michael shiftersenior member and former president of the Inter-American Dialogue (DI), one of the main think tanks in the United States on Latin America, where he served for thirty years, is concerned about the situation of democracy both in the region and in his country. country.
Shifter talked about the regional setback in human rights and democracy, a month before the Summit of the Americas is held, he is not very optimistic about its results and asks to maintain modest expectations.
Until now, Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela are the three countries not invited; a group of regimes at odds with Washington, which the international community questions for violations against democracy and human rights. Shifter is especially concerned about the case of the Nicaraguan dictatorship.
“He (Daniel Ortega) has shown that he can withstand criticism, that he is isolated from other governments, and he doesn’t care that Nicaraguans suffer,” he says in an interview with the program This week Y CONFIDENTIAL.
The fundamental themes of the Summit will be the defense of human rights and democracy. What are the main problems that the United States identifies as affecting the region?
The issue of democracy is fundamental on the agenda. It cannot be left out, because the situation is very serious in the Americas and I include the United States itself. It has experienced a notable deterioration in recent years and faces great challenges. Studies indicate that Latin America is the region that has regressed the most in terms of human rights and democracy.
The issue of corruption is very important. There has been a change from the Administration (from Donald) Trump to (Joseph) Biden in terms of some policies aimed at those who are responsible for human rights violations in various countries, this will be an important issue at the Summit. Another (theme) is that of some authoritarian tendencies to attack the media, journalists and attacks against the judiciary that has to be independent to (achieve) a full democracy.
In recent years an advance of authoritarian projects has been denounced, why have populisms been so successful in Latin America?
We are at a time when the situation has worsened a lot in social and economic matters. The governments that are democratically elected, which are still the majority, have not produced results for the people.
Surveys and studies indicate that there is a high level of dissatisfaction with performance. So, in those circumstances, leaders always emerge with a speech that they are going to save all the problems. And basically the conditions lend themselves to that. There are figures that, like Trump in the United States, have appeared in Latin America where it is historically more common.
What is the responsibility of citizens?
I don’t blame people. It is natural when one is desperate, that they do not give priority to having democratic institutions. They prioritize having food, less violence, more security. It’s totally normal. When a leader appears and says that I am going to put order, or I am going to produce so that I have food, that is very attractive and having respect for democratic norms is secondary.
A more encouraging aspect in this quite worrying scenario, of deteriorating human rights and democracy, is that there are citizen responses in all countries, including the US, to reaffirm certain principles and fight against these authoritarian processes. It’s not that people are passive. In many countries, people are reacting, trying to answer back, challenge these populist and in many cases authoritarian figures.
What is the political message of the United States by not inviting Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua?
Basically they are applying with this decision the criterion of the Democratic Charter, (and) the regional spirit of the summits. The first was in 1994. To say that, to be invited, you have to meet certain requirements. If they have at least one elected government, then both Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela are dictatorships. They have no serious choices. They are all farces.
Some governments in the region are not very happy with this decision and it may be an issue that the leaders of several countries will discuss. Cuba is talking to the US about migration issues, but it is not invited to the Summit. There may be a controversy there.
What do these regimes lose if they seem more interested in alliances with China and Russia anyway?
Maduro is talking to US officials, looking at how the United States can play a role on the oil issue in light of the crisis with Russia and Ukraine. They also want to see how a transition can be carried out, that is, to have political agreements, so the US is a key player in all of this.
One thing the US should not do is judge other countries for their own problems in the first place. There is a high percentage of an important political party, the Republicans, that do not recognize Biden as legitimate president. That shows weakness and a very serious problem. We must prevent the United States from judging who is democratic and who is not.
Mexico has already advanced, advocating that no country be excluded, how do you assess that position?
It’s not surprising at all. It is more (because of) the case of Cuba, because there is something very strong there, not only in Mexico, but in other Latin American countries. Almost a romantic sense of the Cuban situation, which was very important in the formation of many people in Latin America and played a positive role in the peace processes in Colombia and has participated in summits.
For (Andrés Manuel) López Obrador, it is explained why he believes so; second, he suits her politically. It is something important for his party: his president is going to attend a summit where Cuba is not invited. So he wants to establish his position and be very clear that Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela should be there.
With all these political realities, what concrete results can be expected from the meeting?
I don’t think much progress will be made. It’s important to have fairly modest expectations, given the complexity of the region and the United States. We see a fairly difficult panorama everywhere, but I think that the summits are an opportunity to air positions, points of view, face to face with other leaders. It’s not like they’re going to change the world. At least differences can be expressed so that it is clearer what are (the same and) what are the consensus on issues.
For the US, the issue where they are working well and hope they will make some progress is immigration. In this, they are posing a hemispheric or regional challenge where there can be more coordination between governments. I don’t know if it is possible to achieve much, but if they produce any results, it is something that would be important to recognize.
Can initiatives be taken, for example, that contribute to the return of democracy to Nicaragua?
There is a broad consensus, given the barbarities of the Ortega Murillo regime, which is the most tragic and worrying case of all —more than Venezuela and Cuba— and there a much more consensus-based reaction can be generated than on other issues.
I don’t know what kind of actions or decisions can be taken within the framework of the summit that would make a big difference in the terrible situation that Nicaragua is experiencing.
What is your opinion about Ortega, who has refused to release political prisoners and suspend the police state that limits civil rights?
He (Ortega) has shown that he can withstand criticism, that he is isolated from other governments, and it doesn’t matter that Nicaraguans suffer. There is a humanitarian crisis. The economy that, before walked more or less, is now very bad.
There are migratory flows that did not exist before and that is a totally cynical, cruel attitude and what we have seen, I used those terms with great care, because I think that no one imagined that I would be able to act against opponents, dissidents and civil society in the way he has done it. It is something we have not seen in Latin America in 30 years.
The cost is for the people. He is there apparently, and, although it is difficult to know, because some have said that in his environment there are people who are not very happy, everything is really very opaque. Other leaders are more sensitive to these pressures, sanctions, but not him. He already lost once in 1990, through an election. He looks like he is totally determined not to let lose again, no matter what.
The demand for the freedom of political prisoners has been denied by the Ortega regime for years. // Photo: Confidential
Undersecretary Brian Nichols described Nicaragua last March as “a discouraging example in the region”, What other efforts can the Biden Administration make to put more pressure on Ortega?
There are instruments that are available, but they are not being applied in the full way that they should be. The Reborn Law can do more.
The tragedy in Ukraine diverts attention a bit from difficult situations in Latin America like Nicaragua, so we have to keep (the topic). There are things that can be done, but recognize that until now Ortega has not shown any willingness to open up and do the minimum.
What points are you referring to with the Renacer Law? Has it been criticized that, for example, Nicaragua’s participation in DR-Cafta has not been reviewed?
You have to review this kind of thing; other sanctions. I am in favor of applying maximum pressure and using these instruments such as the Free Trade Agreement, but I do not like taking measures that are very harsh and end up affecting people.
Nicaraguans have suffered enough, they are in very bad shape, and I don’t want them to suffer more because of policies that have very negative effects on the economy. Ortega is still there, but people suffer more.
What can be done from abroad to bring about change when the local opposition is so weak, one part in exile, another imprisoned and another more closely watched in the territories?
That’s the million dollar question. Despite Ortega’s terrible, brutal repression, it is very important to continue building, renewing an opposition and maintaining the pressure. You have to be creative with that.
It cannot be expected that any measure from the outside will solve the problem and restore democracy in Nicaragua. It has to be a product of internal dynamics. I understand that what is happening is very discouraging, but Nicaraguans have shown enormous courage and bravery.