Cook Holds Hearing on the Crisis in Nicaragua and Markup of H.Res.981
Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA-08), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, held a Subcommittee hearing entitled, “Nicaraguan Crisis: Next Steps to Advancing Democracy.” The Subcommittee also held a markup and advanced H.Res.981, Condemning the violence, persecution, intimidation, and murders committed by the Government of Nicaragua against its citizens.
Chairman Cook’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery:
“For too long, Daniel Ortega has ruled Nicaragua through fear and intimidation, undermined democracy, and enriched himself through systemic corruption. Today, hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans from all sectors of society have said no more. In response, over the last two months Ortega has fought to maintain his control, unleashing his security forces on unarmed citizens and violently suppressing the protests, in what has left close to 300 people dead, including one U.S. citizen. The crisis in Nicaragua is also threatening regional trade, business operations, and the safety of Americans living in Nicaragua. Attempts by the Catholic Church to mediate a peaceful resolution to the conflict have failed, Ortega continues to suppress the people, and Ortega announced over the weekend that he will not hold early elections, as many protestors have urged.
Just this week, masked government supporters attacked Roman Catholic priests who were seeking to help protesters trapped inside a church. Yesterday, Felix Maradiaga, the Executive Director for a leading think tank in Nicaragua and important pro-democracy advocate, was attacked and physically beaten by Ortega’s thugs in León. I believe his wife is in the audience today, and I just want to say that the U.S. stands in support and solidarity with you and the Nicaraguan people who are seeking to reclaim their freedoms. While some have expressed surprise by the outbreak in violence in what was previously known as the most stable country in Central America, this crisis did not occur overnight. In my view, it is a result of more than a decade of Ortega’s authoritarian rule and built-up resentment from the Nicaraguan people who have seen the Ortega family enrich themselves at the expense of the country.
Today, Nicaragua remains the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti, and Transparency International ranks Nicaragua as one of the region’s most corrupt countries along with Venezuela and Haiti. In addition, Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, have undermined democratic institutions in Nicaragua, stacked the courts and electoral body with political allies, illegally changed the constitution, eliminated presidential term limits, stripped opposition parties of their legal registration, dismissed opposition lawmakers from the National Assembly, held fraudulent elections, and co-opted many of the country’s television and media outlets to restrict information from reaching citizens.
In view of these actions and today’s crisis in Nicaragua, we are holding this Subcommittee hearing and markup of House Resolution 981 to examine recent developments and conduct oversight of the Administration’s policies related to Nicaragua. The Trump Administration has rightly responded with strong statements condemning the Ortega regime for committing violence and human rights abuses. The State Department has taken important action to protect U.S. embassy personnel and their families and issue visa restrictions on Nicaraguan government officials. The Treasury Department also recently announced sanctions against three top Ortega officials for human rights abuses and corruption. I strongly applaud all of these actions, but I want to note my concern over an Organization of American States (OAS) resolution jointly introduced by the U.S. and Nicaragua last month that seemed to downplay the crisis and the deaths and could have more strongly supported the democratic actors on the ground.
The U.S. must do more. I urge the State Department and Treasury Department to issue additional visa restrictions and Magnitsky sanctions on Ortega regime officials to send a clear message that the U.S. will not allow government officials who exploit the Nicaraguan people or who commit human rights abuses to visit U.S. destinations or access the U.S. banking systems. The U.S. must also do more to support the democratic actors in Nicaragua. Additional U.S. funding to support the Nicaraguan people is strongly welcomed by this Subcommittee. However, it is essential that the U.S. respond to the crisis with a clear strategy and that we consider the needs of the actors on the ground and their capacity to manage money effectively to achieve results as we consider any additional funding.
Finally, I strongly believe that the U.S. will be most effective if we work together to support the Nicaraguan people through not only the Organization of American States (OAS) and its member states but also with the European Union, Canada, and the Lima Group countries to coordinate a united response to the Nicaraguan crisis. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how the Trump Administration is engaging with all these different actors to support the Nicaraguan people and with that, I turn to Ranking Member Sires for his opening remarks."