Nicaragua’s OAS envoy berates his own government as a dictatorship

MEXICO CITY – Nicaragua’s ambassador to the Organization of American States on Wednesday condemned his own country as a dictatorship a dramatic and unprecedented speech during an online conference at the Washington, DC-based hemispheric organization. He then apparently resigned from his post.

Ambassador Arturo McFields, who was appointed OAS envoy last year, said he was speaking on behalf of thousands of Nicaraguan officials who are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. He also cited the nearly 200 political prisoners and more than 350 people killed, most by state security forces, since the massive 2018 protests that rocked President Daniel Ortega’s administration.

“Denouncing my country’s dictatorship is not easy, but remaining silent and defending the untenable is impossible,” said Mr McFields, a former journalist. “I need to speak, even though I’m scared. I must speak, although my future and that of my family is uncertain.”

In perhaps Mr. McFields’ final act as ambassador, his delegation sent a note to the OAS asking to be included as a co-sponsor of the organization’s recent resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Ortega government, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, has defended the invasion and did not endorse the resolution, which was backed by 25 countries.

In a subsequent letter to the OAS, Nicaragua’s Foreign Ministry dismissed Mr McFields’ action.

The ambassador is the first senior Nicaraguan government official to publicly resign from the Ortega government since 2019. Mr. Ortega, a former Sandinista guerrilla fighter, was re-elected to Nicaragua’s presidency last November in elections widely condemned as a sham. Mr McFields did not respond to a request for comment.

“This is a dramatic development and shows that even high-ranking regime officials cannot stand the regime’s abuses,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society, a Washington-based think tank. “It is very clear that the regime is losing much support, even among its own officials, and that the only way to remain in power is through further crackdowns and repression.”

In his speech, which surprised other envoys, Mr McFields said Nicaragua had become the only Central American country without printed newspapers, social media freedom and human rights organizations. He said there are no independent political parties or credible elections or separation of powers. Private universities are being confiscated and civil society groups are being shut down, and more than 170,000 Nicaraguans have fled the country, he said.

“Though all seems lost, there is still hope,” Mr. McFields said in his speech. “I would like to say that people inside and outside are tired – tired of the dictatorship and its actions, and they say ‘enough!’ more and more often.”

In an interview, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said that Mr. McFields’ action represents the highest values ​​of diplomacy. “It speaks truth to power,” he said. Although Mr McFields admits his family’s life is now in danger, he nonetheless denied being “the lackey of an authoritarian leader who does not respect international human rights and the rule of law,” Mr Almagro said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also praised Mr McFields, saying the ambassador resigned in protest at the Ortega regime’s repression and human rights abuses. “We commend Amb. McFields’ courage in giving a voice to the millions of Nicaraguans hoping for a return to democracy,” he tweeted.

Many of Mr. McField’s colleagues on the conference call, including the US envoy, welcomed his speech. “We applaud Ambassador Arturo McFields for having the courage to step down,” said Bradley Freden, U.S. Interim OAS Representative, in a twitter message.

Mr. Ortega won his fourth consecutive presidential victory in November after jailing seven presidential candidates for treason. The candidates are part of a group of nearly 50 of Nicaragua’s most prominent journalists, political, business, farmer and student leaders, who have been jailed by Mr Ortega on such allegations.

Most of the accused have already been tried and sentenced to prison terms of up to 13 years. In his speech, Mr McFields said he argued last year that 20 of those elderly political prisoners, as well as 20 other prisoners in frail health, should be released, but that he had been ignored.

Mr Ortega’s mounting repression has sparked a flow of migrants fleeing the country to Costa Rica and the United States. According to US government data, about 50,000 Nicaraguans were detained at the US border in fiscal 2021, up from just 13,000 in fiscal 2019. Another 50,000 Nicaraguans were stopped in the four months ended January.

The US State Department said Mr Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo – who is also Nicaragua’s vice president and government spokesperson – intend to turn the country into a dynastic dictatorship. A State Department spokesman said the US would continue to “push for a return to democratic rule and respect for human rights in Nicaragua.”

Ms Murillo did not respond to a request for comment.

Last year, Mr. Ortega began the two-year process of Nicaragua’s withdrawal from the OAS, angered by the organization’s repeated condemnations of his government for human rights abuses and electoral abuse. Shortly after his appointment as Ambassador, Mr. McFields presented Mr. Almagro with a letter from the Nicaraguan government announcing the withdrawal. The country is scheduled to leave the OAS in November 2023.

write to José de Córdoba at jose.decordoba@wsj.com

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/nicaraguas-oas-envoy-blasts-his-own-government-as-dictatorship-11648078716 Nicaragua’s OAS envoy berates his own government as a dictatorship

Ethan Gach

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