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  • Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega looks towards his guest, Vladimir Putin, after he landed in Managua.

    Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega looks towards his guest, Vladimir Putin, after he landed in Managua. | Photo: AFP

Published 14 April 2017

The latest Washington Post caricature of Nicaragua adopts the attitudes of 19th Century imperialism rather than engaging honestly with the country.

Back in November 2008, on election night in the United States, a reporter here in Nicaragua asked then U.S. ambassador Robert Callahan what changes to expect in U.S. Latin American policy under the new President Barack Obama. Callahan, veteran U.S. death squad diplomat from Honduras to Iraq, replied he foresaw no change because U.S. policy in the region has been the same for decades. Sure enough, a few weeks after President Obama’s fake goodwill message at the Trinidad and Tobago summit of the Americas in 2009, his government supported the military coup in Honduras. As Callahan predicted, from 2008 to date, apart from cosmetic change toward Cuba, U.S. regional policy has been virtually indistinguishable from the previous fifty years.

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Now, the U.S. ruling elites are making sure President Trump adheres, like his predecessors, to the Monroe Doctrine from which Latin America and the Caribbean have suffered since the time of Simon Bolivar. In Nicaragua’s case, the most recent examples of the U.S. elites’ efforts to hijack President Trump’s policy in the region have been the anti-Castro Republican-inspired revival of the NICA Act and the Washington Post’s psychological warfare attack of April 8, “The Soviet Union fought the Cold War in Nicaragua. Now Putin’s Russia is back.” The Washington Post report is a disturbing sign that the Democrat wing of the US elites will work with Republican extremists to attack Nicaragua as they did in the 1980s.

Buried within relentless distortion of contemporary and historical background, the report alleges that Nicaragua represents a threat to U.S. interests because it receives Russian equipment for its armed forces and also hosts a ground station of Russia’s GLONASS global positioning system. Acknowledging Russia’s valuable past development cooperation initiatives for Nicaragua, the report alleges, falsely, “In the past few years, the partnership has been militarized.” To sharpen the propaganda message, the report omits essential context because, while Nicaragua has the most successful record of economic growth in Central America, it’s national budget remains modest relative to its neighbors. The respective defense and security budgets for the five main Central American countries in 2017 are:

The figures contradict the Washington Post’s misleading account. Costa Rica spends more per capita on security and defense than any of the other four Central American countries, while Nicaragua spends the least. Costa Rica camouflages its defense resources as Public Security Forces, but those units use military weapons and receive training from armed forces in Colombia and Israel, among other countries. Nicaragua’s armed forces are similar to those of its northern neighbors. Though it is true that Nicaragua has more tanks and artillery, almost all of these were inherited from the decade long war of the 1980s. But El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have more airplanes, while Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica have more coastal defense vessels. In terms of military personnel the relevant numbers are very similar:

But for Nicaragua, its neighbors’ armed forces are much more formidable than they seem, because they share bases, facilities and force agreements with the armed forces of the United States. In Honduras, Soto Cano is the base for U.S. Joint Task Force Bravo and the U.S. also has facilities at Catarasca in the Mosquitia, at Puerto Lempira and Puerto Castillo on the country’s Caribbean Coast and on Guanaja, one of the Honduran Bay Islands. In Guatemala, the U.S. military has built at least four bases with the Guatemalan armed forces: San Jose, Champerico, Tecun Uman and Poptu. In El Salvador, U.S. Joint Task Force Eagle is based at the Comalapa air base. Of equal importance, Costa Rica maintains authorization for the U.S. armed forces to deploy on its territory up to 7,000 troops and over 40 warships.

Allegedly, these military installations and agreements are part of the misnamed U.S. “war on drugs”. But Venezuela and Bolivia’s experience is that the U.S. authorities have often protected what they perceive as useful narcotics interests, for example those associated with former President Alvaro Uribe in Colombia. In the same way, the U.S. “war on terror” has protected U.S. trained, armed and supplied terrorists in Libya, Syria and Iraq. From the perspective of progressive political movements in Latin America and the Caribbean, the web of U.S. military bases looks very like a network of military control in the region as well as creating possible bridgeheads for armed intervention. None of this vital context figures in the Washington Post report because it shows how the U.S., not Russia, projects menacing military force in the region.

The Washington Post raises the scare that Nicaragua’s tiny ground station for the Russian GLONASS global positioning system may represent a surveillance threat to U.S. interests. But the report omits the enormous intimidating U.S. surveillance apparatus in the region. It also omits that the GLONASS satellite system will provide very important technological advances to Nicaragua and the rest of Central America. For example geodesic analysis to improve the region’s catastral system and better control of maritime and river traffic, especially of fisheries. Information from GLONASS will help optimize electricity generation and distribution. The satellite system will monitor and mitigate risk to the region’s population and guarantee communications during hurricanes, and volcanic or seismic activity. In the long term, GLONASS will monitor climate change via high-resolution imaging and so help optimize agricultural and livestock practice as weather patterns change.

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U.S. development cooperation fails to deliver such technology transfer. GLONASS technology will be available not only to the region’s public sector institutions but also to private business, including U.S. companies and investors. The Washington Post mentions none of the regional benefits of GLONASS technology transfer to Nicaragua. Instead, the report gives moral support to the destructive NICA Act sponsored by extreme right-wing Republicans in the U.S. Congress. Nicaragua is a very small vulnerable nation. Internationally, it cannot afford to have bad relations with anyone. Currently, it has valuable development cooperation relationships with Taiwan, South Korea and Japan and important commercial agreements with the European Union, the United States, Chile and Mexico. It maintains cordial relations with almost every country allied with the United States, as it does with countries allied with Russia.

Nicaragua does more than other countries in the region to promote peace and security via the System of Central American Integration (SICA), which includes Belize, Panama and the Dominican Republic. As a member of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) and of Petrocaribe, Nicaragua also works tirelessly for regional integration via peaceful cooperation and complementary trade. Since 2007, in an adverse global economy dominated by yet another crisis of Western corporate capitalism, Nicaragua’s economic growth has outstripped all its neighbors, transforming its society and economy through socialist-inspired policies promoting dialog, solidarity and national unity. The latest Washington Post caricature explains nothing about Nicaragua. It reflects instead how zombie U.S. foreign policy in the region remains stuck fast in the heart of darkness of 19th Century imperialism, unable to face the dawn of a multipolar world.

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