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Luis Guillermo Solís: “Nicaragua should have been expelled from SICA”

Former Costa Rican president questions support for Ortega's candidate, because “the regime is not democratic”

Eight former Costa Rican presidents -Oscar Arias, Abel Pacheco, Rafael Calderón, José María Figueres, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, Laura Chinchilla, Luis Guillermo Solís, and Carlos Alvarado- sent an open letter to President Rodrigo Chaves, advocating that Costa Rica should not support the candidacy of Werner Vargas, proposed by Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship to occupy the general secretariat of the Central American Integration System (SICA). 

The former presidents consider that “it would be incongruent with the values defended and promoted by Costa Rica -promotion of peace, human rights and democracy- to endorse the election of a candidate proposed by the despotic and oppressive regime that governs Nicaragua, to occupy the main position of the Central American integration system”.

Former President Luis Guillermo Solís, historian and political scientist, director of the Center for Latin American Studies of the Florida International University (FIU), considers that “with this appointment, the door would be opened for Nicaragua to settle in a system from which it should have been expelled a long time ago because it is a regime that is not democratic”.

In an interview with Esta Semana and CONFIDENCIAL, Solís expressed his expectation that the presidents of Costa Rica, Panama, and the Dominican Republic, who form the “Alliance for Development in Democracy”, “value the importance of not giving Daniel Ortega’s regime political oxygen”, because of the damage it means for Central America.

The Foreign Minister of Costa Rica announced on Thursday that he joined the region’s consensus to support the nomination of Werner Vargas, the candidate of Daniel Ortega’s regime for Secretary-General of SICA. What implications would this eventual election have?

I think that there are more implications symbolically than in practice because SICA is very much in decline and is an institution that for several years has had very little impact on Central American life and, therefore, the Secretary-General, even if he is not Daniel Ortega’s candidate, will have a minimal margin for action. But, on the symbolic side, it is terrible, because it means almost normalizing the presence of Nicaragua in SICA, which is inadmissible being an atrocious dictatorship, so from the political point of view and from the regional perspective, I think it is highly convenient that it does not happen.

Several of the countries that make up SICA, among them Costa Rica, Panama, Dominican Republic, and El Salvador, have also signed OAS declarations in which they do not recognize the legitimacy of the November 7 elections in Nicaragua. Would this eventual election have any meaning in relation to how they position themselves in relation to the Nicaraguan regime?

Certainly, it would be very inconsistent for countries that have maintained the line of opposition to the dictatorship with a firm hand and with much temperance, to reverse that position by means of an election in a regional body. It seems to me that it would be absurd and that they do so, moreover, without any political frame of reference that at least adorns that decision with respect, for example, to the condition of the political prisoners in Nicaragua.

So, yes, I believe that the announcement in itself is complex and if it were to materialize I think it would be very bad for the image of Central America. Who is going to want to come and give us resources for a regional system that includes such a dictatorship and also for the countries that have participated in the election itself?

Ironically, in this last decade, the Ortega regime has become a refuge for ex-officials from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, accused of corruption, to whom it has granted citizenship in an express manner, and now some of these governments that accuse the Ortega government of promoting impunity, would be granting it legitimacy with this election.

Yes, everything is becoming very confusing and, what is worse, it looks very bad. That is to say, in a world where we are seeing an authoritarian onslaught in which Central America, which was a region where a peace plan had been established, and which was working well with disparate democracies, each one with its own convictions, was evolving, Nicaragua included, with problems as in each one of our countries, of governance, of transparency in the public function, is joining this discussion. 

There are few democracies left willing to give the fight and I believe that we have to give the fight, and the fight for democracy has to be given by all democracies embracing each other. 

There are three countries in the region, Costa Rica, together with Panama, and the Dominican Republic, that even promoted an alliance to promote development with democracy, while there are other governments that have another type of tendency. It seems that all of them are agreeing to grant that normalization to the Ortega regime through SICA. Is there a vacuum of democratic leadership in the governments of the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Panama?

Indeed, there is. Those three governments have a lot of strength because they are the three countries with the highest relative development in the area.  I think there is still room for the presidents of these three countries to value, to appreciate, the importance of not giving Daniel Ortega’s regime political oxygen by appointing his representative as Secretary-General of SICA. I still hope that a broad perspective of what this means for Central America, the damage that can be done, will prevail, especially because international cooperation, from the United States and Europe, which are the main sources of cooperation for Central America, are also very critical of the Ortega regime and I believe that this group of countries, this so-called “Southern Triangle”, which is not really a triangle nor is it from the south, could contribute much more than what they are doing today.

This discussion would also seem to have resonance in the way regional and multilateral organizations are positioning themselves. For example, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration has been a fundamental pillar of the financing of the Ortega regime, but now the World Bank is also granting the government a loan of 116 million dollars, destined to the attention of the covid 19 pandemic, despite the fact that Nicaragua has not met the minimum requirements of transparency in terms of information on contagion, testing, mortality, vaccination and other aspects of covid 19.

That’s right. Sometimes I do not understand why it is so difficult for us democracies to be forceful in relation to the minimum conditions that must be provided to governments for them to be part of the international community in conditions of, shall we say, acceptability. 

As a historian, I am disturbed to see how these regimes are able to resist and consolidate little by little thanks to the support of international financial multilateral organizations, even regional ones.  The CABEI is the clearest case, which in addition to giving Nicaragua resources for public security issues, which we know ended with terrible repression, has given Nicaragua the possibility of using this as a bargaining chip for negotiations with other countries, which has led to situations like the ones we have today. 

The argument is always that we have to normalize, we cannot always remain isolated in this way, and that we have to be pragmatic, but the burden of proof is always placed on democracy and not on the dictatorship, which would be the right thing to do.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff

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