In late April Russia shipped the first 20 of 50 T-72B tanks ordered by Nicaragua—causing a Cold War Back to the Future moment for Latin America watchers.
The cost of the 50 tanks reportedly totals $80 million. That is $9 million more than Nicaragua’s total 2015 defense budget. The acquisition of tanks is particularly perplexing to many in the region since Nicaragua has relatively good relations with its neighbors, has a growing tourist industry, and can boast in recent years as being the safest country for foreign tourists in all of Central America. Additionally, the ruling Sandinista party (FSLN) does not face a serious a challenge in the pending November elections.
President Vladimir Putin made a quick visit to Nicaragua in 2014, and soon after that visit the Nicaraguan Parliament approved the building of Russian GLONASS tracking station on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Additional sources, including past statements by Russia’s ambassador to Nicaragua, indicate that the satellite tracking station may also include a port facility for Russian ships to use for resupply and refueling when operating in the area. That detail remains unclear at this point.
The space-tracking base also generated media attention last month when thousands of Nicaraguans from the Caribbean coast traveled to the capital, Managua, to protest the continued encroachment on their lands by these foreign-sponsored projects. The building of the Russian base, and especially the Nicaragua Canal mega-project, sponsored by the Hong Kong-based HKND corporation, have met stiff resistance from a coalition of farmers, fishermen, and environmentalists. The eminent domain issues with those foreign projects are forcing thousands of subsistence farmers from their lands.
Russian media claim the Nicaragua tracking station will improve the GLONASS navigation system (an alternative to the U.S. GPS system). Nicaraguan government supporters of the base claim that the project will make Nicaragua a Central American leader in space.
Read More: United States Naval Institute
U.S. government officials on temporary duty in Nicaragua were expelled this week, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday, adding the action was “unwarranted and inconsistent with the positive and constructive agenda” it seeks with Managua.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told a news briefing that three officials had only recently arrived in Nicaragua when they were expelled on Tuesday. He did not elaborate on what they were doing in the Central American country.
Nicaragua’s government said that in an “unfortunate incident,” it removed two U.S. officials from the country who were performing Customs security work tied to anti-terrorism, without the knowledge of local officials.
It was not immediately clear why Nicaragua and the United States had different figures for the number of U.S. officials in the country.
“Such treatment has the potential to negatively impact U.S. and Nicaraguan bilateral relations, particularly trade,” Kirby told reporters when asked about the incident. “We’ve conveyed our strong displeasure,” Kirby said, referring specifically to Francisco Campbell, Nicaragua’s ambassador to the United States.
In a letter distributed to the press, Campbell said the U.S. officials’ anti-terrorism activities “were carried out without the knowledge or the proper coordination with Nicaraguan authorities, which is … very delicate and sensitive.”
Nicaragua said it told the U.S. government “of the necessity to inform (them) about official missions that come to Nicaragua, and to coordinate their work.”
Kirby did not say whether Nicaragua’s ambassador had been summoned to the State Department or the U.S. sentiments had been conveyed in some other manner.
“We believe it was unwarranted and inconsistent with the positive and constructive agenda that we seek with the government of Nicaragua,” he said of the expulsion.
Read More: Reuters
Featured Image – Vladimir Putin arrived on a working visit to Nicaragua. With President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega. – Kremlin.ru