Viewpoints

Why are U.S., Latin America tough on Venezuela but soft on Nicaragua?

The 34-country Organization of American States has taken a strong stand against Venezuela’s dictatorship. But, inexplicably, it has been amazingly soft on Nicaragua’s regime, whose brutal repression of anti-government protests has left 127 dead in recent weeks.

 
Opinion

To put things in context, the number of deaths in Nicaragua – a small country of 6 million people – over the past five weeks would be the equivalent of 677 deaths in Venezuela, 2,688 in Mexico and 6,900 in the United States. By some estimates, more people have died in Nicaragua’s protests than at the Israeli-Gaza border in recent weeks.

When U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and foreign ministers of most Latin American and Caribbean countries met in Washington recently, they passed a resolution saying they would not recognize the results of Venezuela’s sham May 20 elections and called for sanctions against top Venezuelan officials.

But they failed to do anything close to that with Nicaragua.

Instead, the OAS passed a meek declaration reportedly drafted mainly by the United States and Nicaragua – yes, you read that correctly – that not only didn’t condemn the deaths of peaceful protesters at the hands of dictator Daniel Ortega’s security forces, it failed to explicitly condemn Ortega’s fraudulent 2016 elections.

The declaration simply asked Ortega to comply with the recommendations of the OAS human rights commission and called on him to “strengthen the democratic institutions” in Nicaragua, but did not specifically demand early elections.

Why such a double standard? Latin American diplomats tell me that OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro wants to maintain open lines of communication with the Nicaraguan regime because – unlike Venezuela – Nicaragua has allowed OAS human rights inspectors into the country, and has vowed to comply with its electoral reform recommendations.

But human rights activists say that’s baloney. They say Ortega is playing for time, as he has done several times in the past, in hopes of defusing the protests on the streets.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the head of the Americas’ department of the Human Rights Watch advocacy group, told me that, “The OAS and the Trump administration missed a big opportunity to put pressure on the Ortega regime to stop its gross violations of human rights.”

Vivanco added that the OAS declaration should have warned Ortega and his powerful wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, that, “If they continue on their present course, they will face the same sanctions as Venezuela.”

Nicaragua’s opposition, Catholic Church leaders and much of the business community are demanding early elections to stop the bloodshed. The next scheduled presidential election is in 2021.

Shortly after the OAS meeting, the Trump administration announced unilateral sanctions against an unspecified number Nicaraguan officials who participated in the bloody repression of protesters.

There was speculation in diplomatic circles that U.S. officials realized after the fact that their active support for the OAS declaration on Nicaragua had been a major blunder, and tried to rectify it with the sanctions.

But the fact is that the Trump administration, the OAS and several Latin American countries have been too soft on the Nicaraguan regime.

Remember, in Nicaragua’s 2016 elections, Ortega banned the leading opposition candidate, refused to allow an independent electoral tribunal, and did not allow international observers. The election was boycotted by much of the country, and Ortega subsequently proclaimed himself the winner.

Isn’t that exactly what Maduro did in Venezuela’s sham May 20 election? More than half of Venezuelan voters boycotted the vote or didn’t vote – 54 percent of the voters by official estimates, and more than 70 percent according to opposition figures – and Maduro proclaimed himself re-elected for another six-year period.

And yet, last week’s OAS resolution on Venezuela says the regional group will not recognize the results of Venezula’s Mau 20 vote, but its declaration on Nicaragua does not explicitly condemn that country’s fradulent 2016 elections.

The OAS statement should have put a time and place for the current negotiations mediated by the Nicaraguan church to result in free elections, with an independent electoral tribunal and credible international observers.

It’s good that countries are stepping up diplomatic pressures to restore democracy in Venezuela. It’s time to do the same in Nicaragua!

Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. He can be contacted at aoppenheimer@miamiherald.com.

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