Florida Delegation Backed Proposal for the U.S. to Fight for More Democratic Reforms in Nicaragua Becomes Law

Last week, President Joe Biden signed into law 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 member of the Florida delegation.

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., threw his support behind 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.”

The bill cleared the Senate at the start of the month 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., co-sponsored the bill.

Earlier this month, 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.

Pointing to what he called “sham elections in Nicaragua” earlier this month, Rubio cheered the bill becoming law.

“The United States is sending an important message to the Ortega-Murillo authoritarian dynasty and to their enablers: we will not turn a blind eye,” Rubio said last week.

Rubio penned a piece published at ADN America on Monday that expanded on his take on the new law.

“After such a difficult weekend for the Nicaraguan people, I once again join the Nicaraguan-American community in repudiating the Ortega and Murillo regime while redoubling our efforts for free and fair elections. A critically important step was taken this week when President Biden signed my bipartisan Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform (RENACER) Act into law,” Rubio wrote.

“The RENACER Act seeks to impose a cost on the individuals who directly or indirectly obstructed the conditions necessary for free, fair and transparent elections to be held in Nicaragua—including the regime officials who were complicit in this scheme,” he added. “The RENACER Act also requires a report detailing acts of corruption by members of the Nicaraguan armed forces, as well as a compilation of all human rights abuses, torture, and sexual violence directed against Nicaraguans and indigenous communities. Likewise, the bill would implement efforts to strengthen Nicaragua’s free press and freedom of expression in the nation at a time when the regime openly represses and censors voices of dissent. Since Nicaragua no longer has a democratic government, the RENACER Act urges the president of the United States to review the Central American nation’s participation in the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States (CAFTA-DR) free trade agreement.

“The authoritarian dynasty of Ortega and Murillo—as well as their thugs—must know that their role in directing the sham elections in Nicaragua will come at a high price,” Rubio continued.

“President Biden now has new tools to push back on the regime. It is time for action!” he added.

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