After winning reelection in a voting process that was “seriously flawed,” President Daniel Ortega’s “increasingly authoritarian” government now wields single-party control over all branches of government, according to the U.S. State Department’s Report on Human Rights for 2011, released today.
That’s the good news. The rest of the report is a bit disquieting.
“The principal human rights abuses during the year were restrictions on citizens’ right to vote, violence against women, and police abuse of suspects during arrest and detention,” reads the executive summary of the U.S.’ country report for Nicaragua.
Other “significant human rights abuses” mentioned in the preamble include, “Occasional unlawful killings by security forces; harsh and overcrowded prison conditions; arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention; widespread corruption and politicization of the membership and actions of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), and other government organs, as well as a lack of respect for the rule of law by these bodies; withholding of accreditation from election-monitoring nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); and erosion of freedom of speech and press, including government intimidation and harassment of journalists and independent media. There were also reports of corrupt practices; government harassment and intimidation of NGOs; trafficking in persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities and indigenous persons and communities; societal discrimination against and abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals; discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; and violations of trade union rights.”
Furthermore, the report says, “impunity was a widespread problem” and Sandinista government officials “frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.”
Needless to say, the State Department’s report is not exactly Visit Nicaragua tourism-brochure material.
It is, however, telling of the increasingly strained relations between the United States and Nicaragua. And sections of the report—specifically Section 4: Official Corruption and Government Transparency—provide a foreboding argument for the U.S. to cancel its transparency waiver, an announcement that’s expected to be made public in the next few weeks.
“In the executive branch, officials dispensed funds outside the normal budgetary process controlled by the legislature,” the report reads. “Officials drew funds from economic and developmental assistance loaned by the Venezuela-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) with the claim that funds were part of a joint venture between the state-owned oil companies of Venezuela and Nicaragua. Media reported that ALBA-funded contracts were awarded to companies with ties to the Ortega family and noted that the funds from Venezuela, which totaled approximately $500 million annually, served as a separate budget tightly controlled by the FSLN without public oversight.”
The report also criticizes the lack of transparency in the judicial system, saying, “The courts remained particularly susceptible to bribes, manipulation, and other forms of corruption, especially by political parties and drug cartels, and there were reports that politics influenced CSJ rulings. There were reported cases of drug traffickers being declared innocent by corrupt judges, particularly in Granada.” (Yeah Granada!)
CSE president Roberto Rivas also got a special shout out for his “numerous corrupt practices,” including “alleged involvement in fraud and embezzlement of public funds.”
Taken as a whole, Section 4 of the State Department’s report does not augur well for the future of Nicaragua’s transparency waiver.
Perhaps even more worrisome, however, is the short section on property restitution.
“The government regularly failed to enforce court orders with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation of private property,” the report reads. “Illegal land seizures increased during the year, including reports of government seizure without due process or fair compensation.”
Though the State Department report doesn’t directly accuse the Sandinista government of seizing U.S. citizen properties, it’s short reprimand doesn’t bode too well for the property waiver either.
In short, the State Department’s report on Nicaragua is compelling evidence that the die has been cast. Washington’s official position towards Nicaragua has changed and now the policy changes will start to reveal themselves as well.
The full report can be read here.