Russia’s courting of Nicaragua concerns Washington

mcclatchy dcRussia’s cozy military relationship with Nicaragua, which is rapidly evolving into a single-party regime, is raising concerns in Washington.

Russia recently sold Nicaragua 50 tanks, won access to Nicaragua’s airspace and ports, and is building a law enforcement center near the Pacific coast.

The Obama administration is “closely monitoring” Russia’s presence in Nicaragua and is expressing concern about the lack of democratic space. The White House tried unsuccessfully to pressure President Daniel Ortega to host international observers for the critical November elections. And now disappointed members of Congress, led by Miami’s Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, want to target Ortega’s pocketbook.

“The only way the likes of (Venezuelan President Nicolás) Maduro or Ortega will feel the pressure is by cutting off their access to money,” Ros-Lehtinen said Thursday.

Ros-Lehtinen made comparisons between the Nicaraguan and Venezuelan governments during a hearing for the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. She said Ortega’s efforts to use the Supreme Court to increase his power and stifle opposition were much like Maduro’s own effort to use the courts to block actions by the opposition-led National Assembly. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and elsewhere. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, Russia, and even transnational criminal organizations.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform policymakers and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.