Sen. Cruz: ‘To the People of Nicaragua: There Will Be an Expiration Date for the Ortega Regime’
Delivers remarks, participates in Q&A discussion at the Heritage Foundation on massive anti-government protests occurring in Nicaragua
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Wednesday delivered remarks at The Heritage Foundation regarding the massive anti-government protests occurring in Nicaragua. There, he discussed the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA), his legislative effort to hold President Daniel Ortega and his regime accountable for its corrupt practices and abuse of human rights by conditioning U.S. approval of international loans to the Government of Nicaragua. He also highlighted his letter to President Trump requesting action to designate two leading figures in Nicaragua, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, for their engagement in corrupt and illicit activity which has significantly undermined democracy in Nicaragua.
“We must learn the lesson about the brutality of tyrants,” Sen. Cruz said. “Having witnessed the Castro reign in Cuba and Maduro’s failing Venezuela, countries that went from enormous prosperity to unimaginable misery. The U.S. has seen the inevitable impact of communism: a fundamentally unfree society with a flailing economy governed by a repressive state. We can’t stand idly by while Nicaragua follows in the same footsteps as Cuba and Venezuela – crafting a legacy to institutionalize a dictatorship. And we especially should not be funding that communist oppression, the American taxpayer should not be footing that bill. To the people of Nicaragua: There will be an expiration date for the Ortega regime. The American people stand with you in your fight for freedom and for the rule of law. You have put Ortega on his heels, and I am hopeful the day will come when Nicaragua will again have a government that truly represents them.”
“Good afternoon. Welcome. Thank you to the Heritage Foundation for your tremendous leadership speaking out in support of freedom, speaking out in support of democracy. Heritage makes a difference here in the United States and all across the world. And I appreciate the opportunity to be with you here today and to address this pressing issue.
“The disparity between American freedoms and that of much of the rest of the world is thrown into stark contrast when you look at some of our less fortunate neighbors like Cuba and Venezuela.
“And sadly, like Nicaragua.
“At the end of the last month, half a million Nicaraguans took to the street to protest the corrupt Ortega regime – many of them students. These protests were sparked due to proposed changes to their national social security program. The Sandinistas predictably deployed their national police force, and the violence escalated. Dozens were murdered. Hundreds were injured, detained, or missing.
“The press that tried to cover these crimes has been censored, and reporters have been harassed by agents of the government. Five TV stations have been taken off the air and a Facebook live video has been circulated, purporting to show a journalist being murdered while covering the violence. The police confiscated water, food, and medical supplies from volunteers helping the protesters.
“Daniel Ortega, the Marxist President of Nicaragua, has proven his brutal disregard for basic human liberties again and again. Ortega has offered a ‘dialogue’ with those who opposed his regime, and then sent his national police to round up dissidents and journalists and murder peaceful protesters.
“This is a desperate dictator in the style of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez or Nicolás Maduro, grasping for control. He faces the largest uprising since the civil war ended, almost 30 years ago. And as money from Venezuela dries up, the Nicaraguan people are under a morally and financially bankrupt regime.
“Their future hangs in the balance.
“In the 1980s, Ortega led the Sandinista National Liberation Front during Nicaragua’s bloody civil war. The current crisis was a long time in the making. It was seen coming by those who recognize the warning signs of Marxist strongmen and their regimes.
“In 2016, I joined with Jim DeMint in an editorial writing:
‘Ortega’s victory in his latest sham election ensured that Nicaragua will remain an authoritarian regime allied with every enemy of the U.S. from Caracas to Moscow. And let there be no doubt: The elections were nothing short of fraudulent.’
“Ortega has had a lot of practice, whether by removing political challengers through a Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court, or unilaterally expelling opposition congressmen from the National Assembly.
“He has altered election rules, lowered vote thresholds, and abolished presidential term limits. Ortega has long been an ally of anti-American regimes. Let’s start with Venezuela. Before the inevitable failures of kleptocracy and socialism destroyed the Venezuelan economy, Caracas was buying Ortega’s support in Nicaragua with petro-dollars.
“Venezuela’s influence is crumbling along with its economy, as we’ve seen not socialism poorly implemented -- and it’s amazing that defenders of leftist authoritarian regimes when they crumble, when the people suffer in poverty and misery, they always say, ‘Yes, but only if it could be properly implemented. Only if it could be fully implemented.’ The reason Venezuela is hurting so much is it has been. This is the inevitable effect of socialism and communism. But nonetheless the bonds between these radical regimes remain strong.
“With Ortega still in power, Nicaragua can be expected to continue to embrace policies hostile to the U.S. and our interests. Nicaragua’s growing relationship with countries that seek to undermine American national security is of particular concern.
“Russia and Nicaragua have struck a deal to increase military and intelligence cooperation, resulting in an influx of Russian tanks to Managua and an agreement to build an electronic intelligence base which may be disguised as a satellite navigation tracking station.
“Because what could possibly go wrong with having Russian tanks in the Americas?
“This development is worrisome given Russia’s interest in reopening its Soviet-era signals intelligence base in Lourdes, Cuba. The nexus of security cooperation between these actors should raise a serious red flag. An expanded footprint of external influence in the region poses a direct threat to American national security interests.
“We should take action against Russian interference in Managua, we should compel Cuba to withdraw their security advisors, and we should instruct the U.S. Treasury to target money-laundering schemes between Venezuela and the Ortega regime.
“Fortunately, we have an administration that isn’t an apologist for Latin American communists. Instead we have an administration that recognizes and acknowledges the dangers posed by crumbling socialist regimes. The White House has committed to countering Sandinista power plays across the region.
“On Monday, at a meeting of the Organization of American States, Vice President Mike Pence took a firm stand against an increasingly dictatorial Nicaragua. He said:
‘The United States condemns these brutal actions in the strongest possible terms. We call on the Ortega government to allow the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights into Nicaragua. And we join with nations around the world in demanding that the Ortega government respond to the Nicaraguan people’s demands for democratic reform and hold accountable those responsible for violence. The people of Nicaragua deserve better than the worsening repression of Daniel Ortega’s government.’
“The Vice President is exactly right. Fortunately, the United States has options to put real pressure on Ortega and diminish his influence.
“Along with several of my fellow Senators, I introduced the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act -- NICA. This bipartisan legislation directs U.S. officials to oppose international loans to the Government of Nicaragua until the Ortega regime is held accountable for its oppressive, anti-democratic actions and the Secretary of State certifies that Nicaragua is taking effective steps to hold free and fair elections.
“NICA mandates specific preconditions to be met before the U.S. approves loans flowing from international financial institutions to the Nicaraguan Government. These financial institutions – which the U.S. taxpayer is the major contributor to – are keeping the regime and its practices afloat. We are paying for this communist oppression. Any such money should be directly tied to basic democratic reforms, otherwise, these loans are just benevolent charity for a dictator.
“And not just any dictator. We are taking the American taxpayer dollars and giving them to an anti-American dictator who oppresses his own people and seeks to undermine the national security interests of our own country.
“In fact, what this bill does, what NICA does, is prioritize loans for the promotion of democracy and basic human needs. In order to gain U.S. approval, they would need to show marked improvement on human rights, hold free and fair elections, strengthen the rule of law, and protect the right of political opposition parties, journalists, and human rights defenders.
“A companion bill, led by my friend the inimitable Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen - and boy she will be missed in the House of Representatives. Her companion bill has passed twice. I look forward to passing ours as soon as possible, especially in light of Ortega’s recent crimes. It’s well past time for Congress to hold the Government of Nicaragua accountable for its corruption and human rights abuses.
“The U.S. has additional leverage. The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The Act authorizes the Administration to impose visa and asset sanctions on foreign persons responsible for gross violations of human rights, and government officials or their associates who have engaged in acts of significant corruption.
“In December, I joined my colleagues from both parties and called upon the Trump administration to invoke the Global Magnitsky Act and to designate and sanction Roberto Rivas, President of the Supreme Electoral Council, and Francisco Lopez, Vice President of ALBANISA, an organ of Venezuela’s soft-power that doles out oil to its puppets and allies.
“Rivas represents a pervasive abuse of power which has been institutionalized in Nicaragua. He has engaged in fraudulent activity to consolidate control and secure wealth at the expense of the Nicaraguan people.
“The Administration rolled out sanctions on Rivas by the month’s end. This designation put all those who abuse power on notice; you are not untouchable. We must enforce these sanctions, and apply the Magnitsky Act to a host of corrupt characters operating in the region.
“It is past time the U.S. took swift action to sanction those who systematically undermine democratic order and human rights, and to demonstrate our commitment to the Nicaraguan people.
“Over 50 years ago, my father was forced to flee Cuba. As a young man, he fought in a revolution there. He fought alongside the forces of Fidel Castro. As a teenager, my dad did not know that Castro was a communist. He knew that Batista, the dictator, was corrupt and oppressive. And the revolution in Cuba was in many ways fought by kids.
“My dad was in student council in high school. And it was the student councils, indeed Fidel Castro was a student council leader in university. I have to admit, growing up I was in student council, no one would have confused us with guerillas. It was a little bit different in Houston, Texas.
“But it was the kids, it was the teenagers who fought in the revolution. And my father at 17 was thrown in prison and tortured by Batista. They beat him in that jail cell. Broke his nose, shattered his teeth, and smashed his skull with the heel of a boot into the ground. To this day, my father’s front teeth are not his own because they were kicked out of his mouth in a Cuban jail cell.
“When my father fled Cuba it was 1957 and he came to Texas. He came seeking freedom. He came seeking hope, the beacon of hope that America represents. My father arrived in Austin, Texas, a hundred dollars in his underwear, washed dishes making 50 cents an hour. And he paid his way through the University of Texas. He couldn’t speak English, but he learned. He learned English quickly. He had, shall we say, an acute incentive to do so. His student visa admitted him to the University of Texas, his classes were all in English. If he didn’t learn English, he was going to flunk out of UT. If he flunked out of UT, they’d revoke his student visa. And if they revoked his student visa and they sent him back to Cuba, he’d be killed. That gave an exquisite incentive to learn English and to learn it quickly.
“When my father first got here, he learned English, and he began traveling around Austin speaking about the revolution. Speaking about how Batista was corrupt and encouraging Austin business leaders to support the revolution. Well then ‘59 occurs. Cuban revolution succeeds, Fidel Castro seizes power. Declares to the world he is a communist. Seizes peoples land. Begins executing dissidents.
“My aunt, my Tía Sonia, my father’s younger sister -- she was still back in Cuba, as were my grandparents. My aunt saw the evils that Castro perpetrated on Cuba. They discovered as bad as Batista was, and he was bad news, the next dictator was even worse. So my aunt began fighting in the counter revolution. She began fighting against the Castro regime. And my aunt found herself imprisoned and tortured by Castro’s thugs.
“It’s a story, sadly, that is all too common throughout Latin America. From one oppressive dictator to another. When all of this happened, my father went back to Cuba one more time in 1960 and he was horrified by what he saw. What he saw was very different from the ideals of freedom, the freedom fighters he thought he’d been alongside. So my father came back to Texas, and he sat down and made a list of every place he had gone to speak. He made a point of going in front of each and every one of them, standing up and apologizing to them. He said, ‘I came before you and I urged you to support evil ends. I didn’t do so knowingly. I did not know that I was doing that. But I did so nonetheless. And for that I’m truly sorry.’
“My aunt, my Tía Sonia, subsequently escaped Cuba, as did my grandparents. I love my aunt, I call her my Tía Loca. She is truly, in my family, between my father, my aunt, and me, I am the quiet and soft spoken one. Then there is my father, and then there is my Tía Sonia. Who I have to admit, in the presidential election more than once I told her, I said, ‘Tía, if we win this race, I may appoint you Ambassador to Cuba, just because if you ever got in a room with Fidel, you would beat the living crap out of that S.O.B.’ And I have to admit I’d pay money to see my Tía Sonia doing that.
“My family’s story is depressingly commonplace. When you’re in college, when you’re in universities, you see young teenage leftists glamorizing communism. You see college students with a Mao watch. I remember in college one of the folks in my dorm had a poster of Che Guevara on the wall. And as a college student I wasn’t nearly as timid and shy as I am today. So I went in and I commended him. I said, ‘Look, that’s lovely. That’s fabulous. I am glad you’re honoring, glorifying Che Guevara. But look, if you’re going to celebrate torturers and murderers, why limit yourself? I mean c’mon next to Che, you can put Stalin, you can put Mao, you can put Pol Pot, you can put Hitler. Che Guevara was a murderer and an evil man, but he was an amateur compared to the millions who suffered at the hands of other dictators. Now I get he was sort of rakishly good looking and he did the sort of unshaven stubble, so that excuses it. A good-looking murder is perfectly acceptable to lionize.
“In my family and so many families across the globe the horrors of communism are not theoretical, they're not abstract. They’re real, they’re personal, and they’re measured in lives lost.
“I met recently with one Cuban dissident who had been attacked by the regime for speaking out. She started out as a communist operative but she dared speak out against the regime. She was attacked by a machete, hacked within inches of her life. At this point, the verdict of history is clear: communism is a grossly immoral, oppressive evil. And we need the clarity to recognize that.
“This legacy has echoed throughout the Caribbean, throughout Central America, throughout South America, and across the Atlantic to Angola. Socialist strongmen still struggle to hold on to power. By the way, if socialism is such a utopia why do you always need a brute squad to oppress the people into accepting it?
“You know, Reagan powerfully used to say, ‘The thing liberals never seem to notice -- the Berlin Wall. The machine guns all point in one direction.’ As a Cuban American I’ve had a slightly different take on it. I’ve said that the things liberals never seem to notice is if you go down to Key West, the rafts are all going one direction. Just once I’d like to see Jane Fonda and other Hollywood liberals go strap together some empty oil barrels and float 90 miles south. Because their nirvana of socialized medicine and socialized misery for all is right there.
“People vote with their feet and they vote with their lives and that’s why communism is always, always, always accompanied by brutal totalitarian oppressors. Because it doesn’t work, and it is only at the barrel of a gun that people will tolerate it.
“As we’ve seen in North Korea, we don’t make progress by backing down, by apologizing for the truth. We stand up and we proclaim it. Weakness and appeasement never works. Indeed, appeasement is provocative. There is a reason as you travel the capitals of Europe you don’t see statues to Neville Chamberlain.
“Appeasement only encourages despots, tyrants, and dictators. We put sanctions on dictators and back up our words with action. We support a free press, private property, and the democratic process.
“We must learn the lesson about the brutality of tyrants. Having witnessed the Castro reign in Cuba and Maduro’s failing Venezuela, countries that went from enormous prosperity to unimaginable misery. The U.S. has seen the inevitable impact of communism: a fundamentally unfree society with a flailing economy governed by a repressive state. We can’t stand idly by while Nicaragua follows in the same footsteps as Cuba and Venezuela – crafting a legacy to institutionalize a dictatorship. And we especially should not be funding that communist oppression, the American taxpayer should not be footing that bill.
“To the people of Nicaragua: There will be an expiration date for the Ortega regime. The American people stand with you in your fight for freedom and for the rule of law. You have put Ortega on his heels, and I am hopeful the day will come when Nicaragua will again have a government that truly represents them.”
“To half million protesters, who risked your lives. To the students, some students as young as my father was in Cuba, who stood up and risked your lives for freedom I say thank you. Thank you for your courage. And remember, truth has power. Truth is stronger than lies, light is stronger than darkness. And every oppressive regime seems unshakable until it crumbles and falls.
“I’ve met with a number of dissidents from countries throughout Latin America, and I often take them into my office at the United States Senate, and the prominent feature in my office is an enormous painting. It is a painting of Ronald Reagan standing before the Brandenburg Gate, the top of the painting written in German are the words ‘tear down this wall’ done in the style of graffiti on the Berlin Wall. Now the story that many know when that speech was being written, three times the State Department crossed out those words. And three times President Reagan wrote them back in in his own handwriting. The State Department argued, ‘Mr. President that’s provocative! Mr. President it is unrealistic, you cannot say something like that because it will never, never, never happen.’ We were only a few years past from Jimmy Carter telling us we had to accept malaise and that America could never keep up with the Soviet Union. And Reagan with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes said, ‘You don’t understand, this is the whole point of the speech.’
“Some years ago I sat down with Natan Sharansky in Jerusalem, the famed Soviet Union dissident. He told stories of how in the gulags prisoners would pass in the cells notes that read: ‘Did you hear what Reagan said? ‘Evil Empire.’ ‘Ash heap of history.’ ‘Tear down this wall.’ Those words pierced the darkest prison cells and within a few short years, that symbol of evil and oppression came crumbling to the ground.
“To the people of Nicaragua, tyranny will fall. Your bravery will play a critical role in making that happen and the American people stand with you.”