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
- 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
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:
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.
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."
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.