Jul 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Latino lawmakers draw attention to Nicaragua, Colombia

Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica demonstrate in San Jose to commemorate the third anniversary of the beginning of the protests against the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica protest against the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Photo: Ezequiel Becerra/AFP via Getty Images

Unrest in Nicaragua and Colombia is generating concern from Latino members of Congress who worry about violent crackdowns to curb continuing protests.

Why it matters: After 20 years of focus on the Middle East, Latino lawmakers are reaching across the aisle and helping shift some of the nation's foreign policy spotlight to Latin America, which continues to battle COVID-19 and pockets of political turmoil.

Driving the news: At least 24 people have been killed in Colombia since protests began in April against a tax reform proposal that has since been withdrawn. Demonstrators also want a universal basic income and an end to police violence, among other demands.

  • U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in May called for investigations into the deaths of anti-government protesters in Cali, Colombia, following violent clashes between protesters and the military.
  • A helicopter carrying Colombian President Ivan Duque last week was struck by multiple bullets during a flight over the Catatumbo region. No one was hurt.
A demonstrator protesting against the government of Colombian President Ivan Duque throws a piece of brick at riot police during clashes in Suba neighbourhood, Bogota.
A demonstrator protesting Colombian President Ivan Duque throws a brick at riot police in Bogota. Photo: Raul Arboleda/AFP via Getty Images

In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega’s government has detained about 20 opposition figures, including five presidential candidates, as part of a wider crackdown on his critics ahead of the November presidential elections.

  • Last week, several of the most influential critics of Ortega, including journalists, opposition leaders and activists, fled the country, the Washington Post reported.

What they're saying: “The Ortega regime is carrying out a widespread crackdown aimed at demolishing hopes for free and fair elections in November and consolidating a third dictatorship in the Americas,” Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote in a recent letter asking U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to put diplomatic pressure on Ortega.

  • “This authoritarian power grab poses direct challenges to U.S. national security, regional stability, and raises deep concern among Nicaraguan-Americans in the United States,” Rubio and Menendez wrote.
  • "We must show Ortega's regime that they cannot continue repressing the Nicaraguan people while reaping the economic benefits of free trade with the United States," U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) said while introducing a bill to review Nicaragua's free trade status.
  • Rubio and Menendez also are sponsoring a companion bill to review Nicaragua's free trade status and impose sanctions for corruption.

U.S. Reps. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) also are pressuring the Biden administration to monitor the political violence in Colombia.

  • “We are deeply disturbed by reports of dozens of disappearances during the crackdown on protestors in Colombia. We call on President Duque and the Colombian government to thoroughly investigate each case to locate those who are missing and reunite them with their families," they said last week in a statement.

The bottom line: Elected Latino officials want to make sure the U.S. is engaged in Latin America as China makes overtures in the region and continues to invest in projects.

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