U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., are teaming up again on foreign policy, this time to weigh in on the Organization of American States (OAS) planning to hold an observation of upcoming elections in Nicaragua.
On Thursday, Cruz and Ros-Lehtinen paired up to release a joint statement about their concerns about the election. They specifically called out Wilfredo Penco, an official from Uruguay, who was an observer for OAS in last year’s elections in Nicaragua.
“We are extremely concerned with the recent announcement by the Organization of American States to send an accompanying observation mission to Nicaragua just weeks before the scheduled municipal elections in November,” Cruz and Ros-Lehtinen said. “The lack of transparency in the observation’s process and mission, the selection of Wilfredo Penco – a well-known rubber stamp for Daniel Ortega’s electoral manipulation – and the widespread, systemic corruption within the Nicaraguan Supreme Electoral Council, all point to a predetermined and favorable outcome for the Ortega regime.
“The OAS is meant to support democracy and the rule of law in the Americas, not enable despots like Ortega to dismantle a nation’s democratic institutions,” they added. “Yet by sending down this flawed observer mission rather than take any real and meaningful action, the OAS is legitimizing this corrupt and illegitimate process.
“As the authors of the NICA Act in Congress, we are committed to passing legislation in order to help support the people of Nicaragua in their pursuit of a democratically elected government that respects the rule of law, protects their human rights, ends corruption, and upholds the democratic principles enshrined in their constitution and in the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter,” they said in conclusion.
Ros-Lehtinen one of the leading Republicans on Capitol Hill on foreign policy, pushed her “Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act” (NICA) which the House passed last September without opposition.
The bill, which was also championed by U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, D-NJ, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, opposed “loans at international financial institutions for the government of Nicaragua, other than to address basic human needs or promote democracy, unless the government of Nicaragua is taking effective steps to hold free, fair, and transparent elections, and for other purpose.” Seven Florida Republicans--U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Ander Crenshaw, Carlos Curbelo, Ron DeSantis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Tom Rooney and Ted Yoho--co-sponsored the bill in 2016.
Ros-Lehtinen and Sires brought the bill back in April.
“We must continue to hold all governments within Central America to similar standards when it comes to human rights, corruption, and transparency as we examine where to best use U.S. taxpayer dollars and the Ortega regime in Nicaragua is no exception,” Ros-Lehtinen said when she introduced the newest version of the NICA. “This version of the NICA Act goes one step further than the previous version Albio and I introduced last Congress by calling for the Ortega regime to actively combat corruption and take significant steps to protect human rights defenders and activists. These are bipartisan concerns, and as many of us have witnessed for over a decade, Ortega’s power grab has brought Nicaragua into a continuous downward spiral. The time to take action is now – for the people of Nicaragua and for their democratic future – before it is too late. The NICA Act will be a powerful tool that can help end the atrocities occurring in Nicaragua and reverse its current destructive trajectory.”
“Daniel Ortega and his family continue to amass a great amount of wealth while Nicaragua remains the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” Sires said. “He has spent years repressing the political opposition and has created a de facto monarchy by having his wife take on the role of vice president. I will continue to fight for the Nicaraguan people until their voices are heard. This important legislation makes it clear that the U.S. will not standby and watch Ortega target human rights defenders and stifle democracy while lining his pockets with cash at the expense of the Nicaraguan people.”
The Florida delegation lined up behind the proposal as Bilirakis, Curbelo, DeSantis, Diaz-Balart, Rooney and Yoho were original co-sponsors. So too were Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney and Florida Democrats U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.
Despite differences on issues ranging from immigration to same-sex marriage, Cruz and Ros-Lehtinen have worked together before. Back in October, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, joined Cruz in sending a letter to the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), protesting a UNESCO proposal playing up Jerusalem’s Muslim history while playing down its Christian and Jewish heritage. Back in May, Cruz and Ros-Lehtinen brought out the “PLO Accountability Act.” The proposal would shut down the PLO’s office in Washington, D.C., which has been open since the Oslo Accords in 1994 unless it stops backing terrorism and anti-Israeli and anti-Semitism.