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Scandal-plagued Nicaragua hires DC lobby firm

Scandal-plagued Nicaragua hires DC lobby firm
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Nicaragua has hired a K Street firm to represent its interests in Washington.

The Central American country has come under scrutiny and international criticism over allegations that it is rigging elections to keep President Daniel Ortega in power. 

The Gephardt Group signed its contract with Francisco Obadiah Campbell Hooker, Nicaragua’s U.S. ambassador, on Dec. 1.

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Disclosure forms submitted to the Justice Department are vague in terms of what kinds of specific issues the firm will be working on for the country. 

However, documents do say that the company will be holding meetings with congressional and executive branch officials to influence policies “that contribute to the economic and political relations between the Republic of Nicaragua and the United States of America, as they arise.” 

The contract is worth $35,000 per month and lasts until the end of December 2017.

Tom O’Donnell, who co-founded the firm with former Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), did not respond to request for comment.

The Obama administration has had a cordial relationship with Nicaragua, but decades of criticism from the U.S. government haven't been forgotten by Ortega, who fought against U.S.-backed rebels in the 1980s.   

“Now it's us, the Nicaraguans, who decide because we no longer have a single Yankee general here," said Ortega after the election ended. "It's we Nicaraguans who count the votes. This is a sovereign democracy.” 

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In September, the House passed legislation to prevent Ortega’s government from gaining loans from international banks until it addressed allegations of election bias.  

The measure stalled in the Senate, but lawmakers in both chambers have been vocal about being tougher on Nicaragua. 

The State Department also expressed concerns following Ortega’s reelection to a third consecutive term, charging that he kept opposition candidates from participating and refused to allow local poll monitoring.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the flawed presidential and legislative electoral process in Nicaragua, which precluded the possibility of a free and fair election on (Sunday)," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner in a statement

Police met protestors with violence earlier this month, as demonstrators railed against Ortega’s win. 

Nicaragua has been forging a closer relationship with Russia, a former Cold War ally.

The two signed a security agreement this year, in which Russia has been supplying Nicaragua with military aid and training. Russia also plans to build a new embassy complex, anti-drug training center and satellite station in Nicaragua.

Last week, Ortega met with Russia's deputy prime minister, Dmitri Rogozin, according to both Latin American and Russian news sources.

The two leaders discussed strengthening business and diplomatic ties between their countries.

“What unites us and brings us closer is a humanist goal that has to do with peace,” Ortega said, mentioning a partnership in science and technology, including the creation of new vaccines. 

Relations between the United States and Russia have been strained, with the tensions reaching new heights during the U.S. presidential election. The U.S. intelligence community says that the country likely interfered in the elections with the aim of bringing President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBlinken holds first calls as Biden's secretary of State Senators discussing Trump censure resolution Dobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' MORE to the White House.