Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy with a population of approximately 5.7 million. In 2007 Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was sworn in as president, following 2006 elections that international observers characterized as generally free and fair. In November 2008 the country held nationwide municipal elections during which there were widespread irregularities and fraud. Other human rights problems included: unlawful killings by security forces; lack of respect for the rule of law; systemic corruption and politicization of the Supreme Electoral Council, judiciary, and other state institutions; erosion of freedom of speech and press; substantial government harassment of NGOs; violence against women; discrimination against ethnic minorities; and violations of trade union rights.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

In developing strategic priorities to support human rights and democratic principles, U.S. officials consult and work closely with government institutions, NGOs, labor unions, and other civil society organizations to encourage reforms and promote respect for human rights and democracy. The U.S. Government uses diplomatic engagement, public outreach, foreign assistance, and related activities to advance its human rights and democracy promotion objectives.

The United States' principal strategic priorities are helping the country's citizens preserve democratic processes and practices, including strengthening democratic groups working to achieve a free, fair, and transparent electoral system, and promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. U.S. assistance is supporting important democratic processes and practices that promote rule of law, an independent judiciary, democratic political parties, and transparent elections, an open civil society, and media freedom. The United States supports civil society advocacy for transparent and just governance, and efforts to improve local governance through greater community engagement in municipal decisions. These priorities reflect the needs of civil society, which remains concerned about restrictions on democratic freedoms and civil rights.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

To support a free, fair, and transparent electoral system, in 2008 the U.S. Government provided small grants to 33 civil society groups and media outlets for 35 projects focusing on citizen participation in the November local elections. The United States, through implementing partners, offered elections reporting workshops for journalists, supported local election observers, facilitated municipal candidate debates led by local civic groups, fostered campaign finance reform, and provided technical assistance to political parties.

To support the continued functioning of democratic space, the United States is strengthening NGO capacity to monitor government spending and operations; encouraging public awareness and greater civic participation in public decision-making; training and providing other support to strengthen media capacity to promote accountability and expose corruption; working with legislators to depoliticize the judiciary and electoral tribunal; and training and fostering dialogue among current and emerging democratic political leaders. The U.S. Government is providing financial and technical capacity building assistance to civil society organizations that have formed advocacy coalitions for respecting the rule of law and government accountability. U.S. foreign assistance is focusing on legislators, civil society, and election experts to promote meaningful electoral and political reform with the aim of increasing public confidence in state institutions and democratic processes.

The ambassador continues his ongoing public diplomacy efforts through delivering speeches, giving media interviews, authoring newspaper articles, and participating in public events to highlight the United States' commitment to democracy and human rights and underscore civil society's fundamental role in a democracy. U.S. officials also make presentations on democratic governance to universities, business associations, and other civil society groups. The United States continues to provide speakers who discuss strengthening and developing media professionalism and democracy. These efforts have included experts who discussed the November 2008 U.S. presidential elections. Through U.S.-funded exchange programs, citizens visit the United States to learn about civil society, community engagement, grassroots democracy, and youth participation in democratic processes

U.S. assistance programs to combat trafficking in persons include funding for training police and other government officials on identifying and protecting trafficking victims in the most-affected regions of the country. To promote the elimination of the worst forms of child labor on coffee plantations, U.S. assistance is targeted at funding alternative educational opportunities to 10,000 children in the northern part of the country. The U.S. Government supports respect for labor rights through programs that improve the quality of government inspections, train law students in labor law jurisprudence, operate worker rights information and assistance centers, strengthen the capacity of worker organizations, and cultivate a culture of compliance with labor laws.