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Analyst: Relations ‘Chilling’ Between U.S., Nica

September 19, 2008

The decision last week by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez to cancel his trip to Nicaragua later this month represents a chilling of relations between the United States and Nicaragua, according to one of Nicaragua s top foreign policy analysts.

Though there was no indication as of press time that Nicaragua would follow Bolivia s and Venezuela s example by expelling U.S. Ambassador Robert Callahan, Gutierrez s cancelation is being interpreted as a clear sign that relations between the two countries are beginning to sour.

Ex-Foreign Minister Emilio Alvarez told The Nica Times that Gutierrez s decision to cancel his trip to meet with President Daniel Ortega and top business leaders indicates that relations between the two governments could become less friendly moving forward.

The U.S. Embassy last week confirmed that Gutierrez canceled his trip here because international circumstances have changed.

U.S. Ambassador Callahan would not elaborate, but analysts here are saying the U.S. move is a reaction to Ortega s controversial decision to recognize the two Georgian separatist provinces.

On Sept. 2, Ortega announced that Nicaragua will officially recognize the rebel provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, making Nicaragua the only country in the world other than Russia to do so (NT, Sept. 12).

Alvarez said that Ortega s decision has to do with a nostalgia for Nicaragua s leftist solidarity with the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and a political gamble that Nicaragua could benefit from Russian oil if he buddies up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But in recognizing the two breakaway provinces, Alvarez said, Ortega is sticking his nose in an international problem that he has no business getting involved in, and subsequently threatening the continued stability of Nicaragua s relations with the United States and the European community.

Just one week before Ortega s announcement, Gutierrez had already confirmed his trip here during a meeting with Vice President Jaime Morales, who represented the Nicaraguan government at the Latin American Forum on Competitiveness held in the U.S. city of Atlanta, Georgia. Gutierrez s two-day trip here, scheduled for Sept. 30- Oct. 1, was planned to be a top level event, involving meetings with Ortega and the country s top business leaders, as well as site visits to the several large U.S. investment projects here, including the $100 million Cone Denim plant north of Managua.

In the recent past, Arturo Cruz, Nicaragua s ambassador to the United States, has described Gutierrez as one of Ortega s closest allies in the U.S. administration of George W. Bush. The two have met on several occasions and the trip here this month was going to be an effort to strengthen relations even further, while exploring possibilities of bringing new U.S. investment to Nicaragua.

The Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) is concerned that Gutierrez s cancelation could be a point of inflection in U.S. relations with the Ortega administration.

AMCHAM President César Zamora told The Nica Times this week that Ortega had done an exceptional job during his first 20 months in office of managing relations with the U.S. government, which seemed willing to cut him some diplomatic slack so long as his inflammatory rhetoric didn t translate into actions.

But by recognizing the two rebel provinces, Ortega has crossed the line from rhetoric to action and the United States is no longer playing along anymore, Zamora said.

It is important for the country and for Central America that Ortega return to the balancing act that he was managing before with the United States, Zamora said.

 

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