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Latin America

OAS passes weak Nicaragua resolution, no condemnation of Ortega government

In a surprise move, the resolution was passed with U.S. support. It called on all sides to go back to the negotiating table, but human rights groups said it didn't go far enough.
5 Jun 2018 – 08:33 PM EDT
Nicaraguans protest outside the OAS headquarters in Washington, June 5, 2018 Crédito: Wilfredo Miranda Aburto/Univision

Human rights groups were shocked Tuesday when the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution on the crisis in Nicaragua that avoided blaming the government of Daniel Ortega for more than 110 deaths during six weeks of street protests.

Instead, the resolution, which diplomatic sources said was drawn up by the U.S. and Nicaraguan governments, was framed as a “declaration of support for the people of Nicaragua.”

The resolution condemned the violence in Nicaragua and called for the “immediate cessation of acts of violence, intimidation, and threats directed against the general public.” as well as appealing to all sides to “engage constructively in peaceful negotiation.”

The resolution was a diplomatic reversal from previous statements by the United States, including comments on Monday by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who the OAS General Assembly that Nicaraguan “ police and government-controlled armed groups have killed dozens, merely for peacefully protesting.”

On Tuesday morning United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, also cast blame directly on the Nicaragua government.

To add to the confusion, after the resolution was passed the U.S. ambassador to the OAS, Carlos Trujillo, said the U.S. position had no changed and that the Trump administration held the Nicaraguan government responsible for the violence.

"The Nicaraguan government ... has committed grave crimes against peaceful protestors and against property," he said in a statement, adding that any dialogue should be designed to restore democratic order and reverse Ortega's "dictatorial measures," he added.

In fact, he went further in an interview with the Nicaraguan online newspaper, Confidencial, saying the U.S. was demanding early elections in Nicaragua.

The OAS resolution did not address how negotations to end the crisis might resume. A national dialogue mediated by the Catholic Church involving the Nicaraguan government, the private sector and university students leaders, broke down last month after repeated violations by the government of an agreement to halt police repression of street protests.

"It reflects badly on the OAS. This place (Nicaragua) is erupting and a lot of people are getting killed," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington DC think tank. "It's a political crisis that needs government action."

At least 15 people were killed during a peaceful Mother's Day march on May 30, with further incidents almost daily, including several deaths reported in the city of Masaya on Monday and Granada on Tuesday.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, criticized the resolution saying Nicaragua's "courageous people ... need much more than tepid condolences and generalizations."

The Ortega’s government “has not shown the slightest inclination of ending its systematic policy of violent repression,” she added. “If the countries of the region ignore the government’s responsibility for these atrocities, they will be complicit in the continued slaughter of protesters and civilians.”

But the United States and other OAS members appeared to have other priorities during the two-day General Assembly meeting, which included a lengthy discussion Tuesday on the Malvinas Islands.

However, the resolution was not a surprise to some long-term observers of the OAS, who stressed the difficulty in reaching a consensus among all 34 member states. “It is a diplomatic least-common denominator amidst an upheaval that demands justice for over 100 deaths in six weeks,” said Jennie Lincoln, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Program at the Carter Center, who attended the meeting.

Diplomatic sources said the resolution had a hidden agenda of securing Nicaragua’s acceptance of the intervention of OAS's Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (CIDH) which conducted an observer mission to Nicaragua last month. The OAS is "hoping to follow that up with the creation of an international Group of Independent Experts to formally investigate the killings.

But many suspect Ortega is simply seeking to buy time, hoping the protests will lose steam as the victims pile up. "Handling this through the CIDH is really shirking responsibility," said Shifter, noting that the commission's visit to Nicaragua last month did nothing to stop the violence.

"Ortega let them in and then cracked down ever worse. He's mocking it," he said.