Nicaraguan Musings:  The Nica Act, the US Proposed Annual Budget For  US Funded Programs, and the Waiver.

By Pat Werner

I have little doubt that the Nica Act will pass and I  have doubt little can be done to change that outcome. If expats here, who oppose the  proposed Act, want to do something, there are few practical alternatives.  One is to do a petition,  stating opposition to the proposed  Act, and turn that petition over to the folks in the American Embassy in Managua.  I am not sure what they will then do with it.  They can send it on to Washington, or to Senator Marco Rubio or  Representative Ross-Lehtinen. A problem with this is that relatively  few Expats here will be constituents of either Rubio or Ross-Lehtinen. It might be a petition that cannot be effectively directed at any specific representative.

Another possibility is for each Expat to contact their Congressman or Senator in the state where they last voted, and where they may have some claim to being a constituent.  That is what is envisioned in the absentee ballot and voting process and representative democracy. Other than these two not very effective suggestions, there is little the Expat can do.  Some Expats may well support the objectives and methods of the Nica Act to cut off Nicaragua from access to loans from the various international financial organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and  the Interamerican Development Bank, among others, until the Ortega government changes its ways and becomes more democratic in the eyes of the United States Congress and Department of State.

The immediate passage of the proposed Nica Act would not affect Nicaragua immediately, but would block the ability of Nicaragua to obtain funding for major projects, including building new roads, infrastructure, and the like.

Of more immediate impact will be a major cutback of resources to support programs that the United States favors, and that the Nicaraguan government tolerates.  Such things as agricultural improvement programs, funneled through such organizations  as IICA,  Catholic Relief Services, and Technoserve,  over the years have poured millions of dollars into programs to improve  Nicaraguan agricultura and production has taken off.  Funides was a creation of USAID and it has become a voice in the development of the Nicaraguan economy.  Even it opposes the proposed Nica Act.  American funds have worked hard at re-establishing a working Embassy  language institute, where language and American culture are taught on a large scale;  USAID funds provided the expertise to completely revamp the criminal code of procedure, and make the  penal judicial system into one accusatorial rather than inquisatorial, and where now there are open oral trials,  that begin with something very similar to the Miranda Warnings.  And some human rights organizations, that champion United States issues and values, who in the past advocated equality, equal rights, and human rights of certain groups, may not have funds to continue to operate.

And the matter of the so called waiver, needs to be addressed. Back in the halcyon days of the 1990s and early 2000s, Nicaragua received a lot of U.S. foreign aid each year, sometimes in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  One of the complications of the end of the Contra War and  the election of Violeta Chamorro in 1990 was that many thousands of Nicaraguans came back to the patria.  Many of them had obtained American citizenship, and many of them had their real estate confiscated  by the Sandinistas throughout the 1980s.  When they got back to Nicaragua they began immediately clammoring for the return of their properties. They also began exercising the rights of dual citizens, voting in elections in both countries, all with the tacit approval of the American Embassy and Department of State.

Their pressure point was existing US legislation that allowed American Foreign Aid to be cut off from countries that had confiscated the property of American citizens.   A complicating problem was that  the persons clammoring for their property had left Nicaragua during the war as Nicaraguan citizens going into exile.  They came back as American citizens and dual citizens, maybe numbering over 100,000 persons, a group that  Toño Lacayo lovingly called Gringos caitudos, a very accurate but slightly derrogatory remark, meaning peasants who had walked to the United States in their sandals (caites), not shoes, got newly minted as American citizens, and came back to reclaim their property.  To help out the newly elected civilian governments, the United States government would annually grant a waiver, and bypass the law, and continue to send  lots of money  per year  in foreign aid.  The administrations of Violeta Chamorro, Arnold Alemán, and Enrique Bolaños tried to comply. When Daniel Ortega came to power in 2006, he appointed a very able lawyer, Hernan Estrada as Attorney General, who continued to return lands or return compensation for the confiscated lands and keep the American Embassy happy. Every year around July 1 when the waiver became due, it became a sort of sporting event, and  bets were made, on whether a new waiver would issue to allow U.S. foreign aid to continue to flow to Nicaragua.  The waiver was annually granted and aid continued to flow and the myraid programs of the United States in Nicaragua continued.

The proposed annual Budget of  the Trump administration, proposes   US$600,000 for Nicaragua for this coming year,   and changes all that.  Whether for better or worse, this level of foreign aid will mean the end to virtually all  American foreign aid programs in Nicaragua, a few of whom are noted above, and the Nicaraguan government will have little incentive to continue paying for confiscated lands in order  to get non existent Foreign Aid. Whether it will end American collaboration with the Nicaraguan government in intercepting narcotics heading to the U.S. I do not know. Though not generally known, per dollar spent Nicaragua has been perhaps the most efficient country in Central America in intercepting narcotics shipments.  But the dope does flow.  A DEA agent here told me that 40% of the cocaine that gets to the United States passes within 50 miles of Corn Island.  And there are shipments on the Pacific coast also.  Due to the nasty National Police leadership, we do not have here impuestos de guerra, extorted by mafia in the countries north, no Maras, no Mara kidnappings, nor Maras taking over houses and neighborhoods.  If you want  see how it is to live with these things, go live in San Pedro Sula.

I doubt that the present government will be overly upset when funding for some of the programs noted above runs out, and things will continue much as usual.

What the response of the Nicaraguan government will be to the enactment of the Nica Act will be I do not know. I doubt few tears will be shed about not continuing to pay for confiscated lands of Nicaraguans who after the fact became Gringo caitudos.  And fewer tears will be shed with the disappearance of organizations who regularly criticize the central government.  The United States will cease to have any influence on internal political affairs in Nicaragua.

As for expats, what is to be done? You can write your Congressman, or send a petition to the American Embassy stating opposition to the Nica Act, or, in the alternative, Trump supports need to send a petition stating their support of the Nica Act and so inform their Congressman.  Several Nicaraguan opposition politicians  have publicly stated their support for the proposed Nica Act, and expats can state their support also. Neither activity packs much punch, but at least it is something.

The only other thing I can think of has to do with residence. A recent statement by the American Embassy in estimated that 90 percent of the American living in Mexico are living there illegally, sort of Gringo illegals.  There is another name for them. Here in Nicaragua I dunno. I suspect that there are lots of illegals here also, and  maybe the authorities may get tired of Gringos continual flaunting of the law and wheedling and deedling to pretend they are only tourists.  Maybe getting legal may be a good thing to do.