No day is like the previous one in the Central American and Caribbean region (Photo: @minednicaragua / Twitter).
With the background noise of migration to the United States and the recent victory of Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, Central America and the Caribbean are at a turning point that will play an important role in the years to come in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The region comes from processes of civil wars, historical colonization and systematic impoverishment; however, the facts are woven with this historical thread in which democracy and human rights are used in the interest of the hegemonic narrative to intervene and capture geostrategic resources. Three of the multiple processes taking place are described below.
El Salvador: Bukele and his tactical tensions with Washington
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele has been the talk of the town after two key events in his relationship with the United States: the removal of a third of the judges and magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador and the presentation to Congress of a proposal for a Foreign Agents Law to supposedly avoid “interference”.
It should be noted that last May, the New Ideas (NI) party, created by Bukele and majority in the Legislative Assembly (Parliament), made a series of changes in the Judicial Power, including the dismissal of the Attorney General, which were labeled as a “coup d’état” by opposition sectors and were rejected by Washington. The communiqué of the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador had mentioned that “the five previous magistrates were abruptly dismissed without legitimate cause after the inauguration of the new Legislative Assembly”.
Previously, in February 2020, military troops invaded the seat of the Legislative Assembly and recently, last July, the United States published a list of names of Salvadoran officials accused of corruption in the so-called Engel List.
On the economic front, the President established a framework agreement with China that facilitates the execution of several projects financed by the Asian government. In this regard, the US Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung, tweeted to Bukele: “Mr. President, nothing from China comes without conditions”, to which he responded through the same social network: “You are China’s largest trading partner”.
In addition, he approved the use of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin as legal tender, which has generated protests among the population and curiosity from outside the Central American country. According to his government, the measure will help to recover the stagnant economy, dollarized two decades ago, by capturing the more than 400 million dollars of commissions generated by remittances sent by Salvadorans from abroad. These remittances represent 22% of the country’s GDP.
Protests against Bukele in rejection of the implementation of bitcoin as legal tender and the power grab by the president (Photo: Archive).
In a statement the State Department included the five new magistrates and the new Attorney General in its list of Anti-Democratic and Corrupt Actors accused of “undermining democratic processes”.
The tension in relations with Washington took a turn after Bukele declared that the United States finances social organizations that in his opinion are the “political opposition”, hence his government introduced to the Legislative Assembly the mentioned law with the objective of “establishing a legal regime applicable to natural or legal persons, national or foreign, whose activities within El Salvador respond to interests or are financed directly or indirectly by a foreigner”.
Bukele’s party, advised by Léster Toledo, an anti-Chavez fugitive immersed in “humanitarian” scandals, directly accuses organizations such as the National Foundation for Development (FUNDE) and the NGO Cristosal of receiving “millions of dollars annually without the origin or destination of the funds being known”.
At the beginning of September, the same Constitutional Chamber involved in the controversy issued a ruling that opens the possibility of Bukele’s reelection for a second term by ordering the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to allow a person who holds the presidency of the Republic, and has not been president in the immediately preceding period, to participate in the electoral contest for a second time. The president assumed the presidency in 2019 and would finish his term in 2024, but did not hold office in the previous period.
Meanwhile, the US Chargé d’Affaires, Jean Manes, announced on November 22 her departure from the Central American country without the appointment of a new ambassador in a diplomatic legation which has been without this position for almost a year. The diplomat had already served as ambassador to El Salvador and, after Joe Biden took office, she was appointed acting chargé d’affaires, pending the appointment of a new ambassador, which did not take place.
Manes had stated that relations became complicated after the White House sent “cooperation funds” to the country as a bridge to clarify the situation. However, Bukele’s government decided not to accept it, so he stated that they are looking for “new ways” to maintain cooperation with El Salvador.
Protests against Bukele have not ceased, last October thousands of Salvadorans took to the streets to demand his resignation, changes in favor of the nation, justice, decent wages, human right to water, transparency, and a practical fight against corruption.
#ElSalvador | Judges and magistrates prepare to start the march from the Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo to the Legislative Assembly. Judges take to the streets for the first time after the decree reforming the Judicial Career Law went into effect. F/ EDH pic.twitter.com/HlDb23v0cJ
– elsalvador.com (@elsalvadorcom) September 30, 2021
Analysts such as the former president of the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador, Sigfrido Reyes suspect that the sanctions announced from Washington are nothing more than “frictions of a totally secondary nature” and that “Bukele will never have a full fight with Washington and much less Washington with Bukele” because between both governments “there may be some discrepancies of a tactical nature, but they coincide in the strategic objectives”.
Nicaragua: Sovereignty permanently at stake
The resounding victory of Comandante Daniel Ortega on November 7, when he was reelected with 75.87% of the votes for a fifth five-year term, the fourth consecutive, had the Ley Renacer as a reaction from the Biden administration, even though the electoral contest was attended by six national parties, including the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), and many other regional ones.
Immediately there were calls to disavow the elections, to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IDC) of the OAS to expel Nicaragua from this organization and to increase economic sanctions. Before the polls closed, Joe Biden called the elections a “farce” and pointed out that “the Ortega and Murillo family govern Nicaragua as autocrats, no different from the Somoza family against which Ortega and the Sandinistas fought four decades ago”, as is necessary, those of Josep Borrell, diplomatic chief of the European Union, were not long in coming.
On November 19, through its foreign minister, Denis Moncada, the Nicaraguan government announced its withdrawal from the OAS declaring that “its mission is to facilitate the hegemony of the United States, with its interventionism, over the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean”.
As a legacy of Donald Trump, the current U.S. government has preferred to opt for unilateral “sanctions” to suffocate the Nicaraguan economy rather than enter into OAS debates.
The Renacer law (or Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to the Conditions for Electoral Reform Act), enacted within hours of the elections, opens the door to tougher sanctions against the Nicaraguan people. Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Congressmen Juan Vargas and Maria Elvira Salazar, all with extensive records of interference and even support for terrorism against Cuba, championed the bill which was approved in early August by the Senate.
It is an instrument that allows requesting multilateral banks to restrict the granting of loans and even to review Nicaragua’s membership in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The United States is Nicaragua’s main trading partner, importing 60% of its products. Other analysts predict that Biden would prefer not to stifle Nicaragua economically so as not to provoke a new migratory wave that would repeat the situation of Haiti or the “Northern Triangle” of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador). It is opportune to remember the complicated migratory situation in the region in which Nicaragua contributes only 6.8% of Central American immigrants to the United States while 86% come from those three countries.
The response of the Ortega-led government in withdrawing from the OAS takes the wind out of the sails of the organization’s officials and consultants, whose members had instructed the Permanent Council to appoint a commission to undertake diplomatic efforts at the highest level and to seek “a peaceful and effective solution to the political and social crisis in Nicaragua”. The plan included a report within a maximum of 75 days that would lead to the convening of a special session of the General Assembly and the invocation of Article 21 of the IDC for its expulsion.
The different public authorities and even opposition parties supported the government’s decision against the OAS statements and agreements of interference and last Monday 29th the alternate permanent representative of Nicaragua to the organization, Michael Campbell, refuted the summons of the Permanent Council in which reports on before and after the elections were presented.
Both the Nicaraguan parliament and its highest court urged the Executive to initiate the withdrawal from the OAS (Photo: Archive).
The official described as “false” the reports presented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Regional Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressing that they promote the “cruel campaign of aggressions” against the Nicaraguan people and division instead of “solidarity”. He added that they “cover up the perverse attacks against the population victimized by the coup perpetrators: humble Nicaraguans murdered, raped and wounded their homes razed and burned, the pain of families who suffered in living image the burning of their relatives by hordes encouraged and financed in 2018 by foreign governments and agents.”
He was referring to the violent protests financed from the United States in 2018 similar to the guarimbas instrumented in Venezuela of which such reports serve as “sounding boards”.
That same year China became the second largest buyer of Nicaraguan products after the United States, which does not seem a coincidence. The Asian country increased its purchases of sugar in addition to mineral products, prepared bovine hides and skins, waste paper and coffee gold, among others that it already bought.
Barbados is a republic but there is a scapegoat
In the first minute of November 30, when Barbados celebrates 55 years of independence from the United Kingdom, its new status as a Republic became effective. Its president is Sandra Mason, the 72-year-old former jurist who served as governor general since 2018, affirmed that the country will maintain its “traditions, heritage and patrimony, earned by the sweat of Barbadians and inherited from our forefathers” and insisted on the unity of her compatriots to move the country forward as a Republic.
Little talked about its history, Barbados was built as a slave state to serve its metropolis. Slaves often rebelled against colonial rule, with very bloody results, and the island finally gained its sovereign independence from the Empire in 1966, when it became a constitutional monarchy.
It is the fourth country of the former British colonies in the Caribbean to remove the British monarch as head of state, after Guyana (1970), Trinidad and Tobago (1976) and Dominica (1978). Already in 1970 and 1996 an attempt was made to revise the Constitution for that purpose, but both attempts were unsuccessful. On the last occasion the initiative was approved and it was decided to hold a referendum which was to receive the support of the Parliament, but this was dissolved before the final sanction of the project.
In September 2020 the Barbadian government issued a statement saying that “the time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind”, for which the Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, said that Barbadians wanted a head of state who was from Barbados. She did this as part of the so-called Speech from the Throne, which outlines the government’s policies for the new parliamentary year; it is a speech read by the governor general, but written by the head of government.
For its part, Buckingham Palace, the seat of the British crown, responded that it was a matter for the government and people of Barbados. The island will remain a member of the Commonwealth organization (British Commonwealth of Nations), as the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, pointed out in a statement.
Statement by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the transformation of Barbados into a republic (Photo: @10DowningStreet / Twitter).
Where the decision has sparked controversy has been in Britain, where a scapegoat has been found: China. Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat claimed Beijing had tried to undermine Britain’s status in the Caribbean, ditto an article in The Telegraph describing how billions from China were buying up the Commonwealth. In short: Chinese influence is responsible, directly or indirectly, for the Barbados decision.
This was also reflected by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss when she referred to Asia, Africa and the Caribbean promising to “bring nations back into the orbit of free market democracies” or, in other words, hegemony.
Mottley recently openly criticized the BBC for saying that the country was in “America’s backyard,” as if it had no other position than being dominated by English-speaking nations.
Even as the UK is assumed in the press to be a righteous savior against the predatory “big, bad China,” and attempts are made to sustain the narrative that the former Empire was not aggressive, exploitative or brutal, but acted out of moral altruism and did a favor to the countries it colonized, Barbados is in reality moving away from centuries of British influence that have defined its entire existence.
In full and frank decline, the United Kingdom has long refused to make amends or even acknowledge its damage in building a country solely on the basis of slavery.
From the colonial mindset the idea is peddled that Barbados, with a population of just under 300,000 and a territory of 267 square kilometers, needs the “help” of altruistic Britain to make the right decisions because it cannot be trusted to do so on its own. Meanwhile for Barbadians there are other more pressing issues such as the economic crisis caused by the covid-19 pandemic, which highlighted the high dependence of their economy on tourism, whose main client is British visitors.
The ceremony held in Bridgetown on Tuesday, November 30, was attended by Prince Charles, heir to the British Crown, which caused annoyance among activists such as the secretary of the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration, David Denny, who affirmed that the new status will not cause real changes in the economic program or in the commercial and financial relations that the Caribbean island maintains with the United States, Europe or the former British metropolis.
Prince Charles, greeted by Barbados President-elect Sandra Mason, arrives to participate in events marking the Caribbean island’s transition to republic status (Photo: Reuters).
Recently Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that in 2022 Jamaica will undergo a comprehensive review of its constitution, which is largely based on British law.
Catalysts and disputes
Some tensions, movements and changes are indicating that imperial appetites in the region require further analysis because there are only nominal motions that disguise the geopolitical reality, as in El Salvador, while other motions will set precedents for rearrangements towards greater levels of independence and popular sovereignty in countries that do not align themselves with colonizing patterns.
A common factor in the cases detailed is the growing influence of China in the region and the actions and threats on the part of the United States to halt that advance.
Cuba’s progress and its exemplary confrontation of the pandemic with the development of highly effective vaccines contrasts with the protests in the French overseas departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe that have resulted in an escalation of violence. The strike initially began in protest against the imposition of the sanitary pass and has evolved into a comprehensive protest against the lack of water, electricity and basic necessities of life.
The media are hushing it up but in Guadeloupe (France) they have been on strike for ten days. An insurrectionary strike where weapons have been expropriated at customs by the strikers and police are being shot at. https://t.co/fyLorafLHV
– Borja Ascaso (@borjalibertario) November 28, 2021
The crisis in Haiti persists, as do the waves of migrations from that country and the “Northern Triangle”. Just as covid-19 or interference against China energizes these movements, so do aspirations for collective well-being and the impacts of the climate crisis enter the equation ensuring that no day is like the previous one in the region.