In Central America, a common view of the current situation argues that the U.S. authorities are reconfiguring their imperialist toolkit to resist more successfully the growing influence of Russia and China in the region, especially via Nicaragua. Focusing on the agendas and interests of extra-regional actors, such a view tends to overlook the decisive role played by the Central American people themselves. As for the United States, the fundamental goal of U.S. corporate elites in Central America is what it has always been: they reject any sign of political and economic independence in countries of strategic interest to them.
In fact, now, it is more realistic to speak of U.S. authorities plural rather than a U.S. government. With a president who has effectively admitted his foreign policy is hostage to interests beyond his control, the U.S. has no coherent government as the term is normally understood. The other side of the world from Central America, in Syria, Russia has shown up the U.S. government’s incoherence and dishonesty by demonstrating conclusively how the U.S. protects, arms, and equips the pseudo-Islamist terror militias U.S. officials claim to be fighting. This has very real parallels in Central America, where glaring contradictions exist between avowed U.S. government policy in the region and what the U.S. authorities actually foment.
On March 3 this year, the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and the U.S. vice president issued a joint statement on their Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity of the Northern Triangle. That statement makes very clear the U.S. authorities’ agenda, namely to consolidate U.S. corporate control of the three countries’ economies, drawing them away from the influence of the solidarity based Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) led by Venezuela and Cuba. ALBA has been dramatically successful in promoting economic and social investment and well above average levels of economic growth in Nicaragua. Ignoring that reality, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a consummate charlatan, cynically proposes an agenda suggesting U.S. official concern about human rights and migrants, about organized crime and narcotics and about corruption.
But almost everything in the March 3 joint statement indicates that U.S. policy in the region seeks to replicate the same failed policies that have worsened security, undermined human rights and deepened poverty and inequality in Mexico, and in the United States itself, ever since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. The false, glib jargon of the corporate media parroting U.S. propaganda in the region is based on the absurd premise that United States officials have any credibility at all when they offer policy recommendations to anybody. Repeated scandals have made plain that the U.S. financial system is irredeemably corrupt, endowed with an impunity corrupt elites elsewhere can only envy.
The U.S. criminal injustice system and its industrialized incarceration regime is grotesquely repressive, targeting ethnic minorities in the most blatant way imaginable. The U.S. economy is an austerity basket case, incapable of generating productive employment and with the participation rate at historic lows. Inequality in the United States grows year by year with an ever greater number of vulnerable families and individuals falling into extreme poverty. The natural environment of the United States is suffering chronic depredation, threatening the health and well-being of the country’s people. Yet this is the very same hopelessly failed policy context from which embarrassing phonies like Barack Obama and Joe Biden brazenly offer advice to Central America and the rest of the world.
In reality, the regional point of reference in Central America now is Nicaragua, which has dramatically reduced levels of poverty by democratizing its economy, especially expanding the cooperative sector and encouraging small agricultural producers and small businesses, systematically increasing the minimum wage, attracting record levels of foreign investment, completely overhauling its energy infrastructure, making major investments in local roads, ports and airports and actively diversifying its global trade relationships. By contrast, the Alliance for Prosperity of the Northern Triangle is a pallid, half-baked imitation of that model, geared entirely towards binding Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador ever more tightly into the dead hand grip of sterile, destructive corporate greed.
Of the three Central American countries in the Alliance, only the government of President Sanchez Ceren in El Salvador is working seriously to develop policies to democratize the country’s society and economy, against fierce opposition from the country’s reactionary elite. Last Sunday’s election result in Guatemala suggests that the right wing in the Alliance for Prosperity countries feel satisfactorily entrenched in defense of the U.S. elite’s regional interests. Guatemala’s President elect Jimmy Morales is little more than an effective public relations spokesperson for the agenda of Guatemala’s most reactionary corporate military elite. That election result in Guatemala comes immediately after a decisive sharpening of the reactionary post-coup regime in Honduras via the U.S. Embassy’s recent intervention forcing the closure of the business empire of Liberal party veteran Jaime Rosenthal Olivas.
In every single area of concern to Central America’s impoverished majority, regional reality contradicts the rhetoric of the U.S. authorities and their regional allies. Far from wanting to halt migration, the U.S. corporate economy depends on desperate migrants both for their cheap labor and for their overall positive contribution to U.S. gross domestic product. Far from being anxious to promote human rights, U.S. corporate elites depend on military and police repression to advance and secure their business interests in the region. Far from needing to crack down on organized crime and money laundering, the U.S. authorities are extremely anxious to control those activities for their own ends, just as they have promoted false Islamist takfiri terrorism in Libya and Syria.
Above all, the United States authorities and their covert arms work to manipulate the narcotics industry and its logistics network in Central America. While no doubt many members of the Guatemalan and Honduran security forces genuinely attempt to combat the narcotics industry in their countries, many of their superiors are actively implicated in narcotics just as their counterparts are in Mexico. The Salvadoran authorities face a desperately hard task trying to control organized crime and narcotics, as demonstrated by the transport stoppage provoked by the mara crime gangs earlier this year. Again, as in almost every other sphere of social and economic policy, Nicaragua leads the region as a bulwark against organized crime and narcotics.
Nicaragua’s crime statistics are a categorical indictment of failed U.S. security policy in the region and that of its allies in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. Nicaragua has just under nine murders per 100,000 inhabitants, the third lowest in all of Latin America. This year, the incidence of rape fell by 20 percent compared to 2014. In 2015, the country has had three kidnappings for extortion and all of the victims were rescued by the police with no ransom paid. Over the last five years, the incidence of robberies with menaces has fallen by two thirds. The security forces, with the lowest budget in the region, confiscated five and a half tons of cocaine, US$3 million in illicit cash, hundreds of firearms, almost 200 vehicles and 30 boats, closing down hundreds of points of sale of crack. Nine nascent local drugs cartels were broken up along with 260 crime gangs across the country.
According to the World Economic Forum, in the Americas only Canada and Nicaragua scored zero this year for the indicator of Crime and Robbery as the most important problem for doing business in those countries. After Canada and Chile, Nicaragua has the lowest cost of crime and violence suffered by businesses in the Americas. The World Economic Forum also places Nicaragua among the four best countries in the Americas in terms of “competitiveness for tourism and travel”. Vanderbilt University in the U.S. reckons Nicaragua has the lowest perception of insecurity in the Americas, with the lowest level of extortion and the highest rating of any Latin American country in “citizen security” at 66 percent.
The director general of Nicaragua’s police is a woman, Aminta Granera. Commissioner Granera read out these figures at this year’s ceremony marking the 36th anniversary of the founding of Nicaragua’s first democratically accountable police service by the Sandinista People’s Revolution of 1979. She said the statistics, “express the effectiveness of our Retaining Wall Strategy which is nothing but the morale, the values, the model promoted by our government of reconstruction and national unity, values with which we were formed in our revolutionary origins and which we have sought to preserve. A model that provides for coordination between all the institutions of the government and the state with the Nicaraguan people as the main protagonist of their own security.”
At the same event, President Ortega noted in relation to Nicaragua’s outstanding levels of security, “We’re not satisfied and even if we were in first place on the planet we can’t be satisfied; because the violence on the planet is of such dimension, crime, genocide, of such dimension that no one has the moral authority to throw the first stone. And those who want to throw the first stone are those with the least moral authority to do so. They want to come and measure us and rate us on the theme of human rights, the greatest abusers of the human rights of people who’ve violated and continue violating the human rights of entire peoples … Who? The great powers. Who? The developed countries of global capitalism who think because they have money they can set the rules, judge and punish whoever they want.”
The soft coup against Otto Perez selectively facilitated under U.S. auspices by the U.N. Commission against impunity in Guatemala along with the liquidation of the businesses of Jaime Rosenthal at the insistence of the U.S. Embassy in Honduras are two immediate examples of what President Ortega was talking about. Very plainly, the U.S. authorities are exploiting the motif of corruption as part of its overall campaign to impose their counterproductive, pernicious corporate agenda in the region. It is an open question as to whether the U.S. has any coherent foreign policy in Central America. Certainly, in terms of results, the Alliance for Prosperity has no chance of competing with the solidarity-based model of ALBA as implemented in Nicaragua. There is already an extremely successful social, economic and political model in Central America and it is called the Sandinista popular revolution.
Tortilla con Sal is an anti-imperialist collective based in Nicaragua producing information in various media on national, regional and international affairs. In Nicaragua, we work closely with grass roots community organizations and cooperatives. We strongly support the policies of sovereign national development and regional integration based on peace and solidarity promoted by the member countries of ALBA.