By Chuck Kaufman
The NICA Act passed the House of Representatives last Wednesday by unanimous consent. This is the bill that is intended to block Nicaragua from access to multilateral loans from the World Bank, IMF, and others. Thank you to readers who responded to our Alert and contacted their Representatives.
I’m particularly angry that the Act passed by unanimous consent voice vote meaning not a single Congresscritter, Democrat or Republican, who was contacted raised an objection to a level which would have forced the Act to be voted on with a quorum present. It is likely that only the Majority and Minority Leaders were even on the floor of the House when it was “voted” on. The unanimous consent docket is made up of bills that the two parties’ leadership consider uncontroversial and therefore don’t even require that a quorum be present to actually vote.
The only Member of Congress that we know spoke publicly against the NICA Act was Texas Rep. Vicente Gonzalez objected that passage of the bill could strain relations with Nicaragua and lead to instability, irregular migration to the United States through his Texas district, and increase criminal activity in the area.Gonzalez added that Nicaragua has its economic and political challenges but it has advanced toward the resolution of poverty, climate change and economic growth.”
My only hopeful conclusion about the silence from the liberal wing of the House Democrats is that none of our “friends” in the House thought the Act would go anywhere in the Senate, so they didn’t see any point in fighting it. I hope that is right, and think that it probably is. Still, for it to pass by unanimous consent after we made an issue of it shows how little our individual voices as voters matter to the men and women who supposedly represent us in Congress.
As I wrote previously, Rochester, NY Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter, told one of our board members she thought the NICA Act would pass as a going away present to Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen the ex-Cuban gusano from Miami who sponsored the bill. I find the thinking behind that to be so jaw-dropping incomprehensible that I wonder if our elected officials are still altogether human. (I don’t include Slaughter in that assessment as she has been supportive for many years.)
But the fact is that Democrats, for over 30 years, have ceded US Latin America policy to a cabal of right-wing and former Cuban Members of Congress and State Department career diplomats. It hasn’t mattered which party controlled the White House, the Cold Warriors ran hemispheric foreign policy. This latest retirement present to a Congresswoman who has been among the most hostile to anything in Latin America that improved the lives of ordinary people, is why I personally have no more use for Democrats than I do for Republicans. When it comes to Latin America, there simply is no difference between the two parties.
So where do things stand now?
We should remember that the NICA Act also passed the House by unanimous consent last year and the Senate never even held hearings on it. It seems like that is the expectation this year. US Ambassador to Nicaragua Laura Dagu has made clear that the Trump administration has shown no interest in the Act to date. All sectors of Nicaraguan society, with the notable exception of the Monealegre faction of the Liberals and the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), are totally against the NICA Act recognizing the fact that it would hurt the economy, cost jobs, cut social spending by the government, and increase out migration, much of which would head for the US border.
It is hard to see how the former US embassy darling, banker Eduardo Montealegre, and his partners in the MRS, can hold on to even the single digit voter support they had. Traveling to a foreign country and lobbying for an economic boycott of your own country would be considered a crime in many countries. While no legal actions against them are contemplated in Nicaragua, voters there are pretty savvy about voting in favor of their own interests rather than those of the United States.
I find it interesting that the World Bank and IMF, where US officials would vote against future loans to Nicaragua, haven’t talked about the NICA Act and indeed have announced new loan packages for the coming year while being quite effusive in their praise for Nicaragua’s effective use of past loans. Moody and Fitch sovereign credit rating agencies both just recently reaffirmed Nicaragua’s international credit rating and specifically cited a stable economic outlook. Neither mentioned the NICA Act as a possible destabilizer. I think that has to be significant.
While we can’t just sit back and assume we’ve heard the last of the NICA Act, I am cautiously optimistic. We’ll keep an eye out to see if the Senate Foreign Relations Committee schedules a hearing. If so, we’ll mobilize so that people can send messages to their Senators. In the normal course of things, I don’t pay much attention to what is going on in Congress.
Nicaragua Network/Alliance for Global Justice was never an “inside-the-beltway” organization even when, prior to 2013, we had our office inside the beltway.
Our position always was to provide the organizing tools for grassroots activists to lobby their own elected officials. I’d be happy to have some help from some of you political junkies who follow Congress. Please send me an email at Chuck@AFGJ.org
if you can help monitor the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing schedule or if you have a Senate aide who would do it and agree to give you a heads up if it looks like anything is going to happen in the Senate. In the meantime, not just Nicaragua is under assault by the US government, Venezuela and Cuba are focal points of US intervention right now, with Bolivia and Ecuador not far behind.
We need to stand in solidarity with all progressive forces in Latin America and the Caribbean. And we will.
- Hurricane Nate, which was still a tropical storm when it passed over Central America, brought heavy rains, mudslides and flooding to Nicaragua and the deaths of 15 people. Hardest hit were the Department of Rivas, Nandaime and Ochomogo in the Department of Granada, Cusmapa in Esteli and Ciudad Dario and the northern part of the Department of Matagalpa. Vice-President Rosario Murillo said the government was mobilized to rescue people and tens of thousands of food packages have been handed out in the most affected areas. 252 health brigades have been mobilized involving 1,400 health workers and 31 mobile clinics. Home visits total 14,000 so far and over 20,000 patients have been treated. In total 8,236 families were displaced due to flooding, including 300 families in Cusmapa due to mud slides. (Informe Pastran, Oct. 9)
- The Nicaragua Center for Exports (CETREX) announced that exports totaled US$2.1 billion during the first nine months of this year, 17.6% over the same period of 2016. Sectors such as coffee (US$466.9 million); beef (US$394.6 million); gold (US$241 million); and sugar (US$175 million) were among the main drivers of this growth. (Nicaragua News, Oct. 6)
- A recent study published by Vanderbilt University ranks President Daniel Ortega as the third most popular president in Latin America. The report states that the Guyana President David Granger obtained 72.8% popular support, followed by President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic with 69.2%. Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega came in at 68.9% followed by President Lenin Moreno of Ecuador with 62.9% favorable opinion. (Nicaragua News, Oct. 5)
- The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced the approval of a US$65 million loan to support the Nicaragua Energy Development Action Plan. The Plan covers aspects such as universal access to electricity service, promotion of energy efficiency and diversification of the national energy matrix. (Nicaragua News, Oct. 3)