The Nicaraguan government, led by Daniel Ortega since 2007, has been clearing the opposition political field in recent weeks, seemingly in preparation for November presidential election. This spree has resulted in the detention of five presidential candidates and numerous community leaders critical of the government, including members of the business community.
On June 15 the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution, supported by 26 countries, condemning Nicaragua for the, “arrest, harassment and arbitrary restrictions placed on presidential candidates, political parties and independent media and … call[ed] for the immediate release of presidential candidates and all political prisoners.”
The governments of Mexico and Argentina abstained from this vote and issued a joint statement, “express[ing] their concern over the recent events in Nicaragua, especially for the arrest of political opponents, a review of which would contribute to the Nicaraguan electoral process receiving appropriate international accompaniment and recognition.”
Mexico and Argentina have set themselves apart, staking out a common critical position on Nicaragua, while embracing non-intervention as a foundational foreign policy principle. Both countries have been highly criticized for this vote. However, their abstention does not appear to be a rubber stamp in favor of President Ortega. Since the OAS vote, and because of the rampant violation of rights Nicaragua, both countries have recalled their ambassadors for further consultation.
Non-intervention doesn’t have to mean non-engagement. There are important moments in recent Mexican and Argentine history where different types of foreign engagement played important roles. For example, Mexico had a respected part in the process leading up to the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords ending the Salvadoran civil war in 1992.
Argentina, on the other hand, was on the receiving end of international solidarity encouraging the return of democracy and respect for human rights during the years of military dictatorship. This foreign intervention has been heralded by Argentine governments since the restoration of democracy. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), one of those providing solidarity to those suffering through the Dirty War, was given the Emilio F. Mignone International Prize in 2009 by the government for having played that role. I received that award on WOLA’s behalf.
Maybe it’s time to update the concept of non-intervention keeping in mind these examples. In today’s parlance, non-intervention sounds like “you-be-you.” When young people say “you-be-you” they are endorsing the freedom to act as we choose at an individual level, but with limits. You can take any path you choose, but not at the expense of the rights of others. This generation staunchly defends the rights of oppressed minorities.
Mexico and Argentina’s abstention on the Nicaragua vote, could be an old-school narrow definition of non-intervention in which each country minds its own business. Or, it could be a form of a more modern “you-be-you” foreign policy in which condemnation is done in a way that attempts to create opportunity for constructive engagement
I may be criticized for wishful thinking, but by abstaining from the OAS vote, and doing it alongside Argentina, Mexico may have created a space to play a different role. Using this “you-be-you” foreign policy construct, these two countries could choose to engage with President Ortega to encourage freedom for political prisoners and free and fair elections. Let’s hope they use the space they have created wisely.
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson