Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy. After winning the 2006 national election with 38 percent of the vote, Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista National Liberation Front was sworn in as president in January 2007. Although international observers judged the election to be generally free and fair, 8 percent of the final results were not made public. Ongoing human rights problems included: arbitrary application of justice and lack of respect for the rule of law; corruption and politicization of the judiciary, the Supreme Electoral Council, and other government institutions; intimidation of NGOs and journalists; violence against women; trafficking in persons; discrimination against indigenous communities; and violations of trade union rights.
The U.S. strategy for advancing freedom and democracy is directed at strengthening the country's democratic institutions through: promoting democratic principles and human rights; supporting good governance, transparency, and respect for the rule of law; defending an independent media; and strengthening civil society. These priorities reflect the needs of NGOs and indigenous communities who share with U.S. officials their growing concerns about restrictions on democratic freedoms and civil rights. In developing these priorities, U.S. officials regularly consult with indigenous leaders, private sector representatives, women's rights activists, and other members of civil society. Based on these groups' inputs, a key strategy priority for the United States is supporting free, fair, transparent, and inclusive municipal elections in November 2008. The United States uses diplomatic engagement, public outreach, foreign assistance programs, and related initiatives to advance strategy objectives.
To promote free elections and citizen participation in the 2008 elections, the U.S. government is providing political party technical support and civil society voter registration training. The United States is also funding a dynamic program to assist persons with disabilities to engage more effectively in civic participation and exercise their voting rights. To support the promotion of good governance, U.S. programs are working to help fight corruption, improve the country's legal and regulatory framework, and support a fair and effective judiciary. The U.S. government is providing financial and technical capacity-building assistance to civil society organizations that have formed a coalition to advocate for respect for the rule of law and government accountability. The coalition has reached an agreement with the National Assembly to include civil society's inputs in the selection of judges for the supreme court. U.S. support for judicial reform also involves training judges to improve oral skills and the drafting of decisions. The United States has also funded 22 conflict resolution centers that employ 500 U.S.-trained facilitators.
The U.S. government uses targeted foreign assistance to provide small grants to community-based projects to promote democratic development. These grants are making substantial advances in supporting civil society democracy objectives, including training 90 Miskito and other indigenous community leaders on public policy and freedom of expression; giving leadership, democratic values, and human rights courses to 150 National Engineering University students; and providing courses on participation, negotiation, political parties, and human rights to 120 women from six rural municipalities.
To support transparency and media freedom, U.S. programs include an ongoing U.S.-funded "Trust for the Americas" journalism capacity-building project and related efforts to assist NGOs that were key players in the development and implementation of the country's first freedom of access to information law, which was passed in 2007. To promote greater awareness and demonstrate the U.S. commitment to a free media, U.S. officials sponsored a six-day Speaker Program in the indigenous-Afro community municipality of Bluefields and five other cities, where a prominent U.S. expert held a dialogue with approximately 100 journalists, media leaders, and academics on the importance of access to information in a free society.
Through public diplomacy, the United States engages with a spectrum of prodemocracy civil society actors and government officials. The ambassador regularly delivers speeches, gives media interviews, authors newspaper editorial and opinion articles, and participates in public events to highlight the U.S. commitment to democracy and human rights, and to underscore civil society's indispensable role in a democracy. Using public diplomacy to support indigenous rights, the ambassador has made six visits to the northern and southern Atlantic indigenous autonomous regions to consult with local leaders regarding human rights and democratic participation needs in light of the devastation wrought by the September 2007 Hurricane Felix. The United States is also using public diplomacy to build capacity for raising awareness and respect for women's rights. U.S. officials have enabled several women's rights advocates, including an attorney from the Criminal Division of the Public Ministry and the director of an NGO that protects child victims of trafficking, to participate in International Visitor Leadership Programs.
U.S. assistance programs to combat trafficking in persons include funding an NGO project to train police officers and other government officials on identifying and protecting trafficking victims and an international organization's campaign to raise awareness about trafficking in remote parts of the country. To promote respect for labor rights, the U.S. government is funding programs to improve the quality of Ministry of Labor inspections, train labor judges and attorneys in labor law jurisprudence and international standards, and establish the first workers' rights information and assistance centers in Central America.