First UNSC Meeting of Haley’s Presidency Brings Clashes Over Nicaragua Crisis

By Patrick Goodenough | September 6, 2018 | 4:21am EDT
With Nicaragua on the agenda, Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley presides over the first substantive meeting of the United States’ Security Council presidency, on September 5, 2018. (UN Photo/Loey Felipe)

( – The first substantive meeting of the U.N. Security Council under the presidency of the United States was marked by deep divisions on Wednesday, as several countries’ representatives slammed the decision to focus on the crisis in Nicaragua, and Venezuela’s delegate took the opportunity to label the Trump administration “one of the most obscurantist” in recent history.

Since anti-government protests began last April, initially triggered by cuts to social programs, more than 300 people have been killed and thousands injured. President Daniel Ortega’s leftist government has reportedly used para-military and vigilante groups to target protestors and Catholic Church properties.

But Russia, China and Bolivia all disputed that the situation constituted a threat to international peace and security – the Security Council’s primary responsibility under the U.N. Charter – and said it should therefore not be on the agenda.

Some accused the U.S. of blatant interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.

Ambassador Nikki Haley explained why the U.S. feels otherwise, pointing to the destabilizing nature of conflicts that result in mass displacement, and drawing parallels with the crises in Syria and Venezuela.

“The Security Council should not – it cannot – be a passive observer as Nicaragua continues to decline into a failed, corrupt, and dictatorial state, because we know where this path leads,” she said.

“The Syrian exodus has produced millions of refugees, sowing instability throughout the Middle East and Europe. The Venezuelan exodus has become the largest displacement of people in the history of Latin America. A Nicaraguan exodus would overwhelm its neighbors and create a surge of migrants and asylum seekers in Central America.”

Haley observed that since the unrest began, more than 25,000 Nicaraguans had already left for neighboring Costa Rica. Nicaraguan migrants and asylum seekers have also been entering Honduras, Mexico and Panama, she added.

(In earlier remarks to the council, Haley challenged the objectors: “How many people have to die [in Nicaragua] before it becomes a matter of peace and security? I think we’ve already reached that point.”)

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. (Photo: The Voice of Sandinismo)

Russia led the opposition, with representative Vassily Nebenzya questioning the appropriateness of the meeting.

“Does the Security Council mandate include exerting pressure on the authorities of a sovereign state to compel it to initiate certain changes, thereby conceding to anti-government forces?” he asked.

Nebenzya charged that “some” countries cannot accept the fact that others adopt independent policies to advance their own interests and not “the regional ambitions of major powers.”

Instead, he said, those countries seek to stoke social unrest and wreak economic damage, with the goal of regime change.

Bolivian representative Sacha Sergio declared that the situation in Nicaragua “does not constitute any threat whatsoever for the region or the world,” calling the meeting’s premise an “absurdity.”

Instead of helping to alleviate the situation, he said, the approach being taken amounted to “dragging a member state before the Security Council and interrogating it and accusing it.”

Expressing solidarity with the fellow leftist government in the “sisterly republic of Nicaragua,” Sergio said the Ortega administration had “resorted to domestic, constitutional, legal mechanisms to bring peace to the country.”

At the end of his remarks – which included criticism of U.S. intervention in foreign countries, unilateral sanctions, and outside funding of opposition groups in Nicaragua – Haley sardonically thanked Sergio “for that lovely statement.”

A flood of asylum-seekers

Nicaragua is not a member of the council but was invited to participate, and sent Foreign Minister Denis Moncada to respond.

He said nothing of the unrest, but charged that the meeting was “a clear case of interference in the internal affairs of Nicaragua, and a violation of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Other non-council members invited to take part at their request were Costa Rica and Venezuela.

Costa Rican envoy Rodrigo Alberto Carazo condemned extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and other abuses reported in Nicaragua.

He said the crisis was spilling over the borders and affecting the broader region, with a significant increase in migration in Costa Rica, including more than 12,800 asylum requests this year. (Costa Rica, a country of 4.9 million, is smaller than West Virginia.)

In her earlier statement, Haley had said that Ortega and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro were “cut from the same corrupt cloth: They are both students of the same failed ideology, and they are both dictators who live in fear of their own people.”

Venezuelan delegate Henry Alfredo Suárez hit back in his statement, referring to “the desires for imperial domination of the various U.S. administrations” and labeling the current one as “one of the most obscurantist administrations in recent times.”

When he finished his speech, Haley forwent the customary thanks to the speaker. She also chose not to reply to the attacks, but said simply, “There are no other speakers on the list. The meeting is adjourned.”

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