Florida Delegation Backed Bill for the U.S. to Push for More Democratic Reforms in Nicaragua Clears Congress

A proposal “to strategically align the United States’ diplomatic tools, including targeted sanctions, to advance democratic elections in Nicaragua in November 2021” backed by almost every members of the Florida delegation was sent to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Back in March, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, introduced the “Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform (RENACER) Act” which “proposes new initiatives to address corruption by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government and family, as well as human rights abuses perpetrated by Nicaraguan security forces” and “requires the U.S. government to increase sanctions coordination with Canada and the European Union, as well as bolster intelligence reporting on Russian activities in Nicaragua.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is backing the proposal. Other co-sponsors include U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Mary., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

“The RENACER Act makes clear that the United States will not tolerate the rise of another dictator in our hemisphere. This new legislation fully aligns U.S. diplomacy and sanctions towards one goal — democratic elections in Nicaragua in November 2021,” Menendez said when he introduced the proposal. “As the Ortega regime’s human rights abuses, kleptocracy, and attacks on the free press continue unabated, this bill places the U.S. Senate firmly on the side of the Nicaraguan people as they seek to exercise their most fundamental democratic rights later this year.”

“As the corrupt Ortega regime continues to undermine democratic order and basic liberties, the U.S. must align our diplomatic efforts to the existing targeted sanctions against regime officials,” Rubio said. “As the regime plans to hold elections, we must ensure the U.S. and our allies are creating new initiatives to address Ortega’s corruption, human rights abuses, and the ongoing repression of members of the independent press.”

The bill cleared the Senate this week without opposition.

Over on the other side of Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, D-NJ, , the chairman of the U.S. House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, introduced the companion bill at the end of April. When he filed the bill, Sires offered a tip of the cap to former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the longtime South Florida congresswoman who was the first woman to lead the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“The United States government must use every foreign policy tool available to ensure free, fair, and competitive elections in Nicaragua. We should implement a results-oriented diplomatic strategy, in coordination with our allies, that aligns sanctions with specific outcomes in order to counter the Ortega regime’s efforts to use repression, persecution, and fear to prevent the Nicaraguan people from expressing their will at the ballot box. I am proud to join colleagues on both sides of the aisle in introducing this legislation, which builds on the NICA Act that I wrote with my good friend Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and which was passed into law in 2018. As with the NICA Act, this bill conveys to the Nicaraguan people that we will never stop fighting for them until their voices are heard.” said Sires.

The bill had strong support from the Florida delegation as U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., as co-sponsors.

On Wednesday, the bill cleared the House on a 387-35 vote with most of the opposition–29 members–coming from the Democratic ranks. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., was one of six Republicans to vote against the proposal. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., was one of five members who did not vote while four members voted present.

Backers of the proposal weighed in after it was passed.

“Ahead of Sunday’s sham presidential election in Nicaragua, the Congress of the United States is sending a strong message against the corrupt and authoritarian Ortega-Murillo regime and its attempt to subvert the will of the Nicaraguan people,” Rubio said. “The Biden Administration should swiftly sign this bill into law and work with international allies to coordinate sanctions against this regime.”

“Today, as the RENACER Act heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature, I am proud to see Congress come together – in a bicameral, common-sense way – to let the people of Nicaragua know we are not turning a blind eye to their cries of desperation,” Menendez said. “It’s not very often that Republicans and Democrats are able to come together these days to find common ground and address a serious challenge – this bill is a rare exception. We are witnessing the worst authoritarian assault on democracy in Latin America in decades, and I am proud to lead this effort for Congress to act decisively so the Ortega-Murillo regime knows there will be major consequences for the pseudo coronation of their dynastic dictatorship. I look forward to working with President Biden to ensure the swift implementation of the RENACER Act.”

“Having locked up every potential opponent, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega will soon hold a coronation ceremony in place of an election,” Sires said. “I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate who worked hard to pass this bipartisan legislation, which will improve our sanctions coordination with allies, expand oversight of international financial institutions’ lending to Nicaragua, and hold Ortega accountable for his regime’s crimes against humanity. Today’s passage of the RENACER Act shows that the United States Congress will not stand by as Ortega consolidates a one-party dictatorship and it reflects our firm support for the democratic aspirations of the Nicaraguan people.”

“For months, the Nicaraguan people have pleaded for us to help stop Daniel Ortega’s reign of terror. The passage of the RENACER Act will hit Ortega where it hurts just days before he solidifies his dictatorship through his sham presidential elections,” Salazar said. “It’s past time we review Ortega’s ability to profit from free trade with the United States. Thank you to my colleagues for taking bold action against this evil regime and for standing with the Nicaraguan people during their fight for democracy. The United States is making its message clear – access to American markets is a privilege, and we should not do business with dictators.”

KEVIN DERBY
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