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Russia, China try to block US from leading UN talks on Nicaragua

Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, at the United Nations in New York on September 11, 2017. Several member nations of the U.N., including Russia and China, tried Tuesday to block an effort by the Trump administration to push the U.N. Security Council to confront the deadly violence that has consumed Nicaragua and left more than 300 dead. (Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/TNS)
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Several member nations of the U.N., including Russia and China, tried Tuesday to block an effort by the Trump administration to push the U.N. Security Council to confront the deadly violence that has consumed Nicaragua and left more than 300 dead.

The governments of Bolivia, China and Russia are leading the opposition against U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who is seeking to use her first meeting as this month’s president of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council to warn the international community that the region could face economic, immigration and security consequences if steps are not taken to stop Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

Haley opened to the public a normally closed meeting at which the Security Council sets the agenda for the next day’s full meeting. Bolivia’s representative to the U.N., Sacha Llorenti and other members questioned the role of the Security Council in Nicaragua’s sovereign affairs. Llorenti, who was also joined by five other members, said the Security Council should restrict its work to “cases that threaten international peace and security.”

Haley cited the crisis in Venezuela and argued that all the explanations against having the meeting on Nicaragua, such as peace and security, being a regional issue, and more an issue for the human rights council, are the “exact same responses” that were given in opposition to holding a meeting on Venezuela.

“How many people have to die before it becomes a matter of peace and security,” Haley told the Security Council on Tuesday when scheduling the full session on Wednesday. “I think we’ve already reached that point. It’s why the United States felt it was very important to have this meeting on Nicaragua. Because we don’t want another Syria. We don’t want another Venezuela.”

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The issue of whether to hold a full Security Council meeting on Nicaragua now comes up for a vote. Haley will need nine members of the council to support the agenda item for the full meeting to continue Wednesday. If all the countries who expressed some concerns, including Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea and Kuwait, vote against the agenda item it won’t occur.

“Although we deplore the internal situation in that Latin American country and we call on the government of Nicaragua to do its utmost to arrive at a solution to this domestic problem, our government is of the view that this is a situation that is not yet ripe for debate in the Security Council,” said Anatolio Ndong Mba, Equatorial Guinea’s U.N. ambassador.

But U.S. Mission officials said they’re confident they’ll have the nine votes and the meeting will continue.

This is the first time the U.N. Security Council will publicly address the Nicaragua crisis since peaceful demonstrations turned violent in April. If Nicaragua attends the Security Council session Wednesday, it would be the first time Haley has publicly confronted the Ortega government. But she is coming before the council with no specific requests for action.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the Ortega government responded to student demonstrations over cuts to pension benefits with military forces and police who indiscriminately fired tear gas and rubber bullets to dissolve demonstrations.

Last week, Ortega announced he would expel a United Nations human rights team after the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report blaming his government for the violent repression of opposition protests. Ortega accused the U.N. team of fueling the violence.

In July, the Organization of American States, the United Nations-like body for the Western Hemisphere, condemned human rights abuses committed by Nicaraguan police and criticized the harassment of the Roman Catholic bishops involved in a dialogue process between the government and opposition.

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Haley has not been shy about using her platform at the United Nations to push the international community to confront uncomfortable subjects, including Iran missile tests, Mideast issues and Venezuela. She warned the United States would be “taking names” of countries that voted in favor of a resolution that condemned the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Nicaragua has long been seen as one of the more stable countries in the region, drawing American tourists. But now flights going to Nicaragua are largely empty as sweeping protests have shattered the image of a peaceful country.

The State Department has warned Americans against visiting Nicaragua and pulled the families of embassy staff from the country.

The Trump administration has promised to continue to take action against the Nicaraguan government if it fails to properly address the concerns of student demonstrators and other civic groups about the increasing violence and political repression.

The administration has already slapped sanctions against three top Nicaraguan officials — including an in-law of Ortega. U.S. lawmakers are urging Trump to impose new sanctions on more officials, including two of Ortega’s sons and Nicaragua’s minister of health who is accused of blocking medical aid to protesters.

At the Conference on the Americas in May, Haley warned that the Ortega government was looking less like a democracy and more like a dictatorship. She described the responding police as mobs and slammed the government for silencing independent radio and televisions stations.

“We cannot allow the last, few surviving authoritarians to drag down the hemisphere,” she said then.

If the Wednesday session is approved by the council, Gonzalo Koncke, chief of staff for the OAS secretary-general, will provide an update on the OAS work for the U.N. Security Council. And political activist and opposition leader Felix Maradiaga, one of the best-known leaders of the anti-Ortega movement, will share insight about conditions on the ground in Nicaragua.

U.S. Mission officials said they don’t expect any report or immediate action to come out of the session, but didn’t count that out for later. What’s important, they said, is sending a message that what’s happening in Nicaragua is not OK as well as provide international support for the work of OAS and others who are taking steps to confront the issues.

“Any time we can shine a spotlight on what is going on, it shows the actors in the situation that the world is watching and we’re paying attention,” said a U.S. Mission official. “And when the world is paying attention, people are less likely to do the things that they would be called out for.”

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© 2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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