CHANTILLY, Virginia — On March 25, 2021, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez introduced S. 1041 to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Nearly three months later, members sent the bill, also known as the RENACER Act, to the Senate for consideration on June 22, 2021. Focused on human rights in Nicaragua, the RENACER Act aims to extend United States diplomacy to the people of Nicaragua by calling for democratic elections and, in turn, reduce poverty and violence against civilians in the nation.
What Does the RENACER Act Call For?
As a bill, the RENACER Act — which stands for Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform Act — must pass through the Senate and receive a signature from President Biden to have the force of law. If enacted, S. 1041 would combat corruption and the exploitation of citizens, as outlined by the bill’s following sections:
- Section Four (Restrictions on International Financial Institutions Relating to Nicaragua): To reduce contact with Nicaragua’s current president, Daniel Ortega, and subvert and nefarious behavior on behalf of his administration, Senator Menendez and his cosponsors call for increased oversight on financial assistance in Nicaragua. To do so, they will require that loans or other forms of aid be conducted independently from the Nicaraguan government.
- Section Five (Targeted Sanctions to Advance Democratic Elections): This section promotes democratic elections by instructing the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury to brief Congress on how the U.S. government can impose targeted sanctions on officials in Ortega’s government, Nicaraguan police, members of the Sandinista National Liberation Front and other parties threatening justice in the country.
- Section Six (Developing a Coordinated Sanctions Strategy with Diplomatic Partners): To ensure implementation of the targeted sanctions mentioned in section five is successful, sponsors of the RENACER Act will reach out to the Canadian government and the European Union.
- Section 10 (Report on Human Rights Abuses in the Interior of Nicaragua): The bill will require the publication of a report of human rights violations after its enactment to bring awareness to Ortega’s abuse of indigenous civilians and Campesinos, or peasant farmers. Its goal is to provide recommendations for diplomacy and support to the U.S. and its partners.
Additional sections in the bill push for the U.S. and its international partners to investigate and report on the involvement of Ortega, Nicaraguan officials and the Russian Federation in government corruption. Furthermore, the final section urges the Chief Executive Officer of the United States Agency for Global Media to report on Ortega’s mistreatment of independent news outlets and recommends a strategy for how the U.S. can protect freedom of the press and human rights in Nicaragua.
An Increase in Corruption and Poverty: The Need for Aid in Nicaragua
Plagued by corruption and decline, President Daniel Ortega has caused considerable infrastructural and democratic erosion in Nicaragua since 2007. Most recently, Ortega’s re-election campaign sparked outrage and mass protests among civilians demanding his resignation. Earlier this year, Nicaragua’s Electoral Council and The Supreme Court of Justice permitted Ortega to run for president in the November 2021 election and prohibited competition by opposition parties, ignoring the country’s constitutional injunction and political rights.
Moreover, Ortega’s disregard for legality and democracy continues to result in human rights violations. Since 2018, cases of harassment, aggression and further violence by police and government officials have risen. Indigenous groups, journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders are most affected by violence, including extrajudicial killings.
While not outwardly apparent, a connection between such governmental corruption and global poverty is prominent. Nearly half of Nicaraguans live below the poverty line, at 46.2%, and an additional 90,000 individuals fell into poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ortega’s dismissal of the coronavirus and his multiple offenses against the people of Nicaragua further isolated the government from its people. These factors reduced the government’s capability to provide the population with the resources necessary to thrive. Indigenous Campesinos and additional agricultural workers remain the poorest due to skewed income distribution.
Fortunately, the U.S. presents a chance to combat corruption and sustained poverty by strengthening national security and prioritizing human rights in Nicaragua with the passage of the RENACER Act. If international organizations pressure the Nicaraguan government to enforce checks on presidential power and implement free, fair elections, Nicaraguans will not only benefit from democratic practices but also receive a better chance at escaping poverty.
– Riya Sharma