Nicaragua passes controversial ‘foreign agent’ law

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved a law Thursday that would give the government of President Daniel Ortega more power to monitor people, businesses and organizations that receive funding from abroad.

The so-called law for the regulation of foreign agents carried by a wide margin in the legislative body, which is controlled by Ortega’s Sandinista Front party.

The law requires any Nicaraguan citizen working for “governments, companies, foundations or foreign organizations” to register with the Interior Ministry, report monthly their income and spending and provide prior notice of what the foreign funds will be spent on. The law establishes sanctions for those who do not register.

Once registered as “foreign agents,” those Nicaraguans may not “finance or promote the financing of any type of organization, movement, political party, coalition or political alliance or association” that gets involved in Nicaragua’s internal politics.

The law also appears to prevent people who register as “foreign agents” from running for office. Elections are scheduled for next year.

“Their gold mine to continue enriching their budgets is over,” said Sandinista lawmaker Wálmaro Gutiérrez, one of those who pushed the law and who referred to government opponents as a “pack of delinquents and corrupt (persons).”

Opposition lawmaker Brooklyn Rivera of the indigenous party Yatama, said the law “criminalizes (nongovernmental organizations), human rights defenders and even (local) media outlets” receiving foreign funding. “Our concern is that the law ends up being another tool of repression.”

The government violently put down massive street protests that began in April 2018. Ortega said at the time that there had been foreign support for what he characterized as an attempted coup.

The law includes exceptions for retirees and Nicaraguans receiving money from relatives abroad, as well as business people and factories and supermarkets run by foreign companies. Other exceptions exist for intergovernmental humanitarian organizations, internationational cooperation agencies, accredited religious organizations and international media outlets with correspondents in Nicaragua.

That last exception had not been included in the original draft legislation, causing consternation among international media. Still, the approved language notes that those receiving exemptions still can’t participate in activities that would meddle in Nicaragua’s affairs.

Last week, the European Parliament approved a resolution raising the possibility of sanctions against Nicaragua if this law and two other controversial proposals were approved.

The Organization of American States in a statement Thursday before the vote condemned “persistent violations of human rights in Nicaragua.”

It noted “mistreatment and torture”of people arrested in the wake of the widespread street protests that began in April 2018. It said there were currently 113 political prisoners, some of whom have been on a hunger strike for two weeks. Some have even sewed their lips shut in protest, it said.

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