The Organization of American States warns Nicaragua it will keep watching even as the country exits

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Organization of American States said Wednesday that it will continue closely monitoring Nicaragua’s democracy and human rights record even after the country’s imminent exit from the regional body later this month.

OAS members made clear that Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega's withdrawal from the organization his country has belonged to since 1950 would not mean losing a persistent critic of his administration.

The OAS “will continue paying special attention to the situation in Nicaragua” and will try to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms there, according to a resolution approved by members of the permanent council.

“This is a clear message that we want to send to the Nicaraguan people, so that they know they are not alone,” said council President Ronald Sanders, the representative for Antigua and Barbuda, adding, "We are not going to abandon them.”

Arturo McFields, Nicaragua’s representative at the OAS until he publicly denounced Ortega and his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo in 2022, said Nicaragua’s withdrawal would be “a heavy blow to the fight for democracy and defense of human rights.” But he was encouraged by the OAS resolution.

Ortega’s administration has sought to suppress critical voices since popular street protests in April 2018 turned into a referendum on his government. After the protests were violently put down, with some 355 people killed and hundreds imprisoned, the government set about silencing institutions he perceived as supporting the protesters.

Targets have included private universities, the Roman Catholic Church, civil society organizations and tens of thousands of individuals driven into exile.

Ortega’s government started the two-year process to leave the OAS in November 2021, shortly after the body joined others in the international community in condemning the elections, widely criticized as flawed, that led to Ortega’s latest term.

The last country to leave the OAS was Venezuela in 2019.

Brazil expressed hope that Nicaragua would return soon, and its representative Benoni Belli argued against taking punitive measures against the country “which are not necessarily successful.”

Washington Abdalá, Uruguay’s representative at the OAS, gave Nicaragua’s president a warning about the departure: “No, Mr. Ortega, it’s not going to be so easy, it can’t be so simple. This is not an ideological issue, of left or right, it is an essential issue of the lives of Nicaraguans who are having a really hard time of it under that dictatorship.”