Nicaragua’s dictatorship opens a door to the Taliban



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The migration issue is in the news again. Criminal groups such as El Tren de Aragua from Venezuela, alleged members of ISIS from Tajikistan and common criminals without prior registration have been turning up on America’s doorstep.

Now there is a new concern: the opening of a dangerous door to the Taliban in Central America.

Nicaragua’s dictatorship announced last Friday the opening of diplomatic relations with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, governed by the Taliban since 2021. The Sandinista regime is the only country in the Americas to appoint an ambassador to the Taliban regime, and perhaps the second worldwide to offer this level of diplomatic recognition. (China was the first.)

The Afghan tyranny has celebrated its new diplomatic relations with the Central American country and says that it will “expand” bilateral ties. We must not forget that Nicaragua is a key player in the promotion of illegal migration to the U.S. In the last 12 months, it has received more than 1,000 flights with migrants from Libya, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and a dozen countries with totalitarian or terrorist regimes. In that same line, Afghanistan could even receive a free visa program, as many of these nations have.

This new open door to the U.S. is a real threat. Just two weeks ago, it was reported that eight suspected ISIS-linked terrorists from Tajikistan had been captured in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

The U.S. has determined that the Taliban, Afghanistan’s theocratic regime, are a Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization under Executive Order 13224. Nicaragua should therefore be a potential candidate for sanctions linked to terrorism.

Afghanistan is a dangerous guest for Central America. Countries like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama should raise their alerts and speak out. Nicaragua is opening the doors wide to a terrorist state, which despises freedom, democracy and human rights.

The region is currently going through one of its worst democratic crises, including constitutional reforms, populism and narco-dictatorships. The presence of international bad actors such as the Taliban exacerbates the situation.

Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia could be the next countries to welcome the Taliban. If Nicaragua goes unpunished, it would encourage other dictatorships to establish relations with the Taliban as well. These three countries already have close ties with the regimes of Iran and Russia.

From 2018 to 2013, President Daniel Ortega has staged 529 irrational and illegal attacks against religious freedom in Nicaragua, including the murder of an altar boy, the burning of sacred images, a hail of bullets over the Divine Mercy temple and the arrest of a dozen priests. Call it the Talibanization of Nicaragua. As in Afghanistan, any type of religious demonstration or dissent from the regime’s brutality is prohibited and criminalized.

In the same line with the Taliban, Nicaragua implements forced disappearances, illegal detention, torture and other crimes that are considered crimes against humanity. More than 3,500 civil society organizations have been closed. Fifty-four media outlets have been shuttered and 250 journalists have been forced to leave the country.

Nicaragua has become a geopolitical pawn of U.S. political adversaries. As with Cuba, Russia and China use the Nicaraguan regime as an instrument of geopolitical provocation against the U.S. It is dangerous game with serious consequences.

Despite these new provocations and geopolitical games, Nicaragua continues to receive benefits from the Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Central America, known as CAFTA-DR. The country receives at least 5.7 billion dollars in trade and more than 4 billion in remittances from the U.S.

This new relationship with Afghanistan represents a high-risk diplomatic cocktail. Just in June, Nicaragua officially appointed ambassadors to North Korea and Afghanistan. It is an act of provocation and stupidity that affects Nicaragua and hemispheric security in general.

The U.S. must provide a consistent, proportional and timely response to these new threats from the Ortega regime. Indifference or appeasement will not do.

Free trade with the U.S. is not a right but a privilege. The Biden administration must cut this privilege to Nicaragua’s dictatorship and impose strong, meaningful sanctions, beyond the usual visa restrictions against individuals in high government positions.

Instead of minimizing or underestimating the dangerous developments in this communist regime, the international community must work with other democracies in the region to monitor the situation in Nicaragua closely.

Yes, the migration problems that Ortega’s regime is helping create call for stronger security measures at the U.S. border. But most importantly, they call for a comprehensive, preventive and proactive foreign policy in Central America.

Arturo McFields Yescas is an exiled journalist, former ambassador to the OAS and former member of the Norwegian Peace Corps.



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