US: Nicaragua is closing spaces

State Dept. official says Nicaragua’s democracy is moving backwards

The Sandinista government is not acting like a good team player when it comes to building democracy in Nicaragua, according to Kevin Whitaker, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.

In addition to brushing away independent civil society groups that want to contribute to the country’s inchoate democracy, the Ortega government is also boxing out the Uncle Sam, Whitaker says.

“What Nicaragua is doing is slowly closing spaces for U.S. engagement and involvement, something which we very much regret,” Whitaker told The Nicaragua Dispatch in an interview during his visit to Managua last week. “A closing of space is not in anyone’s interest – certainly not in our interest and I would argue that it’s not in Nicaragua’s interest, either.”

Whitaker says the U.S. needs other countries to work “in a team” and “to be in a position to exchange information” in order to be productive partners in the hemisphere. Such teamwork also allows international financial institutions to partner up as well, Whitaker said.

In Nicaragua, however, that’s not going too well, the U.S. official said.

Kevin Whitaker

Indeed, Whitaker said, Nicaragua’s democracy seems to be moving backwards.

“We have seen a significant retrograde movement—one that concerns us and one that we intend to follow up on within the inter-American system,” he said.

Nicaragua is still a good trade partner in CAFTA and a helpful ally in the global war against organized crime, but the U.S. government says the Sandinista administration is not making the grade in the area of democratic governance. And for Washington, democracy still counts, Whitaker said.

“I don’t think you are ever going to see us moving away from a discussion about fundamental democratic practices or fundamental freedoms because of our desire to have better cooperation in other areas,” Whitaker said.

Still, the U.S. official, who was in Nicaragua last week to meet with government officials, opposition leaders (if there were any to be found) and civil society groups, hemmed and hawed a bit when pressed on whether the Obama administration still considers Nicaragua a functioning democracy.

Several vocal leaders within the Republican opposition has been rhetorically hammering the Sandinista government and calling for the U.S. to take action against President Daniel Ortega. The Obama administration, however, doesn’t seem to be so gung-ho. Whitaker wouldn’t take the bait when asked if Nicaragua has crossed the Rubicon from democracy to dictatorship.

“We don’t really divide things up that way; that makes it sound like there’s a set of criteria where you can draw the line, and we don’t do that,” Whitaker said.

Still, Whitaker said the U.S. is discouraged by the way things are going here.

“I would argue that what we are seeing in Nicaragua today looks in some respects like the past. It’s the movement towards (a government model) where civil societies’ contributions are not valued and the only civil society contributions that are made come from groups belonging to the ruling party. And that, of course, is not at all consistent with our vision of democracy,” Whitaker said.

In that regard, Whitaker said, the continued backwards slide in Nicaragua would be a setback not only for Nicaragua, but for all of Central America—most of which is moving, at varying speeds and sometimes with dubious determination, towards something that might be optimistically confused for an inclusive democracy.

Nicaragua, meanwhile, is slipping back to time when the a country seems to be on the fence about whether democracy is even a noble pursuit.

Whitaker, however, says democracy can still be won. Despite Ortega’s weak democratic performance in the first half of the game, the Obama government is playing the role of the supportive high school coach by trying to keep Nicaragua from dropping off the team altogether and going to hang out down by the train tracks with other international pipeheads like Iran and Syria.

“The great thing about democracy is there is always another election; there is always another opportunity to get it right,” Whitaker said, mussing Nicaragua’s hair in encouragement.

But if Nicaragua is going to start making its layups, it needs to start listening to advice from folks who know a little bit about the game, Whitaker said.

“That’s why the follow up on the suggestions (about electoral system improvement) are so important,” he said, referring to the Organization of American States (OAS) repeated calls for Nicaragua to keep its elbow up and eyes open when shooting the ball.

The EU will present its final election report in Managua on Wednesday, adding another international voice that will surely urge Nicaragua to take serious corrective measures moving forward.

For Washington, Whitaker said, the Nicaragua issue is gaining momentum.

“In the State Department, we see it as something that needs to be addressed and can be addressed,” Whitaker said.

When another country veers off the rails of democracy, he said, the United States “feels obligated and compelled to respond.”


  • jim miller

    I find it awful ironic that the US is putting full court preasure on Nicaragua over “democracy” (although I agree that Nicaragua has a long way to go towards true democracy and so does the US) after Honduras had a violent military overthrough of the government and then a pupet election that was even less transparent that Ortegas sham and there are oposition activists and civil society members being murdered misteriously almost weekly, yet the US coddled this government along and has helped it return into the OEA and Central American sistem with barely a hiccup or reprecussion and is making no effort to “reestablish” democracy. Suprizingly ironic.

  • Miguel

    The United States has killed hundreds of thousands of people collectively in Central and South America, we should be alarmed.

    This is what the United States version of democracy:

    • Pedro Arauz

      It missed a few….

    • ElJefe

      So because the US is a hypocritical world power (as most world powers tend to be, otherwise they wouldn’t be world powers in the first place) this means that they’re wrong when they criticize your glorious Sandinista government? I find it abhorrent that Nicaragua has the same president it did thirty years ago. Talk about sclerotic leadership.

  • Nick

    Question for Whitaker…. so how’s that democracy building going over there in Iraq and Afghanistan?
    When the USofA gets kicked in the balls anywhere else in the world, they get incontinent in Latin America and piss all over the place.
    That country offers a fine example of the “bestest” democracy that money can buy.

  • Rachel

    I don’t trust any US official’s assessment of Nicaraguan democracy. The history of US involvement in Nicaragua has been antagonistic at best, imperialistic at worst. Even today, there’s no reason to believe that the US has any interest in Nicaragua besides exploiting its human and natural resources. I’m not saying that Nicaragua is a pinnacle of democracy and transparency; what I am saying is that I outright dismiss the validity of any US government assessment of Nicaragua.

    • Pedro Arauz

      Who cares…

  • http://none Jack

    Nicaragua is not perfect. Nobody is. The USA on the other hand does have double standards. That might be the reason they don’t really have a clear set of criteria regarding democracy….
    “We don’t really divide things up that way; that makes it sound like there’s a set of criteria where you can draw the line, and we don’t do that,” Whitaker said.
    Sounds like a self serving subjective approach. Honduras is democratic, Nicaragua is not. What a joke and the comparison list can go on… The biggest danger in the world at the moment is US foreign policy! US citizens please wake up!

  • Gerd Schnepel

    Saudi Arabia. And all its neighbours.

  • Pedro Arauz

    Nicaragua is not closing spaces, Nicaragua has closed spaces and is in a free fall.
    As soon as Israel attacks Iran, an unavoidable necessity, Nicaragua will become or turn into a war enemy of the USA and if you don’t know what that means read some as to what happened right after Pear Harbor and the US declaring war to the axis and how Nicaragua became automatically an ally to the USA and an enemy to Germany,Italy and Japan. This is the reason why Somoza ended up with all of their property like the Cement factory, Montelimar and all of the property owned by them. Pellas as an Italian was spared as Nicaragua Sugar was founded in London- no coincidence here.
    Right after the Israel attack Nicaragua will start hitting bottom and the start of the solution will finally show. This will be the time to buy anything in Nica ragua.

    • http://no Juan Carlos

      Pedro, Maybe you should go fight the War against Iran. Or do you prefer to enjoy coffee behind your computer and talk about bravery, patriotism and defending our freedoms by declaring war.

      It would be a catastrophe if Israel invades Iran. You could learn a lot about Gandhi and creating change by peaceful resistance. But I am sure you mind is made up….Another lost soul to the devil!

      • Rita Lugo

        We rather push buttons nowadays….

        • http://none jack

          Military drones, nuclear missiles… just push a button, Rita. You are pushing my buttons and creating anger. For a Christian conservative, ask your self what Jesus would do? By the way my previous comment was not allowed after awaiting moderation and had the same comment as this one…I am not blaming it on a technical glitch!

  • Augusto

    PA you have nothing educated to say on this site.. get a job..

  • http://yahoo ted

    I”m a canadian living here with less gov. interverace then in canada,

    and the states. but when I read the history of the states no wonder danial,dosen like them