Latin America

Nicaragua accuses U.S. of financing international coup as OAS considers punishment

Nicaraguan citizens protest against the Daniel Ortega government on Sept. 26 in Managua.
Nicaraguan citizens protest against the Daniel Ortega government on Sept. 26 in Managua. AP.

The Nicaraguan foreign minister accused the United States on Friday of financing an attempted coup against the Ortega government as the United States, Latin American allies and Canada took the “first step” to possibly suspend the Central American nation from the America’s hemispheric body.

Foreign Minister Denis Ronaldo Moncada Colindres of the Republic of Nicaragua blasted Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro for acting as a “foreign agent” of the United States after Almagro called for a meeting of member countries to discuss suspending or sanctioning Nicaragua.

“This is the practical course of the Monroe Doctrine, which is used by the U.S. government with respect to those countries who do not submit to the Washington consensus,” Moncada said. “It has been applied on Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Syria and other African countries.”

Several member nations spoke in support of a resolution to consider the crisis in Nicaragua and whether Nicaragua violated Article 20 of the OAS’s Democratic Charter that all members signed to defend the principles of democracy.

The 34 member nations did not hold a vote Friday, but they decided to have the ambassadors in the OAS Permanent Council review the situation in Nicaragua and consider various diplomatic initiatives.

More than 300 people have been killed since the Ortega government responded to student demonstrations over cuts to pension benefits with military forces and police who fired tear gas and rubber bullets to dissolve demonstrations.

Last year, Ortega announced he would expel a United Nations human rights team after the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report blaming his government for the violent repression of opposition protests. Ortega accused the U.N. team of fueling the violence.

U.S. Ambassador to the OAS Carlos Trujillo said the meeting was just a “first step” in what he expected to be a series of gatherings before a vote is taken.

“There is a lot of support in the room,” Trujillo told reporters after the meeting. “There is no one defending Nicaragua, except Venezuela.”

Trujillo told McClatchy he did not know if supporters had the 24 votes needed to punish Nicaragua, but he made clear it’s time for the body to take strong action against the government of Daniel Ortega.

“They need to return democracy,” Trujillo said. “And until they return to democracy, it’s difficult for them to continue to participate in the Permanent Council.”

The Trump administration has been slapping sanctions and increasing economic and political pressure in Nicaragua as Ortega has increased its authoritarian power. They include stiff sanctions against the President Daniel Ortega’s wife, who exercises much of the day-to-day power in Nicaragua and his top security aide.

McClatchy reported this week that the Trump administration was also reviewing whether Nicaragua could be removed from its free trade agreement with Central American countries.

In July, the OAS condemned human rights abuses committed by Nicaraguan police and criticized the harassment of the Roman Catholic bishops who were acting as go-betweens with the government and the opposition.

“To date there has not been an investigation of the hundreds of murders that have been done at the hands of police and law enforcement,” Paulo Abrão, director of the human rights commission of the OAS, told the ambassadors. “It’s a violation of truth and justice.”

Moncada accused human rights groups of peddling in “fake news” and slammed OAS leaders and fellow ambassadors for convening the meeting at all, which he called illegal and a violation of the tenants of hemispheric body.

The OAS under Almagro, he said, should be defending each other’s sovereignty instead of allowing the United States to hijack the organization for its interests. He pointed to similar pressure the United States has placed on other Latin American governments, including Venezuela and Cuba.

“Human rights organizations are taking it on themselves to distort the reality and turn it on its heads facts to claim human rights actions by using fake news,” Moncada said. “This is a strategy that is used in soft coups that you’ve seen in other region’s of the world.”

Franco Ordoñez is a White House correspondent for the McClatchy Washington Bureau with a focus on immigration and foreign affairs. He previously covered Latin American affairs for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. He moved to Washington in 2011 after six years at the Charlotte Observer covering immigration and working on investigative projects for The Charlotte Observer.