The NICA Act and the never-ending hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy

The Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act of 2017 could see action in the U.S. Senate in the coming weeks. The “NICA” Act directs U.S. representatives at international financial institutions like the World Bank,International Monetary Fund and Inter-American Development Bank to block international assistance to Nicaragua until “the Department of State certifies that Nicaragua is taking effective steps to increase election integrity, promote democracy, strengthen the rule of law and respect freedom of association and expression.” The NICA Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives this fall. The version in  the Senate is slightly different than the House version, additionally calling for a report “on activities of certain regimes” in Nicaragua – specifically, Russia, and Venezuela. Senator Leahy’s co-sponsorship of the current effort with bill author Ted Cruz makes it very possible that this version could pass in the Senate.

At the same time, and going mostly unnoticed in the United States, Donald Trump signed an executive order on December 21 declaring a “state of emergency” as a result of rampant human rights violations and corruption around the world. In the order, Trump promises to use the weight of the U.S. government to crackdown on human rights abuse and corruption by freezing the assets of individuals involved in perpetrating such abuse. The Executive Order goes on to list 13 individuals from around the world that are presumptively immediate targets for action. Among those listed is the president of the Supreme Electoral Council in Nicaragua, Roberto José Rivas Reyes. Reyes seems to be guilty of living a luxurious lifestyle while having a modest official salary. Reyes’ inclusion on this list, and the resulting Department of Treasury investigation, is also referenced in the Senate version of the NICA Act.

The official concerns of U.S. policy-makers stem from actions taken by Nicaragua’s Supreme Court and Supreme Electoral Council in preparation for elections in 2011 and 2016. In 2011 the Supreme Court ruled that Ortega could run for re-election despite a constitutional ban on presidents serving consecutive terms. The Court ruled that such a ban violated another constitutional right, the right of an individual to run for office. However one views this decision, and the Court was and remains clearly in the Sandinista camp, the controversy surrounding the ruling was obviously well covered in Nicaragua’s media – which routinely lampoons Ortega and other political leaders in ways that would make Borowitz blush. Ortega still won 62% of the vote. In 2016 Ortega won again. Prior to the election the Supreme Electoral Council cancelled the legal status of leaders of the Independent Liberal Party, driving a wedge in the opposition Coalition for Democracy. Without an effective opposition Ortega would go on to win with 72% of the vote.

One need not be any kind of cheerleader for Ortega’s institutional maneuvering as head of the Sandinista party to acknowledge that his, and more importantly the party’s popularity is based on improving the lives of many people. Since 2006, the Sandinista government has provided free healthcare services, eliminated school fees (imposed by previous governments under the pressure of structural adjustment programs), invested in rural communities, and significantly reduced poverty. Nicaragua has also enjoyed a growth rate of nearly 5% in recent years. The NICA Act, if passed, would erode the government’s ability to sustain these programs. We must assume U.S. policy-makers are well aware of this; undercutting the popular basis of Sandinista rule is the goal.

As the U.S. government prepares to possibly sanction Nicaragua for what it deems electoral malfeasance, it is standing by the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras. The comparison is instructive. Hernandez ran for re-election despite a constitutional ban on consecutive terms for the president. He was allowed to do so by a questionable ruling of Honduras’ Supreme Court under the control of his party. This caused little concern for U.S. policy-makers. The election in Honduras was the third since a coup d’etat removed president Manuel Zelaya from office in June of 2009. Hernandez represents the coalition of forces that undertook that coup, and with U.S. support, that coalition has sought to consolidate its control over the country ever since. Despite widespread human rights abuses, the United States continues to provide tens of millions of dollars in assistance to security forces. Those security forces have been implicated in the assassination of dozens of social movement leaders. Honduras remains one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders, journalists, and environmental activists. In the wake of the coup, the murder rate sky-rocketed to the highest in the world; the murder rate for women doubled.

The election in Honduras took place on November 26, 2017. As the tallies were posted by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla was running ahead of Hernández. The tallies were quickly taken off-line, and no further public disclosures were made for several days. When preliminary results were then posted Hernández had pulled ahead, a near statistical impossibility given earlier results. Protests increased around the country demanding that there be a transparent recount, and then a new election (given that some ballots had “disappeared”). It took over two weeks for election authorities to make Hernandez the official winner. The Trump administration congratulated him the same day. The Organization of American States has called for a new election, as have the people of Honduras. The U.S. government has accepted the results. Amidst the violent crackdown against demonstrators by government forces that has resulted in at least 40 deaths, the U.S. certified Honduras’ progress in human rights in order to continue funding security forces.

The juxtaposition of U.S. policy toward Nicaragua and Honduras could not be more absurd if one actually believes the guiding issue for United States policy is democratic practice.  However, U.S. administrations have proven over and over that the U.S. government cares little about the integrity of elections in Central America. The U.S. concern is simply that the “right” people win: Those who support unencumbered corporate access to resources and labor.

What to do?

Contact your Senator and tell them to oppose NICA Act. You can call your Senators using the Capital Switchboard (202) 224-3121 Or, send a letter opposing the NICA Act directly to your Senators using our friends at the Alliance for Global Justice’s online platform here.

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Adventures in the “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes”

It has been a little over a month since we got back from the “land of lakes and volcanoes,” ‘aka’ Nicaragua, a delegation of six individuals from different lives who willfully spent a week together in another country where language was a barrier for some. It was like a social justice version of MTV’s The Real-World. And, unlike the 90s tv show, it was both a positive and eye-opening experience.

Oftentimes when people from the States go to other countries in the Americas, like Nicaragua, in which not everything is manicured, they talk about a “humbling” experience. But “humbling” seems very pompous and arrogant and overall comes off as if to say, “Oh, look how the poor live. I’m glad I’m not poor.” When humbling is a description of an experience that stems from viewing poverty, it just doesn’t seem appropriate to me.

So Nicaragua, to me, wasn’t humbling; it was different yet familiar. Nicaragua, in particular, Managua, represents a simpler time when people weren’t ruled by technology or social media. Yes, there are phones, internet and all those things related to the technology age but the Nicaraguan people had limits. They enjoy each other’s presence; they converse. And so, naturally, did our delegation. Being the youngest in the group and an admitted Instagram addict, talking to strangers, using my phone to actually make phone calls instead of using it like a computer, going on long car rides to rural areas and simply enjoying the beauty of nature were all a little odd, but refreshing. Being in Nicaragua, I felt like I could breathe freely without being (or watching) a screen. It was great!

The purpose of our trip to Nicaragua was to catch up, face-to-face, with our local partners: the Institute of John XXIII (the Institute) and FEDICAMP. Although we’re in contact via email and Skype from our home office in Maryland, being able to see the work being done and directly talking (in Spanish) to the families affected by such work was fantastic.

We got to see homes being built and spoke to multiple families about the experience of having a safe place to live and raise their family. I was excited for the families  but also because I saw strong community connections developing due to the way our Homes of Hope program responds to the different needs and conditions of the communities in which it is carried out.

The journey to Esteli provided another opportunity to bond with other members of the delegation as we travelled the open road. Once in Esteli, we were able to visit a number of families impacted by FEDICAMP’s work with the community. We spoke to students, families, and women entrepreneurs who are very active in addressing sustainable agricultural needs (such as access to water) for the greater community.

The Institute and FEDICAMP, along with the communities they serve, think like a team and move like a team, because they are one. So, too, was the Quixote Center and our delegation. We looked out for each other’s well-being. Seeing that theme present throughout the trip made me really proud to be a part of the delegation, to be a staff member at the Quixote Center, and to be associated with great partners such as the Institute and FEDICAMP.

I definitely saw some beautiful lakes (not so much the volcanoes) but surrounding those natural elements were the beautiful people and their fight for social change. Nicaragua made me realize even more that I have a responsibility to take care of the planet. On top of that, I have a responsibility to work alongside different communities because, although we may look different, at the end of the day we all want a safe place to sleep, good food in our bellies, and an opportunity to have a positive impact. Overall my trip was great. I highly recommend Nicaragua as your next adventure. Come join us on the next delegation!

 

**Photo: Fertility statue common in Nicaragua.**

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Practical Applications in El Regadio

In September I led a delegation to Nicaragua. I knew from the beginning of planning that El Regadio was a ‘must visit’ for our participants. The leaders and activists of El Regadio are some of the most committed and effective in Northern Nicaragua. They are led by Don Augusto, a founding member and the current President of the Federation of Campesinos (FEDICAMP).

Our visit coincided with a day of community training, led by FEDICAMP Promoter Ecka. The morning started with a screening of a documentary on the impact of plastic. Those in attendance were intimately familiar with the problem, because there is an informal dumping place for plastic trash on the edge of town. They discussed alternatives to plastic containers and the global context of consumption, waste, and environmental degradation.

Climate Change soon became the center piece of the conversation. Subsistence farmers in Nicaragua’s northern mountains are experiencing the effects and grappling with the implications in their day to day lives. At one point, an old man in the back of the room raised his hand and addressed the crowd.

“In the United States, they don’t even believe in climate change. The politicians say it isn’t happening. How can our little country make a change when this is the state of mind in the United States?”

The response from Augusto was profound.

“Think about a child in the United States. He wakes up each morning in the air conditioning. He eats food cooked inside a kitchen with climate control. He rides to school in a car with air conditioning and learns in a classroom with air conditioning. When he goes home to his house that keeps the world outside, the temperature is controlled. His entire life is shielded from the climate. Climate Change is not real for him because he does not live it.”

Nicaragua cannot solve climate change, but FEDICAMP is working with those most vulnerable to its effects to find community-based adaptation and mitigation systems. Their efforts make vulnerable communities more resilient in the face of the coming changes.

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Banpro will Finance Social Housing

What follows is a translation of an article which appeared in the August 08, 2014 edition of El Nuevo Diario. This new partnership will allow us to amplify our efforts with the Institute Accion Social Juan XXIII to address Nicaragua’s crippling housing crisis. By Rafael Lara | National (Translated by John Mooney)

Edwin Novoa of the UCA and Julio Ramírez of Banpro. Photo: OSCAR SANCHEZ/END

The construction of at least 250 homes for poor families will result from the Alliance between Banpro, Grupo Promerica, and the John XXIII Institute for Social Action of the Universidad Centroamericana, UCA. This partnership is expected to build homes in Managua, Masaya, Carazo, and Granada. Mr. Julio Ramírez, general vice-director of Banpro Credit, said that for both institutions housing is considered a fundamental right, and one of the major requirements for the development of safe and healthy living conditions for all Nicaraguans. In this case, Banpro made funds available with which the Social Action Institute will build the houses. “The trust’s management will ensure the possible investment of five million dollars in the Department [State] of Managua, and with this structure, Banpro enhance the capacity of the project (of Instituto Juan XXIII) so that it can increase its annual production of houses from 50 to 250,” said Mr. Ramírez. He indicated that benefited families may choose homes appropriate for their needs, built with quality materials, and built within a period sixty days. Edwin Novoa Martínez, director of the Institute for Social Action, said that the hope is to provide housing solutiona by means of integrated services, with funding by the Banpro and construction by the Institute. Novoa pointed out “the innovative nature of this funding mechanism. We have jointly set up this real-estate-development trust, for which the Institute Juan XXII provides a guarantee fund , that will allow Banpro to provide the funding for the construction of housing for people with limited resources.” He said that one of the requirements for beneficiaries is having their own land. This land will then be assessed for construction feasibility and legal ownership title. Prices Prices for houses range from US$ 10,790 for the Malachite model (420 square ft.), to US$16,600 for the Ruby model (506 square ft.), to US$ 19,950 for the Jasper model (624 square ft.) They are built of reinforced masonry and include two to three bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and laundry area, electric, sanitary facilities, interior and exterior doors, windows, potable water, pantry, ceramic floor. Larger models have ceilings of aluminum and fiber-cement board. $ 100 will be the monthly average mortgage payment for the Malachite housing model.
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Gran Plenn Nursery: Project Update

Last summer we began a partnership with the Green Schools Network in northern Haiti. The organizers of the network have worked with school administrators and teachers to develop innovative ways for students to learn and practice ecological restoration throughout their education. We asked for your help and support to build a permanent nursery at the school in Gran Plenn as our first project together. As always, the Quixote Center network responded, and now I am happy to report back that the project has been completed and the new nursery is in operation!  
Grading and collecting compost and fertile soil

Grading and collecting compost and fertile soil

The nursery has an embedded irrigation system.

The nursery has an embedded irrigation system.

Construction of the canopy.

Construction of the canopy.

The nursery taking shape

The nursery taking shape

The nursery is operating!

The nursery is operational!

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Rally Report

Last Friday the Quixote Center joined several other local organizations at a rally in front of the White House. I was honored to be joined by several people from the Quixote Center network. Thank you! We chose the time and location because of a high level meeting between President Obama and the Presidents of the three Central American countries from which most of the recent wave of migrants originated: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Our message was clear: children fleeing violence in Central America deserve the rights and protections given to refugees. While we rallied, Congress worked to advance the HUMANE Act. The HUMANE Act is anything but, and would strip away the rights of migrant children to a hearing before a judge, and fast track their deportation to the homes they have fled in fear for their lives. The children shipped back to Central America face a dire situation, and one that failed policies from Washington, DC have helped to create. If you haven’t already, take a moment and sign the petition to oppose the HUMANE Act here. There are also planned vigils for the children refugees on Monday nights at the White House.
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Rally to Protect Central American Children

On Friday, July 25 at 3 p.m. there will be a rally in front of the White House. Please join us to add your voice as we call on President Obama to uphold and defend the legal rights of the migrant children, ensure that families can be reunited and protected here in the United States, and to change the policies of militarization that have helped fuel the crisis. Please let us know if you will be able to attend. On Friday afternoon, the Presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras will be meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden at the White House. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the dire situation facing refugee children who have come to the United States from Central America. Since June, the United States media has been focused on the influx of children and adult migrants from Central America. Many of the migrants, and especially the children, are fleeing the violence, fueled by the drug trade, that has swept through Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Presente.org reports, “The House and Senate are ramming through a bill, deceptively named the ‘HUMANE Act,’ that would speed up the deportations of refugee children back to Central America.” Our hope is that President Obama will reverse course and keep his pledge to protect the children by not signing the bill that would send the children home to the violence and destabilization from which they fled. Whether or not you can join us on Friday, be sure to sign the petition against the HUMANE Act and ensure that children fleeing violence in Central America do not have their legal rights taken away in an effort to expedite their deportations.  
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Delegation: September 21-28

You are invited to join the Quixote Center as we visit our partner organizations in Nicaragua. participants will see first hand our projects of human development, undertaken in partnership with the Institute of John XXIII and the Federation of Campesinos (FEDICAMP).

The price for the delegation is $950, and includes all in-country transportation, food, translation, and housing while in Nicaragua. You are responsible for your own travel to Nicaragua. Below are more details. Contact Andrew Hochhalter for more information and to get your application [andrew@quixote.org or 301-699-0042].

Community Development in Nicaragua

Institute of John XXIII Our partners at the Institute of John XXIII in Managua have been working with us for more than twenty five years. During that time we have developed a nationwide network of community pharmacies, provided material aid to victims of war and neoliberal economic policies, and worked in partnership with local governments to improve the quality of public education for the rural poor. The Institute maintains several nationwide programs of human development, and participants will learn about their history, programs, and incredible accomplishments. For the last decade the focus of our work together has been to develop a program to address Nicaragua’s debilitating housing shortage. Approximately 1 in 6 Nicaraguans is either homeless or living in unsafe housing. After ten years of development, the Institute has become the leading builder of social housing for the poor. During our trip we will learn more about the challenges of building homes for the poor, and visit building sites where the Institute is putting theory into action. Federation of Campesinos (FEDICAMP) Global climate change is altering the landscapes and lifestyles of agricultural communities in Northern Nicaragua. The intensity and pace of these effects is projected to increase in the coming years. The towns and villages of the North are also at the forefront of the country’s increasing global and trade liberalization brought about by CAFTA and increased foreign corporate investment.

Witness first hand how rural communities in Northern Nicaragua are organizing to preserve their ecological integrity, food security, and community strength in this dynamic environment. Delegates will have the opportunity to meet with Quixote Center partners at the FEDICAMP, an organization with local affiliates in eighteen rural communities across Nicaragua.

The trip will give delegates the tools they need to be reliable witnesses to the situation in Nicaragua, and to advocate in solidarity at home. We hope that knowledge from the trip will be turned into action at home, and Quixote Center staff will be available to assist delegates who wish to organize their friends, community associations, and faith institutions for social justice in Nicaragua.

Please contact Andrew Hochhalter (andrew@quixote.org or 301-699-0042) for more information and to complete the application to reserve a space.
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Homes of Hope Update

combined

A Home of Hope before and after the finishing touches

Construction is underway once again in the village of Chaguitillo! This is the second year that the Homes of Hope program has been active in this community, and the new construction will serve some of the more than fifty families currently waiting for a new home. The Institute of John XXIII reports that the first seven families have been selected and approved by the community housing association. Last week, these seven families completed all of the preliminary steps and are now ready to begin working with the Institute’s construction team on their new homes. Families that receive new homes participate in each step of the construction process, from preparing the land for the foundation to attaching the roof, and remain involved with the project during the next round of construction. Each year the Homes of Hope alumni grow thanks to the generosity of the Quest for Peace donors in the United States. Your gifts transform the lives of beneficiaries from insecure to secure by providing dignified housing and empowering communities to determine their own paths. Help us prepare for the next construction season by making a gift online today.
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Earthquake Update

Nicaragua has experienced a string of earthquakes that emanated from the fault lines directly under Managua during the last week, ranging from 5.1 to 6.7 on the Richter scale. There have also been aftershocks. The temblors have caused serious concern among seismologists and other experts, and reminded many in Nicaragua of the devastating 1972 earthquake that left 10,000 dead and over 250,000 homeless. In Nicaragua, they are preparing for the worst. The Army has been deployed to set up emergency hospital facilities to be used in the event of a catastrophic quake. The government has advised that people sleep outside in the coming nights. Some residents of Managua identified as high-risk (due to age or living in unsafe structures) have been evacuated to government facilities. From the Tico Times:

Ineter experts and the government believe that the seismic danger has not passed and that the population should not let its guard down.

“We have to remain vigilant of the signs” that the government “has given us as to not mourn (more) casualties,” said Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes to thousands of followers during a procession in Managua to start the Holy Week celebrations.

[First Lady] Murillo summed the casualties and damage as one dead, 38 injured, along with 2,354 homes partially or totally damaged, and more than 700 buildings cracked, including several hospitals, in 17 municipalities in the departments of Managua, León, Granada, Carazo, Madriz and Boaco.

The concern now is that the earthquakes may have re-activated the fault lines that meet under Lake Managua. This dangerous intersection was the source of the 1972 quake. At the Quixote Center we are thinking of our many Nicaraguan partners, and hope that there will be no need for the disaster preparation measures the country is taking.
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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)