Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Iranians at Monkey Point: Economic Development, or Monkeying Around?

There's a major project in the works in Central America that could be good news for Nicaragua and, in the long run, America. But I'm very concerned about what may actually be going at Monkey Point.

Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Iran have teamed up to compete with the Panama Canal. Their plan is to set up a deep-water port at Monkey Point on Nicaragua's east coast and run pipelines, a highway, and a railroad to the Pacific coast.

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In strictly economic terms, the project makes sense: to me, at least. I'd like to see every country with a lively domestic economy, and a lot of foreign trade. My motives aren't entirely disinterested. The more comparatively wealthy a nation is, the more likely the people there are to buy American agricultural products, computers, and all the rest of things American companies make. And that will, indirectly, help me.

Nicaragua's economy isn't doing too well these days. It has:
  • Among the most unequal distribution of income on Earth.
  • The third lowest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere
  • Energy shortages that stunt growth
It's not all bad news in Nicaragua. In addition to the Monkey Point project, Nicaragua's getting getting foreign help:
  • Foreign debt reduction with the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative
  • Over $800 million in debt relief from the Inter-American Development Bank
  • Nicaragua has ratified the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which should attract foreign business, creating jobs and economic development
    (and, I suspect, news pieces about exploitation and/or unfair foreign competition
Even though it will probably benefit the Nicaraguan economy, not everybody is happy about what I call the Monkey Point Project.

After the second military helicopter in two days came to Monkey Point, a delegation of Rama Indian and Creole locals wanted to know who had landed on their territory. They didn't appreciate the newcomers' refusal to identify themselves, and expressed their displeasure with machetes.

The locals tell time by the sun and tides, live on fish and jungle animals, and aren't at all eager to be dragged through a few thousand years of economic, political, and technological development.

Besides, quite a few of them fought with Contras against the Nicaraguan President Ortega a few years ago, and might be against an Ortegan project, even if they were in a better position to benefit from it.

The people on Monkey Point aren't the only ones who don't like what's happening on their land. The "San Antonio Express-News" reports that Iran may be planning to use its influence in Nicaragua's Monkey Point Project to stage attacks on America.

The idea of Nicaragua as a staging point for terrorist attacks isn't as crazy as it may seem. The country's about a thousand miles away from the American southern states, with regular, convenient commercial flights between Managua and Miami.

Then, there's the reputation that the three "Monkey Point Project" countries have earned:
  • Nicaragua
    A corrupt government gave way to Marxist Sandanista rule in the late seventies, then free elections in the nineties ended Sandanista rule, but a 2006 election returned (former?) Sandanista Daniel Ortega Saavedra to power
    President Ortega has said that he isn't Marxist any more, and wants peace.
    That may be true: People change, and the Cold War is over. The Department of Homeland Security didn't seem concerned, a few months ago.
  • Venezuela
    More-or-less benevolent generalissimos ran the country for most of the first half of the 20th century. They helped the country's petroleum industry and let some social reforms happen. Elected governments have run the country since 1959. The latest president is Hugo Chavez, who's held the post since 1999. President Chavez has said
    • "I have said it already, I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell."
    • "I hereby accuse the North American empire of being the biggest menace to our planet."
    • "A coup happened in Venezuela that was prepared by the U.S. What do they want? Our oil, as they did in Iraq."
    • "The left is back, and it's the only path we have to get out of the spot to which the right has sunken us, ... Socialism builds and capitalism destroys."
    • (In reference to President Bush's September 19, 2006 speech at the U.N.) "The devil came right here... And it still smells of sulfur today."
    • "[The planet] is being destroyed under our own noses by the capitalist model, the destructive engine of development, ... every day there is more hunger, more misery thanks to the neo-liberal, capitalist model."
    If he was a speaker on the American college and university circuit, Hugo Chavez could probably make a good living: although I think he'd have to avoid cracks like that "neo-liberal" remark. As the leader of a nation with significant oil wealth, and one which engages in trafficking in persons - providing women and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor to places like Spain, the Netherlands, and Caribbean nations - I'm very uncomfortable with President Chavez's acknowledged beliefs.
  • Iran
    The nation was called Persia until 1935, became an Islamic Republic in 1979, and has been ruled by the Supreme Leader, learned Islamic scholar who answers only to to the Assembly of Experts. The current leadership set the tone for its administration by raiding the U.S. embassy and kidnapping the people inside. The current President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made it clear that he doesn't want Israel to exist, a preference that quite possibly extends to many infidel nations.
The idea of these three nations cooperating to set up a globally significant transportation system a few hours south of America should be a concern to people who prefer a free market and religious tolerance to what Presidents Chavez and Ahmadinejad offer. As for President Ortega, he may have found a substitute for his Cold War patron in the anti-American and oil-rich rulers of Venezuela and Iran.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.