World Watch: Nicaragua with Ambassador Kevin Sullivan
March 2, 2021
Ambassador Sullivan opened the session with a brief biography of his Department of State career that has included eight different missions in 34 years on five different continents, with primary focus on the Latin American and Caribbean region.
He began his post as Ambassador to Nicaragua two years ago, and mentioned that it was a mere six months after a major social and political crisis, making the U.S. mission to the country a “particularly important and challenging” one.
Strained relations between the United States and Nicaragua go back to pre-Civil War days when William Walker “invaded” Nicaragua with a small band of mercenaries and set himself up as President of the country. To this day, former and again current President Daniel Ortega mentions Walker frequently in his speeches to underscore what he calls on-going U.S. interference which also includes the highly publicized Iran Contra scandal of the 1980’s.
Ortega, guerilla leader in the 1980s’ Sandinista movement that took power from the dictator Anastasio Somoza, has served four intermittent, progressively repressive terms as Nicaraguan President. According to Ambassador Sullivan, in 2017 he ran again for President as a “changed man”, now embracing democratic principles, and won. “But almost immediately he began to undermine” all of the economic and social progress that had been made over the previous 17 years under other Presidents.
Under authoritarian President Ortega and Vice President Murillo, his wife, the human rights crisis is worsening in Nicaragua, and relations with the United States are once again strained.
According to Ambassador Sullivan, Nicaragua’s beauty and natural resources are equal to those of Costa Rica, and exports of coffee, sugar cane, rum (specifically Flor de Caña), beef, and cigars are world class. However, between the worsening political situation and the pandemic, the vibrant economy that had been emerging in the 17 years prior to Ortega’s return to power, has suffered a deep decline. He stated that there is plenty of room, especially in rural areas, for small, family entrepreneurs and he hopes that U.S. support “will be able to change directions and return to a path of prosperity.”
In November 2021, Nicaragua will again hold presidential elections. The U.S. has and will continue to press for a fair election process.
As he closed his engaging and insightful talk, he mentioned that he is two and a half years into what normally is a three-year posting. He made it clear that he could be moving on, but he also said: “There’s plenty to keep me busy right here.”