Political scientist Evan Ellis, professor and researcher at the US Department of Defense War College and expert on China-US relations, was expelled from Nicaragua on June 15, 2016, after spending less than 24 hours in the country. His aim as an academic was to conduct interviews and gather information on the government-promoted interoceanic canal project with Chinese company HKND.
Upon hearing of the breakdown in Nicaraguan-Taiwan relations, Evans published an article in Global Americans media titled, “Nicaragua’s Shift to China: What Does It Mean for the Region?” », And answered a brief questionnaire from CONFIDENCIAL.
How do you judge Nicaragua’s break with Taiwan and its alignment with China? What are the implications?
This is something we have been waiting for a long time. In the short term, this will likely give new life and help the Ortegas stay in power, thanks to additional resources and the possibility of distributing money embezzled from new loans and contracts with Chinese companies (as happened in Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro; in Ecuador, under Rafael Correa; and in Bolivia, under Evo Morales). It is yet another reminder of the corrosive, albeit indirect, role played by the People’s Republic of China in undermining democracy in Latin America and facilitating a region more authoritarian, and less oriented to cooperate with the United States through its own. strategic interests. China lends resources regardless of whether its partners violate their own constitutions and laws or violate human rights, while the arrangements are structured so that the Chinese are paid.
What do you attribute the decision to align with China at this time?
I think the Ortega made a deal with the Chinese to get more money than they had extorted from the Taiwanese in recent years. US and EU sanctions and the possibility of being suspended from DR-CAFTA have also made it clear to the Ortegas that they need to create alternative resources to stay in power. The “Democracy Summit” organized by the Joe Biden administration, to which Nicaragua was not invited, was for them a symbolic opportunity to show their independence, to hijack the American message of the Summit and to spit in the eye of “Uncle Sam”.
What is the underlying reason for Ortega’s calculation: geopolitical alignment or economic expectations?
I think it is imperative for the Ortega to stay in power, especially in anticipation of new US and European sanctions, and the possibility of being excluded from CAFTA, and also losing the Western investments they have attracted in the part of their integration with the American market. Like the position of China and Russia with Venezuela, having the People’s Republic of China as a partner also helps hamper the actions of organizations such as the UN against Nicaragua for its lack of democracy.
Taiwan was giving Nicaragua $ 30 million a year without any strings attached. What can Ortega achieve in the short term? Donations? Ready? Investments ?
Taiwan has been a good friend of Nicaragua, despite the uncomfortable situation that the lack of democracy and respect for human rights in Nicaragua did not suit Taiwan. It seems to me that the Taiwanese diplomatic corps, Ambassadors Jaime Wu and Alexander Yui, have done an impressive job with limited resources, against all odds. However, Taiwan cannot compete with the size of the Chinese economy or its resources. Soon, we will hear about the signing of numerous non-transparent cooperation agreements to facilitate sales of Nicaraguan coffee and fruit in the Chinese market, benefiting some businessmen well connected to the Ortegas. I am waiting for a new Confucius Institute in Managua, Hanban scholarships and a training program on China for the Nicaraguan diplomatic corps. Agreements on projects for construction, production and transmission of electricity, agricultural products, telecommunications, smart cities, etc., financed by loans from the China Development Bank and guaranteed by the Sandinista government with the Nicaraguan money. It’s still early days to see if the government will breathe new life into Nicaragua’s canal project, but the sight of Laureano Ortega meeting the Chinese in Tianjin tells me that it will be on both sides.
How will China deal with this new Ortega regime, distant and uncooperative in the 1980s?
China is very transactional. He recognizes a strategic opportunity. Like Judas, the Ortegas will get their money for their betrayal of Taiwan. For a long time, it differentiated itself from other countries which have made a “diplomatic turn” in recent years, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Panama.
If they revive the canal project, the drama of China’s role in the country, and the debts, will be much greater.
Also in this context, Nicaragua would be a candidate, if one day China considered establishing a military presence in the hemisphere. But in the medium term, if there is no channel or military base, just like Costa Rica with Oscar Arias, with Laura Chinchilla, once it is no longer useful, Nicaragua will end up with debts to the Chinese, the dependence of its economy on Chinese companies, and an authoritarian state sponsored by the Chinese for their benefit, against democracy and the development and prosperity interests of the Nicaraguans.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our team