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Is America going the way of Nicaragua?

The world is watching us — America, the beacon of democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and individual rights. As President Biden heads to Europe for his first overseas trip, he is making the case that American democracy can withstand its current challenges. He asked in a recent op-ed, “Can democracies come together to deliver real results for our people in a rapidly changing world?” And he answered: “I believe the answer is yes.”

But right now, citizens may be asking: Is America the country with more than 100 scholars warning about threats to our democracy from within? 

Is America the country with a former president, Donald Trump, who incited an insurrection and who allegedly seized phone records of U.S. journalists?

Is America the country whose experts warn of a violent summer coming? 

But let’s get specific. Does our rhetoric match reality? Or are we starting to look like some of our neighbors whose citizens flee their countries, risking their lives to come to democratic America?

Take Nicaragua, where police recently raided the home of opposition figure Cristiana Chamorro and placed her under house arrest in a move viewed by critics as an attempt by the federal government to block her efforts to run for president. Chamorro is a journalist, vice president of La Prensa, an opposition newspaper formerly led by her father, who was assassinated, and daughter of former President Violeta Chamorro, widely seen as a challenger to President Daniel Ortega, who is running for a fourth consecutive term in November.

Nicaraguans are the 12th largest population of people of Hispanic origin living in the United States. They come here to escape Nicaragua in part because, as Human Rights Watch says, its human rights defenders are “targets of death threats, intimidation, online defamation campaigns, harassment, surveillance and assault.” 

But how will the U.S. have credibility in calling out Nicaragua’s government if we are showing signs of undemocratic behavior? The U.S. government has slapped financial sanctions on more than two-dozen Nicaraguan officials it accuses of undermining democracy. And Sec. of State Antony Blinken affirmed this week that the Ortega government is moving “in the opposite direction” of guaranteeing fair and free elections. This message is coming from a U.S. in the middle of its own internal battle over voting rights.  

America’s voice in the world is vital; people listen to us. But we have to get our own house in order if we are going to be the country Ronald Reagan imagined when he observed, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon of light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” 

We cannot risk becoming hypocrites in the world, leaving competitors such as Russia and China to define the global standard of behavior. If we lose our international standing as a democracy, countries such as Nicaragua will ignore our pleas, and pro-democracy leaders like Cristiana Chamorro will be in further jeopardy.

Tara D. Sonenshine is a former U.S. under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

Tags Antony Blinken Daniel Ortega Democracy Donald Trump Joe Biden Nicaragua Shining city on a hill

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
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