “it is time for the US to recognize that Latin America is being transformed, and the leftist activism of the 2020s represents a clear rejection of the policies of recent decades.” He argues that the region is open to dialogue with the US, but this has to be a respectful exchange of opinions, not “a top-down lecture.” He may be right: despite heavy sanctions, Venezuela has engaged in spasmodic dialogue with Washington as, to the limited extent possible, has Cuba.

Nicaragua, on the other hand, recently refused to accept new US ambassador Hugo Rodriguez after he promised the US Congress that he would “support using all economic and diplomatic tools to bring about a change in direction in Nicaragua.” Rodriguez went on to call Nicaragua a “pariah state,” displaying precisely the arrogance that Kirk described as the obstacle to any sensible dialogue between Washington and its southern neighbors. Meanwhile, Russia and China (and, indeed, other major states such as India, Japan and South Korea), offer development assistance free of the “top-down lectures” and “democracy promotion” which Washington believes it is entitled to employ. Until successive US governments learn to behave otherwise, they will continue to lose friends in Latin America rather than make new ones.

[Editor’s note: In the aftermath of President Biden’s recent signing of the Executive Order that bans U.S. companies from doing business in Nicaragua’s gold industry, the Canadian transnational Calibre Mining Corp that it will continue its operations in Nicaragua. Another company, UK-based Condor Gold, said it does not expect the sanctions imposed by the US to have an impact on its operation in the country. Last year the US slapped the “Renacer Act” sanctions on Nicaragua just days before the presidential elections. Now more sanctions hit Nicaragua right before the November 6 municipal elections as a way to try to sway voters.]

By Nan McCurdy

Experts Highlight Recovery and Stability of Nicaraguan Economy
The international agency S&P Global Ratings upgraded Nicaragua’s long-term ratings to ‘B’ for economic and fiscal recovery and a stable outlook. According to the latest report, the Nicaraguan economy is recovering after successive internal and external shocks in recent years. It notes that cautious fiscal and monetary policies have stabilized the economy and should support GDP growth. “We raised our long-term sovereign ratings to ‘B’ from ‘B-‘ on Nicaragua,” says S&P Global Rating. The report says the stable outlook reflects “our expectation of continued economic recovery and fiscal prudence despite a challenging external scenario.” (Radio La Primerisima, 26 Oct. 2022)

250,000 Nicaraguans Working to Assure Good Election
The Electoral Roll is at 3,722,884 citizens ready to exercise their vote in the 7,931 Voting Reception Boards (JRV) [polling places] in the 3106 Voting Centers (CV), reported Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) President Brenda Rocha. She said that the 2022 municipal electoral process has taken place in peace and tranquility and that 14 political parties and alliances of parties are participating. There are 28,000 candidates. The 51 positions of the Departmental and Regional Electoral Councils were selected, with 26 women and 25 men, and 79 women and 74 men in the Municipal Electoral Councils. The Electoral Ethics Regulation was also approved with the participation of the political parties and alliances.  Trainings were carried out with representatives and technicians of political parties for their poll watchers. On October 27, credentials were delivered to the 187,000 poll watchers who will participate in the elections. A training was developed for the Electoral Police. More than 250,000 people are participating in the organizing of the electoral process. Among these are the 187,000 poll watchers, 47,586 members of the JRVs [including alternates], 18,890 Electoral Police; 1,300 university chaperones, and more. (Radio La Primerisima, 29 Oct. 2022)

CSE Swears in JRV Members
On Oct. 30, the Supreme Electoral Council through the Municipal Electoral Councils, swore in the members of the Voting Boards, JRV’s, who will exercise their functions this November 6 during the 2022 Municipal Elections. In Bluefields, more than 400 citizens were trained and sworn in corresponding to 80 Voting Boards at 27 voting centers in this city of the South Caribbean Coast. See Photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 30 Oct. 2022)

Celebration of 35 years of Autonomy Law
The members of the Regional Council and Government, the Caribbean universities, schools and institutes along with the people of Bluefields participated on Oct. 29 in a political and cultural event celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the enactment of the Law for the Autonomy of the Caribbean Coast. Ruben Lopez, Coordinator of the Autonomous Regional Government of the South Caribbean, highlighted the significance of this 35 years under the Autonomy regime. “We can talk today about all the progress we have made in our region, but we must highlight the advances that have gradually strengthened our autonomy, such as the recognition of our Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, the management of our own resources, the broad consultation that takes place in the communal assemblies to ensure social projects for the benefit of our people,” he said. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 30 Oct. 2022)

Canadian Mining Company Confirms It Will Continue Operations
Officials of the Canadian transnational Calibre Mining Corp said that they will continue work in Nicaragua, since the sanctions imposed by the US Treasury Department do not have a material impact on their operations. According to a statement, “The Libertad and Limón complexes are operating as planned and the company is on track to meet our consolidated annual production for 2022 of 220,000 to 235,000 ounces of gold. Calibre reiterates its commitment to its employees and host communities. Calibre operates in a manner that protects people, respects cultural heritage and contributes to economic development, while acting as a steward of the natural environment.” See press statement: (Radio La Primerisima, 27 Oct. 2022)

Malaria Infections Down
Vice President Rosario Murillo highlighted Nicaragua’s progress in the fight against malaria. The World Health Organization has awarded prizes to Nicaragua for its strategy against malaria. In 2021, by October 1st, 19,605 people had been affected by malaria, and this year in the same period there have been 12,863, a decrease of 34%. Murillo added that the community network that works against malaria is made up of 9,183 collaborators who work on prevention, early diagnosis, and follow up with those being treated. “We have delivered more than 200,000 mosquito nets, we continue to fumigate houses, house by house, destroying breeding sites. We signed agreements with Honduras and Costa Rica to develop joint activities in border areas against malaria transmission,” she said. (Radio La Primerisima, 25 Oct. 2022)

Hurricane Julia caused US$387 Million in Damages
Hurricane Julia caused damages of nearly US$400 million, mainly in infrastructure and in the social, productive, environmental, health, education, telecommunications, energy, water and sanitation sectors, reported Finance Minister Iván Acosta. Meanwhile, Dr. Guillermo González, Co-Director of the disaster agency SINAPRED, emphasized the country’s preparedness that saves lives: Immediate actions were taken to provide health care, reestablish basic services for the population, send more than 40,000 sheets of galvanized roofing, and provide food and psychosocial care in the shelters that were set up. Inter-American Development Bank Representative Shirley Cañete Romero said that the bank has activated the already confirmed contingent line of credit with priority for the energy and food sectors. Uriel Pérez, Director for Nicaragua of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), stated that the bank has been working to identify available funds within the signed loans that can be used more quickly to cover the most immediate needs following the hurricane. (Radio La Primerisima, 26 Oct. 2022)

New Women’s Police Station in El Ostional
Vice-President Rosario Murillo reported that the Women’s Police Station No. 163 will be inaugurated in El Ostional on Nov. 3. On Nov. 4, in the Community of Wapí, Caribe Sur, the Women’s Police Station No. 164 will be inaugurated. (Informe Pastran, 1 Nov. 2022)

156th Fire Station in Catarina
Two emergency firefighting units will be part of the new fire station inaugurated on November 1st to provide service to the population in Catarina. This is the 156th fire station inaugurated in the last few years. (Radio La Primerisima, 28 Oct. 2022)

New Prison in León
The government has concluded the construction of a new prison, which has a spacious visiting area, medical and dental clinics, classrooms, recreational courts, ample space for the sun patio, maternal area, and cells with all the proper conditions for inmates. The prison is located in the Chacraseca district, four kilometers from Leon. The new penitentiary center has a total area of 30,084.47 m² and a capacity to house 1,520 prisoners with the necessary programs for social reinsertion after release, which is the goal. Photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 2 Nov. 2022)

67 Charging Stations for Electric Vehicles
Nicaragua inaugurated the first 67 charging stations for electric vehicles which will be part of an electric corridor that will extend through the country’s main substations. (Juventud Presidente, 28 Oct. 2022)

ALBA-TCP Condemns New Measures against Nicaragua
The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-People’s Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP) condemned new unilateral coercive measures by the US, which it described as illegal. The Latin American and Caribbean integration mechanism denounced in a communiqué the new aggression against the Nicaraguan people and government, directed against the mining sector and which includes the restriction of visas to officials. The note reiterated the call made by the United Nations General Assembly to all States in its resolution 75/181, to “cease adopting or applying unilateral measures” contrary to international law, international humanitarian law and the UN Charter.” ALBA-TCP reiterated its call to denounce these continuing aggressions and ratified its solidarity with the people and the government of Nicaragua. (Radio La Primerisima, 27 Oct. 2022)

Nicaragua Rejects CELAC Becoming Another OAS at the Service of the U.S.
On Oct. 26 the Government of Nicaragua rejected Chile’s intention to turn the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) into another version of the Organization of American States (OAS). During the XXII meeting of CELAC, Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said that this is not the right time to focus on the organization and functioning of CELAC. He recalled that the heads of state approved in Caracas the procedures for the organic functioning of CELAC. Those procedures are still valid, strengthened by unity in diversity, consensus, solidarity, complementarity, and the commitment to continue along the path of the heroes and liberators of the great Latin American and Caribbean homeland. (Radio La Primerisima, 26 Oct. 2022)