On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., one of the leading Republicans on Capitol Hill on foreign policy, scored a win as the House once again passed her “Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act” (NICA) without opposition.
The bill, which Ros-Lehtinen and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, D-NJ, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, brought out cut off “loans at international financial institutions for the government of Nicaragua, other than to address basic human needs or promote democracy, unless the government of Nicaragua is taking effective steps to hold free, fair, and transparent elections, and for other purpose.”
Ros-Lehtinen and Sires teamed up last year to draft similar legislation. While their proposal passed the House in September, it withered in the Senate. Back in April, Ros-Lehtinen and Sires reintroduced the bill.
On Tuesday, Ros-Lehtinen took to the House floor to make the case for her proposal.
“Our bill is aimed at leveraging America’s influence and conditioning our vote at any of the international financial institutions for Nicaragua until the leadership in that country takes significant steps to restore democratic order,” she said. “And what are some of those conditions: promote democracy, as well as an independent judicial system and electoral council; strengthen the rule of law; combat corruption, including investigating and prosecuting government officials that are credibly alleged to be corrupt; and protection of the right of political opposition parties, journalists, trade unionists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists to operate without interference. These conditions are similar to what this Congress has already passed for the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
“This bill is intended to help the people of Nicaragua,” she added. “This bill has safeguards in place to ensure that humanitarian assistance continues to be provided to address basic human needs. Some of those basic needs, such as free and fair elections, are not being met today due to the failed leadership in Nicaragua. Reports have surfaced that the Nicaraguan electoral council is giving away identity cards so that minors can be allowed to vote; Nicaraguans who are not on the electoral rolls will be allowed to vote. So what does that mean? It means there will be no way to determine if the individual voted more than once, and that is exactly how the status quo wants it so that it can manipulate the results of the elections. We are also seeing civil society leaders publicly expressing their concern regarding the deteriorating human rights situation in the country and, as a result of speaking out against the government, have been targeted for persecution. Indigenous communities have also expressed their concern regarding land grabs by the government; and violence is breaking out as the Nicaraguan military is being dispatched to squash the peaceful protests by these communities.”
Ros-Lehtinen took aim at the Ortega regime and insisted his government continues to pose security threats to the U.S.
“The Russians have set up operations in Managua that poses a threat to U.S. national security interests,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Nicaragua continues to offer its unconditional support to Nicolas Maduro and his dictatorial regime in Venezuela. And according to Congressional testimony, Venezuela’s PDVSA is also using its subsidiary in Nicaragua, ALBANISA, to launder money Mr. Speaker, if Venezuela’s Maduro is using Nicaragua in order to evade U.S. sanctions, we need to take a closer look at these ties, and hold people accountable. And that is what this bill does Mr. Speaker – it holds the Nicaraguan government accountable just like we have done with other countries in Central America, so that it can truly help the people.”
Much of the Florida delegation lined up behind the proposal with Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Carlos Curbelo, Ron DeSantis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Francis Rooney, Tom Rooney, Ted Yoho and Democrats U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson co-sponsoring the proposal.
Nicaragua is an increasing concern on Capitol Hill as that Latin American nation continues to build ties with Russia and Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, has refused international monitoring of the election.
The Nicaraguan regime fired back after the bill was passed. "We consider this bill a violation of Nicaragua's sovereignty, and a denial of all political, social, cultural and economic processes in our homeland," Rosario Murillo, the vice president and first lady of Nicaragua, told Al Dia.
The bill now heads to the Senate where U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is the sponsor while U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is a co-sponsor.
Last month, Cruz and Ros-Lehtinen weighed in on the Organization of American States (OAS) planning to hold an observation of upcoming elections in Nicaragua. Cruz and Ros-Lehtinen paired up to release a joint statement about their concerns about the election. They specifically called out Wilfredo Penco, an official from Uruguay, who was an observer for OAS in last year’s elections in Nicaragua.
“We are extremely concerned with the recent announcement by the Organization of American States to send an accompanying observation mission to Nicaragua just weeks before the scheduled municipal elections in November,” Cruz and Ros-Lehtinen said. “The lack of transparency in the observation’s process and mission, the selection of Wilfredo Penco – a well-known rubber stamp for Daniel Ortega’s electoral manipulation – and the widespread, systemic corruption within the Nicaraguan Supreme Electoral Council, all point to a predetermined and favorable outcome for the Ortega regime.
“The OAS is meant to support democracy and the rule of law in the Americas, not enable despots like Ortega to dismantle a nation’s democratic institutions,” they added. “Yet by sending down this flawed observer mission rather than take any real and meaningful action, the OAS is legitimizing this corrupt and illegitimate process.
“As the authors of the NICA Act in Congress, we are committed to passing legislation in order to help support the people of Nicaragua in their pursuit of a democratically elected government that respects the rule of law, protects their human rights, ends corruption, and upholds the democratic principles enshrined in their constitution and in the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter,” they said in conclusion.
Now the chairwoman of the House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, Ros-Lehtinen used to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee before being termed out. She currently sits on the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.
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