Thursday, 18 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
The Minister will be aware that on 7 November, there were elections in Nicaragua for the office of President and to the National Assembly. The official result records that Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista Front won 76% of the vote with a turnout of 65%. No independent journalistic or public policy analysis believes those results. What is the Minister's assessment of the result?
I thank the Deputy. I know he raised the issue before the elections took place and I do not think the results are surprising. Ireland and the EU stated on numerous occasions that the elections that took place in Nicaragua on 7 November were not going to be either free or fair, and that unfortunately has been the case. No credible opposition figures were allowed to run and no election monitoring was permitted. We have witnessed in recent months a severe crackdown on journalists, opposition politicians, human rights activists, civil society and business leaders in Nicaragua. This repression has deprived Nicaraguan citizens of their human, civil and political rights, and of the right to elect their own government in fair and transparent elections. Ireland and the EU have unequivocally condemned the actions of the Nicaraguan Government and repeatedly called for the immediate and unconditional release of all opposition politicians and all other political prisoners. We have called for the authorities to allow the return of international human rights bodies and NGOs to the country. We must continue to put pressure on the Nicaraguan authorities to put an end to the crackdown and to restore full respect for human rights and democracy in the country. The current situation is deplorable.
Like multiple other countries and multilateral bodies, the EU released a strong statement on 8 November condemning the elections and stating that the presidency of Daniel Ortega lacks democratic legitimacy. The Nicaraguan Government was left in no doubt that its actions are unacceptable to all EU member states, including Ireland. That statement also noted the EU will consider further restrictive measures against the regime. The next steps in EU action on Nicaragua, if the authorities do not reverse the crackdown, are being discussed among EU member states in Brussels. The EU and Ireland have been clear that any further action must not add to the hardship of the population, and the most vulnerable sectors of society must continue to be supported. My Department will continue to engage closely at EU and international level, through our embassy in Mexico, which covers relations with Nicaragua, and with partners on the ground, including NGOs and civil society organisations.
Those of us who are not in Nicaragua depend on receiving independent reports about what happened. It is important we consider those reports. The American division of Human Rights Watch reported that the election results were a sham. The Organization of American States said the elections were neither fair, free, nor transparent. Other countries around the world that respect democratic institutions have regarded the elections as being unfair and, in effect, corrupt. To appreciate this, we have to look back at what has happened in Nicaragua since 2007, when President Ortega returned to power. As we all know, he was part of a revolutionary movement in the 1970s and 1980s that had much support in this country but something strange seems to have happened to him since he got back into power in 2007 and 2008. He has effectively turned Nicaragua into a police state. Last June, five opposition leaders were imprisoned for alleged breaches of public order. In July, others went into exile because of threats. What specifically does the Minister think the EU will do? Are we looking at further sanctions, as the Americans have implemented?
The EU is considering how it should respond and how that response can be impactful on the regime without further impoverishing the people of Nicaragua. The EU is likely to come back to this. I understand Mr. Ortega's inauguration is due to be in January. I do not expect the EU will be invited to that, and if it were to be, I am not sure EU ambassadors would attend anyway. The European Commission is looking at options for member states to consider to apply appropriate pressure, recognising the extraordinary change that has taken place over recent years in Nicaragua.
It is important the EU has a strong voice in this. People who are supportive of the Ortega regime will seek to present it as if this is merely Americans and supporters of the United States who are criticising the revolutionary movement of Daniel Ortega. That can spread regionally in South America. People who have congratulated him include the President of Venezuela and people who seek to purport there is an attack on their regime from the United States of America. The voice of the European Union is very important. The United States has imposed sanctions on individuals associated with the Ortega regime. The European Union needs to do the same. We also need to provide some independent reportage from the European Union on why we say the elections were unfair. Just uttering that the elections were unfair does not convince all people. We need the evidence to show that was the case. The European Union has the resources to complete that.
The fact the election observers were not allowed to observe the elections makes that more difficult. The evidence of credible candidates being detained and not allowed to participate in the elections is strong evidence in itself. I agree with the Deputy there is a tendency to paint this as something the USA is taking a stand on and the absence of other international actors expressing concern feeds into that. The comments I have heard from Josep Borrell and other EU leaders on this issue have been strong. The EU statements both before and after the elections have been strong. The EU is well aware of the Deputy's question.