Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ortega looking to secure first round victory

A June poll in Nicaragua indicates that Daniel Ortega will win a first round victory in November's scheduled presidential elections. Fifty-seven per cent of those polled claimed that they would vote for Ortega of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. Fabio Gadea of the UNE alliance finished in distant second with 14% while Arnoldo Aleman of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party finished a distant third with 6% (Inside Costa Rica). Not much of a surprise here. Ortega’s definitely not perfect and his run at re-election doesn’t appear to be legal, but there’s no denying his support within the country.

Meanwhile, according to El Nuevo Diario in Nicaragua, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee indefinitely postponed its vote on Jonathan Farrar's nomination to be the next U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua. Farrar's nomination is being held up because Republican committee members (Sen Marco Rubio) believe that he did not do enough to support pro-democracy groups in Cuba when he was chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. They worry that his appointment is not what the US needs in Nicaragua.
In Nicaragua, a determined and autocratic President Daniel Ortega is corrupting and weakening Nicaraguan institutions to extend his grip on power. He has manipulated elections, corrupted and manipulated the courts, and threatened opposition members with mob violence.
Mr. Farrar’s nomination is problematic because of its broader applications to every embassy and diplomatic mission we have around the world. It goes to heart of the question: What is the proper role of the United States around the world when it comes to advocating for freedom? In countries where people live in the oppressive darkness or feel increasingly powerless in the face of authoritarianism, is the United States going to be a shining light that people can turn to for support? Are we going to be a voice for the powerless?
I believe that whether it’s people in Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, Syria, or anywhere else around the world, the United States must be a voice that will speak clearly and unmistakably for freedom. Our diplomatic corps — from the ambassadors all the way down to the Foreign Service officers on their first assignments — should be doing everything they possibly can to vehemently support democratic movements around the world. We certainly shouldn’t be shunning them, diminishing them, or undermining them in any way.
I am deeply troubled by the message the president is sending not only to Nicaragua and Cuba but the entire Western Hemisphere through this nomination. I am concerned about what it says to the rest of the world. At this time, we need a forceful and unequivocal voice for democratic values and the rule of law in Nicaragua. Mr. Farrar is not the right choice for this post and he should not be approved by the committee.
I don’t know that much about Farrar’s term in Cuba. However, (whether it was his choice, that of the Secretary of State, or the President) he withdrew support from people and programs that were not working in Cuba. The pro-democracy groups that the US was working with were not well-known inside Cuba and didn’t seem to have much of a future. And the ticker just seemed to antagonize the Cuban government both Cuba and the US look bad.
In sum, while in Havana, Mr. Farrar adopted a “give no offense” approach to U.S. policy in Cuba, unilaterally dismantling or weakening U.S. pro-democracy initiatives in order to placate the Castro regime. More importantly, the measures taken under his direction failed to produce any demonstrable improvement in the Castro regime’s human rights record or its willingness to engage the Cuban people in a path towards meaningful political openness.
If Farrar’s changes in dealing with the Cuban government did not succeed, that shouldn’t be held against him. The same could be said for just about every section chief and US administration since the start of the Cuban Revolution.

Rubio's audience is obviously Floridians and other US citizens. However, I wonder whether he really understands how detrimental US ambivalence towards the coup in Honduras and support for the de facto government have been to US pro-democracy efforts in the region. It's not enough to speak out in defense of democracy in Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, and Syria. You need to do it even when the anti-democratic actions are carried out by US-friendly governments.


  1. I completely agree, and would add that Ortega WAS democratically elected. I do not dispute in the least that he is tightening his institutional grip and has corrupted the courts and the democratic process. Then again, the U.S. has been guilty of much the same thing in Nicaragua. Also, the more the U.S. wags its finger at Ortega, the more he will capitalize on it. And refusing to confirm an ambassador because he might have a more nuanced understanding of the political situation is certainly not the way to tell the Nicaraguan people that we care about their freedom (not that I think we really do, all that much).

  2. Ortega was democratically elected, yes. I still would like to see the electoral threshold back up at 50% + 1 rather than the nearly automatic plurality requirement that it is today. The concern was more fraud in municipal elections last time from what I remember rather than Ortega stealing the election.

    Had Farrar been pursuing policies that went against the administration's preferred policies and failed, fine. Don't appoint him. However, if he was just taking a more nuanced approach to democracy promotion in Cuba because that is what he was told to do by the Sec of State, then I don't see that as a reason to punish him. On the other hand, Congress has every right to uphold an Obama ambassador nomination. It's one of the very few ways that they can influence executive branch policies towards Nicaragua.