In a meeting with the then-House GOP majority’s leadership, I again heard two key rationales for supporting the pact. One, CAFTA would be a “win” for the U.S. economy, because it would break down the other nations’ protectionist trade barriers; thus, our economy would gain more than our prospective trade partners. The other rationale was to show the American government’s support for the democratically elected leaders in those nations. I expressed my disagreement and remained opposed to the legislation.
This earned me, along with a handful of other members opposing CAFTA, a summons to the White House to meet with President George W. Bush and his team. When the same rationales for supporting CAFTA were posited, I reiterated my opposition on the grounds it would harm sugar beet growers. But, given the history of many in that room, I emphasized my opposition on national security grounds. The logic was inescapable: if, indeed, CAFTA would be a win for the overall American economy by removing the other nations’ protectionist trade policies, the other nations’ citizens will feel cheated, especially the beneficiaries of the repealed protectionist trade policies; and the ensuing political unrest, which would brand those nations’ friendly administrations as U.S. lackeys, would constitute an existential threat to the continuation of democracy building in the region. Specifically, I noted that CAFTA would return Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas to power in Nicaragua. My concerns were dismissed. Ultimately, CAFTA passed.
Today, after being swept out of office in national elections in 1990, when Violeta Barrios de Chamorro won the presidency and the opposition won the National Assembly, Daniel Ortega is again the president of Nicaragua. Rosario Murillo, his wife, is vice president of Nicaragua. Their Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) party – i.e., the Sandinistas – are back in despotic control of the country. Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa is on trial for the “crime” of supporting democracy and opposing the government aligned paramilitary’s murders. And, once more, Nicaraguans are being oppressed and killed by the hard-left Sandinista regime.
Of course, not all of this can be singularly blamed upon CAFTA. But it did serve as one more weighty economic straw upon the already straining camel’s back that was Nicaraguan democracy. By 2018, public opposition to pension legislation triggered the exponential increase in the latest round of Sandinista tyranny, which included killings by the police and pro-government paramilitary groups, arbitrary detentions, attacks on journalists and members of the Catholic Church. According to the BTI, a collaboration of analysts from universities and think tanks to assess “the transformation processes towards democracy and inclusive market economy worldwide”:
“Heavily armed pro-government groups remain at large, accompanied by police forces, committing joint attacks against the civilian population,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
“The message sent by the highest-ranking Nicaraguan authorities is that they are willing to do anything to silence the voices of those who demonstrate against this violent repression. This situation is extremely serious and deserves strong condemnation from the international community.”
“The direct attack on figures who publicly denounce the attacks of agents of the government of President Ortega is without a doubt a form of retaliation and an attempt to silence those dissident voices,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
“The serious human rights violations committed or permitted by the authorities are turning the country into a pressure cooker about to explode. Nicaragua’s tragic history must not be repeated.”
In the first half of 2022, the Nicaraguan government has continued its pattern of harassment against the Catholic Church. Catholic clergy have come under direct persecution… USCIRF recommended that the State Department maintain Nicaragua on its Special Watch List in the designations expected later this year.
In addition to the sanctions focused on human rights and democracy, the Biden administration should also consider imposing targeted sanctions on Nicaraguan government agencies and officials responsible for violence and other punitive actions against houses of worship, religious leaders, and organizations, especially if more priests are detained on specious charges.
The United States, together with our allies and partners, believes that a return to democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Nicaragua is essential. We will use diplomatic and economic tools available to promote accountability for the Ortega-Murillo regime, reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners, and urge the restoration of civic space for the people of Nicaragua.
Evidently, the Ortega regime had no immediate plans for an American vacation. In January 2023, the regime announced it is further persecuting Bishop Alvarez by putting him on trial. Per the Catholic News Agency:
The judicial authority reviewed the precautionary measures ordered in the preliminary hearing, maintaining house arrest, likewise, admitted the exchange of evidentiary information and referred the case to trial,” the bulletin stated.
There is no word yet on whether the Ortega regime will try to conjure up from the lower depths of Hell the ghost of Andrey Vyshinsky to serve as Bishop Alvarez’s prosecutor. Likely, the dictatorship won’t feel the need, based upon the judicial persecution of Father Oscar Benavidez Dávila, who was condemned by a Sandinista kangaroo court to eight years in prison for the same bogus charges of “conspiracy to undermine national security and sovereignty” and “spreading fake news.”
“Democratic capitalism had triumphed!” For CAFTA and other trade agreements, policymakers’ did not ask the question “what could go wrong?” They asked, “how soon until everything goes right?” Nevertheless, there is a kernel of wisdom in the “end of history” ideology: policymakers’ hubris, cupidity, and historical ignorance may not bring about the end of history; but it can bring about the death of a democracy.