Subject: NICA Bill

by Megan Bridges

September 26, 2016

The President of the USA
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

My name is Megan Bridges, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania expected to graduate in December 2016. During the last four years, I have had the opportunity to travel extensively and form long-lasting ties with those I have met abroad. For example, I have studied at the University of Havana in Cuba; in fact, I was at the Malecón on the historic date of December 17, 2014 when you announced renewed diplomatic relations. I have also lived on-and-off in Nicaragua for nearly eleven months, and I hope to return there in January in search of full-time, non-profit work.

It is due to my experience in Nicaragua that I write to you today to express my deep concern regarding the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA). It was unanimously passed in Congress on September 21st, and it proposes to oppose loans at international financial institutions for Nicaragua unless the government holds democratic elections on November 6th. The bill’s popularity among emboldened U.S. representatives comes as no surprise given the United States’ protracted history of backroom deals, military force, and oppressive policies that have long come to define Western Hemispheric relations.

In 2015, however, you demonstrated to the international community that you would be the president to change all that. You dropped a bombshell that December when you agreed to renew relations with Cuba, in so doing providing an end in sight to the embargo that has caused unimaginable suffering vis-à-vis health disparities, economic fragility, and abject poverty. Your decision provoked respect—even among some of your critics—for it showed us a man willing to make unpopular decisions in order to advance a more free, just, and collaborative world. It also showed an America willing to embrace political plurality. It was commendable.

The NICA bill, however, threatens to dismantle the legacy you have not only created for yourself, but also for the country at large, in Latin America. As they say, it feels like every time we take one step forward, we take two steps back. The NICA bill harkens back to regressive Cold War policies that aimed to impose U.S. values, labeled under the guise of “liberty” and “democracy,” onto the countries of Latin America in order to promote U.S. commercial interests. Nicaragua, the original banana republic, has faced its share of U.S. meddling, from Marine occupation to support of the brutal Somoza dictatorship. Most recently, the U.S. backed a deadly military campaign known as the Contra Wars, which alone killed as many as 50,000 Nicaraguans.

If the NICA bill were to be signed into law, it would have catastrophic consequences for the country of just over six million people, as well as represent a modern incarnation of the United States’ disgraceful history towards Nicaragua. At its worst, the bill could send Nicaragua into economic free fall, propelling it onto a similar trajectory to that of its ally Venezuela. Currently, Nicaragua receives $250 million from international lending institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the International Development Bank, which it uses to fund infrastructure development to improve living conditions for its people. If this funding flow into Nicaragua were to be interrupted, we could bare witness to a human rights tragedy in a country where the GDP per capita was floating just above US $1,800 in 2015.

Furthermore, the NICA bill is coercive, and thus threatens to infringe on the sovereignty of millions of Nicaraguans. According to a poll conducted by M&R Consultants, 82.2% of Nicaraguans support an Ortega presidency. While actions taken by President Ortega within the last year are alarming—such as the country’s acquisition of 50 T-72 tanks from Russia, the expulsion of 28 congressmen from government, and the nomination of the president’s wife for Vice President—it is far too early in the game to tell how Nicaragua’s political situation will develop. At the moment, President Ortega’s disregard for traditional democratic processes has led mainly to political apathy among eligible voters. Nicaraguans are a strong and tireless people that when confronted with tyranny stand in unison for what they believe is fair and right. They sacrificed everything when they fought against the Somoza regime and won. Trust me, Mr. President; Nicaraguans are well capable of defending their own interests if they ever decide they’ve had enough. And if they wish to remain under Ortega leadership, then so be it.

Amidst all the facts and figures, I also have a personal plea to make. Nicaragua is my home away from home. Like you, I was raised in a single parent household, and my mom has always struggled to make ends meet. Since I began college, circumstance has forced my mom out of our childhood home, and she has had to rely on the kindness of family to provide her shelter. Although I joke around with acquaintances that we’re nomads, my heart grows heavy each time I remember that I have no home to return to on holiday. I was at my most vulnerable when I first traveled to Nicaragua, and there I was welcomed and embraced by my Nicaraguan coworkers, housemates, and, soon after, friends… I even fell in love. In Nicaragua, I have found a home I can always return to, and a makeshift family in which our bonds run stronger than blood. The thought alone of people I love facing unfathomable economic hardship due to the passage of the NICA bill is simply unbearable.

Although the NICA bill still needs to be passed in the Senate before it makes its way to the Oval Office, I hope that this letter has appealed to your sensibilities and has compelled you to veto the bill if and when it lands on your desk. While this is not my battle to be fought, it is my duty as an American to speak out against what I deem unjust. I strongly believe that an economic sanction is not a solution unless your intention is to inflict undue harm onto innocent civilians. Proponents of the NICA bill appear to be suffering from a lapse of historical amnesia regarding past U.S. foreign policy decisions towards Latin America. Instead of worrying about defending democracy abroad, let’s worry about defending it stateside. We can begin by election reform, abolishing the super delegate system, and opposing a volatile Trump presidency.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope you reach the only acceptable decision; to sign the NICA bill into law would not only be morally reprehensible, but it would also serve as a major setback to improved Western Hemispheric relations established under your presidency.

Megan Bridges