The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that limits U.S. loans to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government until the longtime president implements democratic reforms in the Central American country.
"Our bill is aimed at leveraging America’s influence and conditioning our vote at any of the international financial institutions for Nicaragua until the leadership in that country takes significant steps to restore democratic order," said Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on the House floor. "These conditions are similar to what this Congress has already passed for the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador."
Ros-Lehtinen is the sponsor of the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act along with New Jersey Democratic Rep. Albio Sires. Their bill passed the House by a voice vote, meaning there was not significant opposition to the proposal. The bill passed out of the House Foreign Relations Committee in July.
Ros-Lehtinen and Sires introduced and passed similar legislation last year, but the Senate did not act on it.
Texas Democratic Rep. Vicente González was the only member who opposed Ros-Lehtinen's bill during floor debate.
"Enacting this bill could have serious consequences in the region," González said. "My district was ground zero for the last immigration surge and I would like to prevent this from happening again. How can we in good conscious support a measure that would publish the poorest country in Central America?"
Ros-Lehtinen and Sires argued that their bill would only target loans that enrich Ortega and the Nicaraguan government. U.S loans that promote humanitarian assistance will still be allowed.
Ros-Lehtinen also said her bill would punish Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who relies on Ortega as an ally.
"If Venezuela’s Maduro is using Nicaragua in order to evade U.S. sanctions, we need to take a closer look at these ties, and hold people accountable," Ros-Lehtinen said. "And that is what this bill does Mr. Speaker – it holds the Nicaraguan government accountable just like we have done with other countries in Central America, so that it can truly help the people."