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Chairman Menendez Statement for the Senate Record on Worsening Political Crisis in Nicaragua

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, submitted the following statement for the Senate Record raising grave concerns regarding the accelerating political crisis in Nicaragua. The statement condemns the Ortega regime’s anti-democratic efforts, including the continued arrests of political opposition members, in advance of upcoming illegitimate elections in November. It also details new expectations and requirements for the United States government’s efforts to support democracy in Nicaragua following last week’s Senate passage of Chairman Menendez’s Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform (RENACER) Act.

“M/ Speaker, I rise today to discuss the accelerating political crisis in Nicaragua and the Ortega regime’s anti-democratic efforts to hold illegitimate elections in November.

On November 7, Daniel Ortega will attempt to deny the Nicaraguan people their most basic right: the right to choose their country’s leaders in free and fair elections. This grave restriction on basic democratic freedoms confirms that the Ortega regime is consolidating the Western Hemisphere’s third dictatorship. In the lead up to these elections and in response to unrestrained assaults against democracy, the United States Senate unanimously passed my legislation entitled the ‘Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform (RENACER) Act.’ This bipartisan legislation, taken together with the Biden administration’s additional imposition of visa restrictions against individuals affiliated with the regime, demonstrates the United States is firmly committed to the restoration of democracy to Nicaragua.

The legislation is also consistent with our commitments to promote and defend democracy in the Americas. As the 20th anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter approaches next month we must recognize that a growing trend of deeply flawed and fraudulent electoral processes jeopardizes regional consensus in support of free, fair, and transparent elections across the Americas. Whether in Nicaragua in 2016, Honduras in 2017, Bolivia in 2019, Guyana in 2020, or Venezuela in 2017, 2018 and 2020, democratic elections are under attack by autocrats and populists alike. Regretfully, the Ortega regime is taking steps to continue this trend.

Today, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo hold more than 140 political prisoners, including eight opposition candidates for president and vice president. These individuals represent a broad political spectrum, and include Arturo Cruz, Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Medardo Mairena, and Miguel Mora. Three more contenders, Berenice Quezada, Cristiana Chamorro, and Noel Vidaurre, are under house arrest.

On July 27, the regime incarcerated the country’s 76-year-old former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, under bogus charges of treason and without regard for his health or wellbeing. The regime is holding Sacasa, and many others, at El Chipote detention center: a facility infamous for acts of torture and ill-treatment, according to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The regime continues to deny prisoners due process, access to family contact, and legal counsel. Essentially, many of them have been disappeared.

And, on Friday, Ortega cancelled the registration of the last remaining opposition political party that was positioned to participate in the November elections—Ciudadanos por la Libertad (Citizens for Freedom). The regime went as far as to strip the head of that party of her Nicaraguan citizenship. These are not actions that would be tolerated in any democratic system in the world; these are the actions of a tin-pot dictator.

The events since June are the culmination of the Ortega regime’s years-long process to dismantle democracy in Nicaragua. When Nicaraguans took to the streets to protest their living conditions in 2018, the regime responded with a brutal campaign of violence. Over 330 protesters were killed. Today, the number of Nicaraguans fleeing the country is on the rise, increasing the complexity and reach of the challenge.

The Ortega-Murillo regime’s authoritarian power grab poses a direct challenge to U.S. national security and regional stability. I am proud to have authored the RENACER Act and to lead the bipartisan, bicameral effort to send a clear message to Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo: reverse course now and the international community stands ready to support the restoration of democracy, or continue down the current path and face consequences.

The RENACER Act requires the United States, working with our partners in the European Union, Canada, and Latin America and the Caribbean, to align our diplomatic efforts and sanctions tools to push for one goal—democratic elections. The bill requires increased intelligence reporting on the regime’s corruption and its malign partnership with Russia. This legislation will provide for better documentation of human rights violations and guarantee that the regime and its enablers are held accountable.

The law further calls for the President to review Nicaragua’s participation in the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The United States would never sign a free trade agreement with Belarus given the authoritarian conditions that exist in the country. And the United States should not turn a blind eye if one of our free trade partners becomes the Belarus of Central America.

In closing, let there be no doubts—the United States will continue to support defenders of democracy in Nicaragua, condemn violence and intimidation, and hold accountable the Ortega regime and those who support it. If Daniel Ortega assumes a fourth consecutive term via sham elections, he will rule without a shred of legitimacy.

I urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass the RENACER Act so that we can speak with a single voice and make it clear that Daniel Ortega’s paranoia of losing at the ballot box is no excuse for his systematic dismantling of Nicaragua’s democratic system.”