U.S. Ambassador Phyllis Powers is calling on Nicaraguan business leaders to not shirk from their responsibilities of building a free, inclusive, democratic and prosperous society. History will judge the actions of those who are in positions to promote change and determine whether or not “we fulfilled our responsibilities” and responded to the challenges during the times in which we lived, the ambassador said.
“The coordinated influence that exists in this room really has the power to change Nicaragua,” Ambassador Powers told an assembly of business leaders gathered for a Wednesday afternoon luncheon hosted by the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM). “I urge you to continue to increase the work that you are doing in this direction.”
The U.S. ambassador said that economic growth must go hand-in-hand with democracy, and not be given priority over democratic institutionalism.
“When President Obama spoke in San José about the strengthening the economy, he spoke of institutions, of democracy, human rights and dignity,” Powers told the group. “As leaders of your community, you have a special responsibility to help with the development of these institutions to ensure a strong democracy and to work to promote human rights with dignity.”
Powers reminded the group that the daily decisions they make as business leaders, employers and investors, “affect the lives of thousands of people and help to establish standards in Nicaragua.”
“In fact, I would venture to say that the decisions you make have more influence in the lives of Nicaraguans than those made by government,” Powers said. “So whether you believe it or not, you are already involved in political life; you are forming the future of Nicaragua.”
In what came across as Ambassador Powers’ most politically charged speech to date after one year at her post in Nicaragua, the U.S. envoy said responsibility comes with power. Though the ambassador noted several examples she has seen of corporate social responsibility and educational initiatives promoted by AMCHAM businesses, she stressed that more needs to be done.
“Those who have the most influence are those who are obligated to act,” Powers told the group. “We all have the privilege of being in a position of influence. It could be that we all arrived here on different paths, but the result is the same because we all have the opportunity to truly affect the lives of others through our actions. And if we don’t take advantage of this opportunity, we will be judged by history for our failures.”
Powers’ speech, delivered with her soft yet deceptively direct style, appeared to have found its mark among a Nicaraguan business class that has been criticized by civil society for accommodating itself to the current government. Following her speech, there was an opportunity for questions or comments from the business leaders. Not a single hand went up. The silence from the Nicaraguan business sector marks a dramatic departure from past AMCHAM events when business leaders lined up to make comments or ask questions of previous U.S. ambassadors.
Powers’ message apparently came through loud and clear.
“She was giving us a warning,” opposition politician and former presidential candidate Eduardo Montealegre told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “If you guys continue to get too comfortable, sooner or later (the government) will put you under the grinding wheel.”