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Nicaragua Revokes The Licenses Of A Number Of Aid Organizations

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Nicaragua is facing multiple crises - some areas face drought, while others faced hurricanes and floods. Now aid groups, which are there to help, are being kicked out. President Daniel Ortega accuses them of not complying with a new transparency law. Oxfam Regional Director Simon Ticehurst spoke with Noel, and he said Ortega aims to consolidate power ahead of elections this fall.

SIMON TICEHURST: We found out about this, as the general public did, through the official government newspaper. Basically, they gave us 72 hours to close down our operations. I mean, we're talking about a significant amount of funding that we've channeled through to Nicaragua. Like, just last year - close to $5 million and 130,000 beneficiaries.

NOEL KING, BYLINE: When you folks opened up the newspaper in the morning and learned that you and numerous other organizations that are there to help were being suspended, did anyone get on the phone and call the Ortega government and say, guys, what's going on here? We're here trying to help and you're telling us we can't? Like, what was that conversation?

TICEHURST: Yeah, well, that conversation didn't happen. There's a new legislation that's been introduced, and under this new legislation, of course, all of these registrations are now being canceled. So the new legislation is very difficult to comply with. We've tried to, and the government has asked us for more information, new formats. They keep sort of making it actually more difficult to. And, you know, there's an economic recession related to COVID. There's a public health crisis. There's a political crisis, which exploded with the protests in 2018. And now we've got to a very sort of sensitive moment in the build-up to the elections, and we're seeing a crackdown of civic activity.

KING: And in the immediate term, the suspension of all of those licenses, what will be the direct impact? Are we talking about people going hungry, people going thirsty, people sleeping in the streets? What are you most concerned about over the next, say, four to six weeks?

TICEHURST: I mean, the suspension of our humanitarian programs is probably the most immediate impact, and that affects food aid. So food packages are being distributed with cereal, pasta, cooking oil, maybe nutritional packets for young kids, accompanied by health hygiene - you know, prevention programs that are trying to reduce the contagion of COVID.

KING: Is there any way, at this moment, that you or any of these other organizations can still work in Nicaragua? I'm just thinking of all of those people you're helping. Are they just - no one's helping anymore?

TICEHURST: Well, right now we've got a big task in just complying with what the government's asked us to do in terms of handing over our accounts. And just ending contracts - both, you know, legal contracts, labor contracts - is a big task. So we've got to get that out of the way. But we certainly want to explore how we can contribute and how we can continue to collaborate with the Nicaraguan people in the future.

KING: Should countries that neighbor Nicaragua and perhaps countries even further afield, like the United States, should they be expecting an influx of refugees?

TICEHURST: We're already seeing that. So just last month, in July, 13,000 seeking refugee status in Costa Rica - probably a similar number in the United States. So therefore, there needs to be a special consideration for the Nicaraguans right now in this time, and it's likely to increase as we get closer to elections.

KING: Simon, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

TICEHURST: Thank you, Noel. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FEVERKIN'S "SILHOUETTE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.