House Resolution 981 calls on the U.S. government to more aggressively employ the Magnitsky Act as a means to sanction individual members of the Nicaraguan government, while also condemning violence in Nicaragua. The stated goal is to support democracy, but the text of the resolution is not based on a balanced accounting of what has transpired in the country over the last three months. If serious about supporting democracy in Nicaragua, Congress should support the process of dialogue and join with other international organizations in calling for “all political actors” to halt the violence and work toward a negotiated solution.
Contact your member of Congress and tell them to vote against H. Res 981, support the dialogue, and allow the people of Nicaragua to determine their future without the further intervention of the United States.
You can call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224- 3121, or send an email directly to your representative using the Alliance for Global Justice’s email platform here.
The House International Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere voted the Resolution out of Committee on July 12. It will be taken up by the full committee in the coming days before going to the House floor for a vote.
The Magnitsky Act is a mechanism that allows the Trump administration to level sanctions against individuals in other countries that it determines have violated human rights or have been involved in corruption. The Magnitsky Act was first employed in Nicaragua to apply sanctions against Roberto Rivas, head of the Supreme Electoral Council last year (he has since resigned). Last week further sanctions were announced against Francisco Diaz, deputy chief of the national police, Antonio Moreno Briones, secretary of the Managua mayor’s office, and Francisco Lopez, vice president of Albanisa (a joint venture between Nicaragua and Venezuela). The individuals sanctioned seem to have been targeted for the perception that they are close to Ortega – not because of specific incidents they are directly responsible for during the last three months of turmoil.
For the past three months, Nicaragua has been in the throes of a political crisis unlike anything witnessed since the 1980s. While the spark for protests in April was an announced reform of the social security system, violence over the next several days led to the deaths of nearly 50 people. Though investigations of the violence make clear that police were not acting unilaterally – as opposition groups burned buildings throughout the country and fired upon police (one of the first deaths was a police officer killed by a shotgun blast), the media has continued to present all of the deaths as the result of state forces firing on peaceful demonstrations. The government annulled the reforms and launched a process of national dialogue, mediated by the Episcopal Conference of Bishops.
As the weeks have gone by, the dialogue has moved forward in fits and starts, with opposition groups blockading major roads and eventually building smaller blockades within cities throughout the country to impede travel and disrupt commerce. The blockades have become the sight of further violence. In international media, accounts all of the violence has been blamed on the police and parapolice forces. However, it is clear that opposition forces have utilized extreme force as well. At least 20 police officers have been killed and hundreds wounded. A Sandinista student representative from the Polytechnic University who was taking part in the dialogue was beaten, shot, and left for dead in a ditch in Managua. Independent analysis of reported deaths over the past three months indicates that many are not related to the demonstrations at all, that opposition forces are responsible for dozens of killings, and that many people have died for simply being near skirmishes between the opposition and pro-government groups.
Against this backdrop, the dialogue has made some progress. Agreements have been reached to allow investigators from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, UN High Commission for Human Rights, and the European Union to work alongside domestic investigators to document the violence. An agreement was reached to organize the dialogue around three tables of discussion – human rights, security, and democratization. While there are clearly major differences between groups at these tables about how to proceed, working through the process for as long as possible to reach an agreement is the only way out of the crisis. The United States should not be adding to the polarization at this time by taking a hardline position on the outcome.
Read more of our coverage on Nicaragua here.
Update: Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned today (Saturday, July 14). Details here.
On Thursday, the government in Haiti announced a roll back of fuel subsidies that would result in increases of 31% to 50% of the cost of gasoline, diesel, and kerosene. Gas prices are already extremely high in Haiti, but with the increases, a liter of gas was projected to cost $5 (for perspective, that is almost $19 a gallon!).
The announcement led to protests throughout the country, in which 3 people were killed on Friday, business were looted and buildings set on fire. On Saturday President Moïse cancelled the rollback of subsidies, and yet protests continued, with people calling for Moïse to step down.
It is too early to know where this is heading. But a few points are important to provide context for what is happening.
The first, is that the announcement came as the government is under increasing pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce the fuel subsidies program as part of a broader set of market reforms the IMF is requiring of Haiti if the country is to be able to access additional funding. Haiti has been under the scrutiny of international financial institutions for decades, with access to funding continually tied to structural reforms aimed at reducing government expenditures. Though Haiti had qualified for debt reduction under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative some years back, the reductions were highly conditioned, and benchmarks impossible to meet, given political instability, four hurricanes and the 2010 earthquake. The resulting hollowing out of state capacity to deliver social services makes it difficult for the government to meet the demands of the people, and leaves the country dependent on non-governmental and church organizations for the provision of health and education services. Actual debt cancellation is still required – as most of the Haiti’s multilateral debts have been accrued under un-elected governments.
A second point is that the Haiti’s participation in PetroCaribe has not provided the hoped for benefits, with political leadership using the funds for investments into business ventures that had no impact on poverty reduction. PetroCaribe is a program launched by Venezuela. Under the provisions of the program, a country may pay back a portion of the bill for oil sales at a very low rate of interest over an extended period of time. In Haiti’s case, 40% of the revenue from the sale of oil could be held and used for social services, with the payback of the balance over a 25-year period at 1% interest.
Earlier this year, an audit of the program as administered under former presidents Preval and Martelly showed a number of problems. Questions arose, particularly, around Martelly’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe’s facilitation of projects geared toward tourism. An example:
In another case, the Dominican corporation Ingeniería ESTRELLA was given a contract of nearly US$20 million by the Martelly/Lamothe government to build an airport on Ile-à-Vache, which it was trying to develop as a resort for rich tourists. Le Nouvelliste visited the island recently and found that, although the company had pocketed more than $5.2 million in revenue, work on the project ended more than two years ago and left behind an unpaved landing strip half the size contracted for. No planes have been able to land on it.
The release of the audit back in January of this year led to much anger at the government – including the current government of President Moïse, who is from the same party as President Martelly, and has done little to confront these past abuses. Given past anger, Moïse clearly did not have the political capital and legitimacy with the people required to make the controversial announcement about steep increases in fuel costs.
Finally, the question of legitimacy is not a small one. In 2011, the United States intervened in elections in Haiti, demanding that Martelly be included in a runoff for which he did not qualify, according to Haiti’s electoral council (Martelly had come in third in first-round voting that year). The government eventually gave in under enormous pressure, and Martelly won the elections with a very low voter turnout. The United States seemed to embrace Martelly – the first president to win an election outside of the Lavalas movement or Preval’s Lespwa, a political coalition that included many former Lavalas members. Such a victory, long sought by U.S. policy makers, was not greeted warmly by the people of Haiti. This cloud hangs over President Moïse who has struggled to build a coalition within the context of PetroCaribe corruption scandal, controversies over re-establishing the army, and ongoing economic hardship. It doesn’t help Moïse’s case that there are reports that the U.S. State Department indicated he may be on the way out.
As one might expect, people are not simply burning tires and buildings over gas prices. The demonstrations have deeper roots, and thus it is not surprising that they have continued even after the cancellation of the increases.
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III celebrated Independence Day by issuing a press release touting his decision to rescind 24 guidance documents related to juvenile justice, immigration, school safety, and racial discrimination.
When reporters and lawyers went to work searching for these documents on agency websites, several had already been removed.
As a service for those interested, we have embedded those missing documents below in order of their appearance on the DOJ’s July 3rd press release, with their original item numbers as listed. A list of all of the other rescinded documents, with for-now-still-working links, is available here.
8. BJA State Criminal Alien Assistance Program Guidelines, 2016
We’ll do our best to update as necessary.
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