By Casa Baltimore-Limay and Friends of Latin America – Jul 8, 2021
“These people do not have access to the US Congress or media – but their lives are heavily impacted by both. That is why we are bringing their voices to you… We are asking you to do no harm.”
On June 30th two Maryland-based solidarity organizations began meeting virtually with members of the U.S. Congress to speak against adoption of the RENACER Act that would impose devastating sanctions on Nicaragua. Casa Baltimore/Limay is a sister community project that has maintained strong ties since 1985; Friends of Latin America has been working for peace and understanding between the United States and the people of Latin America since the mid-1980s. The seven activists from these organizations were accompanied by Jenny Atlee of the Friendship Office of the Americas.
Barbara Larcom on behalf of Casa Baltimore/Limay told this story: Our organization began in support of Nicaragua’s sovereignty, opposing the US funding of the Contras in the 1980s, and we still support Nicaragua’s independence from the US today. We’re here to share our observations of Nicaragua, and its relationship with the US, based on our own experiences and our many communications with friends in Nicaragua.
First, we want to thank Sen. [Chris] Van Hollen for NOT cosponsoring the RENACER Act. We ask him now to use his voice and his vote to oppose the Act. The purpose of our visit today is to tell you (and him) loudly and clearly that your constituents do not want this bill to pass as it would cause harm and suffering to the Nicaraguan people.
Now I’ll refer to the Policy Briefing we sent you. We’re concerned that the RENACER Act, if passed, has the potential to place sanctions on well over half the people in Nicaragua:
• Government officials
• National Police members
• Armed Forces members
• Supreme Electoral Council members
• FSLN party members and their families
• Anyone else deemed corrupt by the United States
Thus it would cause serious financial harm to the Nicaraguan people and their national economy. Also, we’ve already seen the results of the NICA Act. Even though “basic human needs” are supposedly exempted, because of “over-enforcement” Nicaragua received no grants or loans from international financial institutions through all of 2019 and most of 2020, and then only a small amount of emergency aid. With the increased US pressure on these institutions required by the RENACER Act, the damage would be multiplied.
I also want to quote briefly from the statements we sent you from four residents in Limay, who spoke about the effects of sanctions and their feelings about their government. (We changed their names, just to ensure their security.)
• Maria (a teacher): “The situation we’re living in doesn’t affect just one person; it affects all of Nicaragua. For us in education, for example: We depend on economic stability to pay for our expenses and our salaries. With sanctions, we’re not going to have the money for the economy to be solvent.”
• Azucena: “They [the opposition] come from the US bragging that they’ve done this and that so they will do this or that ‘for democracy.’ What democracy? What do they call democracy? Maybe there’s ‘democracy’ for the rich and a different ‘democracy’ for the poor.”
The following are additional written submissions from Limay residents:
• More from Azucena: There are so many things—the government seeks ways to help its citizens. In spite of the fact that the country is poor—made poor—we have new roads and highways. People say, “When have we ever had this?” “When have we had the opportunity to learn about vaccinating and caring for our pigs and cows?” said a very humble, simple woman. This moves one’s heart! The benefits that the population receives are too many to count. So what we’re asking of the Congresspersons is that they analyze how much harm they can do to the poor because you know we are very small on this isthmus between North and South America. They should think about how they can help and that there be no more reprisals, no more than what there have been.
• Ricardo: Yes, actually, this is a difficult situation we’re living in. Any sanctions will affect us enormously. And every time they add sanctions, it seems they want to drown us. They’re affecting not just the government, but the people—all of us. Farming is the engine to develop a country, and some people receive help from a government agency, right? And that help would be cut off, it would not arrive. We ask you to end this, because we want to advance, with our own efforts (and also with the help of Casa Baltimore/Limay) to be able to see this country progress, that has suffered a lot for some time now.
• José: The US itself seems, I don’t know, manipulative because—it’s like we were a puppet, a colony of the US. It doesn’t seem logical to me because we’re independent—small but independent. It seems they —the most powerful country in the world—want to choose who’s in control. They can’t be imposing sanctions any time they want to, any time they don’t like something. In fact there are people here who one way or another are asking for sanctions. Maybe they want it to be like it was in 1980 with an economic blockade whereby they had us by the throat….They say we live under repression, in a dictatorship where we can’t speak out, have no freedom of expression. But they can and do say anything they want. They wouldn’t be saying the things they say about Ortega if this were a dictatorship. If Somoza were here and someone published the word “dictator,” he wouldn’t publish again; he’d be dead. People say what they want, even obscenities about Daniel Ortega. Government programs to help solve the demands of many families, giving seeds to small farmers, for these people represent a problem. Giving out small business loans is a problem for them. It limits them; they call it oppression.
The RENACER Act is widely unpopular among people who are becoming aware of it. We sent you a copy of the organizational sign-on letter which went out only a few days ago. It has gotten over 40 initial signers [as of July 5th, 100 organizations had signed on], and it has now gone out for more signers. We also sent you the June 29 report from Informe Pastran on an M&R Consultants poll that shows unanimous rejection of sanctions by its sample of 1,000 Nicaraguan people.
Jill Clark-Gollub on behalf of Friends of Latin America: I’d like to talk about human rights in Nicaragua, and about sanctions.
1.- Human Rights in Nicaragua. The RENACER Act purports to punish the Nicaraguan government for not having a fair elections system, violating civil rights, and perpetrating corruption. Allow me to address each of those points.
a) The Nicaraguan Supreme Electoral Council was recently reformed in response to suggestions from the OAS and is a very diverse body.
b) On civil rights, the people who have recently been charged and arrested in Nicaragua were not arrested because they are self-proclaimed “pre-candidates” in the upcoming election. In fact, some of them are not even eligible to run for office because they have not been living in the country for the past four years, and NONE of them has a strong backing among the population—they don’t even have the support of any political party. They are accused of criminal acts that include money laundering, acting as illegal foreign agents, and advocating for the overthrow of their government—all charges that would bring harsher punishment in the U.S. Opposition parties are in fact free to participate in the elections, and 17 of them are doing so. It seems that the policy of the State Department—through its embassy in Managua—has been to try to get the opposition to unite around a single candidate (in the hope of getting up to 21% of the vote), but that has not been possible. Now they seem to be resorting to Plan B—create chaos and try to delegitimize the elections.
c) And thirdly, the accusation of corruption rings hollow, when the US’s closest allies in Latin America are Colombia and Honduras—indisputably the most corrupt narco-governments in the region. In Nicaragua, government spending for the public good is visible everywhere. Since Daniel Ortega came into office in 2007, the country’s roads went from the worst in Central America to the best; 19 hospitals have been constructed and the public health workforce has been almost doubled; according to Johns Hopkins researchers, the country has the lowest COVID-19 death toll in the hemisphere; half a million families have been given houses and land; Indigenous communities are thriving like never before on the Caribbean coast; and education through graduate school is free and accessible to all Nicaraguans. In fact, the World Bank, IMF, Inter-American Development Bank, Central American Bank for Economic Integration—have all said that this government has one of the best records in Latin America at executing projects with multilateral aid funds.
Also, we should mention that the mainstream narrative in the U.S. is that the sudden spasm of violence in Nicaragua in 2018 was government repression. The people we know in Nicaragua do not see it that way; they came to view the real perpetrators as opposition agitators using U.S. funding to violently coerce the population into changing its government.
- The Reality of sanctions in a given country:
Sanctions are war. They are just as deadly as bullets and bombs. We can look to the 39 countries the U.S. has sanctioned to see what this will bring to Nicaragua:
One study said sanctions caused 40,000 deaths in Venezuela between 2017-2018, while another said it has been 100,000 deaths. And we have all seen Cuba strangled over the past decades by economic and trade isolation from the United States—which is over-enforced; that is, all the U.S. allies are afraid—or outright intimidated—from doing business with Cuba. This has affected its development and ability to provide basic things like syringes to administer COVID vaccines (Friends of Latin America has been contributing funds for that).
Sanctions kill by destroying economies, causing hyperinflation, and unemployment so people cannot afford basic necessities. They drive capital flight from countries as corporations and banks seek to distance themselves and avoid being targeted by sanctions. As industries move elsewhere or can’t get the materials they need, jobs are lost. Basic infrastructure is harmed as funds and expertise are lost. (Sanctions Kill |)
A study found sanctions contributed to the deaths of 4,000 North Koreans in 2018, most of them children and pregnant women. In the early 1990s, U.S. sanctions against Iraq led to the deaths of as many as 880,000 children under five due to malnutrition and disease.
We do not want this for the inspiring people we met in Nicaragua who are changing their society for the better. I do not want this for my elderly mother in Nicaragua, or any of my family members.
Sanctions are illegal, immoral, and contrary to the interests of US citizens. Please, it is URGENT, tell Senator Van Hollen to STOP the RENACER Act!
Finally, we would like to offer to hold an information session in which members of Congress can hear from ordinary Nicaraguans what they think of this bill and US policy toward their country. We can provide you with representatives of a women’s group, our sister city, trade unions, peasant farmers, and Indigenous representatives—for which we could provide simultaneous interpretation over the Zoom platform.
Leslie Salgado, Chairperson and co-founder of Friends of Latin America: After the events of April 2018 in Nicaragua, some of us had questions as to what was actually happening in Nicaragua. That is one of the reasons why members of Friends of Latin America decided to organize a delegation to visit Nicaragua in January 2020. At that time, the State Department was warning US citizens not to travel to Nicaragua. I am glad that we traveled there because what we found is a country with friendly, kind, and hardworking people who welcomed us! We could go anywhere and talk to anyone without fear of being harassed or hurt. We met with several religious and community organizations not only in Managua but also in the countryside. What impressed me the most is that, in spite of what the US government has tried to do against Nicaragua for so many years, the people of Nicaragua do not hold grudges against the people in the US. Please stop applying sanctions and let the people of Nicaragua live!
Marilyn Carlisle: I would like to underline the fact that a majority of Nicaraguans are probably Sandinistas. If they all are punished by sanctions, and especially if their family members are included as RENACER is now written, we’re hurting a majority of the population directly, not simply indirectly, as we do (I believe) with Venezuela, Iran, etc.
Based on years of monthly phone, and, now Zoom, contact with our friends and board members who make the decisions and administer the funds for our Casa Baltimore Limay projects, as well as my observations during 6 or 7 visits, people have benefitted in food self-sufficiency, health, education, and so many other ways from this government that they would support neither its overthrow nor a change of government influenced (again) by the US.
Jennifer Atlee, Friendship Office of the Americas: This week marked 12 years since a US supported coup in Honduras in 2009 which has created a disaster on all levels with no end in sight. Unprecedented numbers of people are fleeing Honduras for the US. We don’t want this to happen to Nicaragua.
Rep. Jim McGovern recently made a statement about the devastating impact of US sanctions on Venezuela and acknowledged that the intent of sanctions is to do harm. We applaud that statement and urge Senator Van Hollen to consider it.
The people on this call have deep, long term relationships with people in Nicaragua. We hear from them on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. They tell us they support their government – that they live in a stable, safe, country that functions well and takes care of the poor, unlike the governments of the northern triangle which the US supports. These people do not have access to the US Congress or media – but their lives are heavily impacted by both. That is why we are bringing their voices to you and to Senator Van Hollen. We are asking you to do no harm.
Rick Kohn: The Biden Administration says it wants to address the refugee crisis from Central America by improving the conditions on the ground. Most of the immigration is coming from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. There is no net migration from Nicaragua. We need to ask why. What are they doing differently than Honduras, for example?
Since the Sandinistas came to power, poverty rates have been cut in half, there is opportunity including free education up through graduate school, public healthcare, low crime rates, and people polled say there is little corruption.
The goal of the sanctions is to overthrow the government of Nicaragua and replace it with a different one, like we did in Honduras. If successful, we will have a similar result to what we have seen in Honduras. However, it is unlikely to be successful in Nicaragua because the Sandinistas are too popular (as the media would say, entrenched), but instead the means to that goal is to create poverty and disruption, and that will cause more emigration from Nicaragua. We have a sanctions policy on Nicaragua that is in direct conflict with the Biden Administration’s goals of improving living conditions in Central America.
The US should continue to encourage trade with Nicaragua. Nicaragua has been complying with the Dominican Republic – Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) signed by a previous administration. Nicaragua has also been planting trees to capture carbon under World Bank carbon-capture programs. Some have argued that enhancing export agriculture or carbon capture can be harmful because the land may be used exclusively for export agriculture or for carbon capture, in which case it can cause domestic food shortages. In contrast, Nicaragua has increased agricultural exports and re-planted forests, but since they focused on improving agricultural and environmental efficiency, they have also attained food self-sufficiency. The US should encourage Nicaragua to continue trading agricultural commodities and carbon credits. We should study Nicaraguan policies to learn how they improved conditions for their citizens. It is in our own interest to see living conditions improve in Nicaragua and in all of Central America. Sanctions like the RENACER Act will do exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.
Scott Hagaman: Everyone has already eloquently covered what I wanted to say. In the interest of time, I’ll just say I urge Senator Van Hollen, not only NOT to support the RENACER Act, but to work actively to defeat it. Thank you.
Ellen Barfield: My husband and I lived in Nicaragua in 1996 during the Violeta Chamorro presidency. We saw the terrible social measures, maternal and infant mortality, and poverty that skyrocketed under that right-wing regime. And we had done election observing before Chamorro was elected, and were deeply ashamed to see full-page US-funded newspaper ads sternly demanding that Nicaraguans vote as the US required. They elected Chamorro out of exhaustion and despair after the Contra war years, and the lack of social programs caused great distress for the people. The Sandinistas take care of the people and the social statistics are very good now. PLEASE do not let the RENACER Act again destroy Nicaraguan society.
Featured image: Chickens of San Juan de Limay are being vaccinated for Newcastle Disease under a project supported by Casa Baltimore-Limay.