With an obsequious bow to Russian expansionism, Nicaragua this week joined North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and five other model democracies in rejecting a UN resolution that reaffirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukraine.
The UN resolution, which calls the Crimea referendum invalid and urges a “peaceful resolution” to the crisis following Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, was supported by 100 nations and rejected by 11. Another 58 countries abstained from voting in the non-binding resolution.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, Nicaragua’s ambassador to the UN, Mary Rubiales, delivered an unmemorable statement to the General Assembly citing President Daniel Ortega’s global concerns for democracy, peace and autonomy. Her speech included a reference to deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya but failed to make any mention Russia, Crimea, or the military occupation of the peninsula, which was sort of why everyone else had gathered at the UN.
In kowtowing to Russia, Nicaragua once again put itself in the unfortunate company of hotheads, tyrants, and wacko nations seated at the losers’ table in the cafeteria of international relations (Armenia, can you please pass the mustard?).
In politics and life, you’re known by the company you keep. Nicaragua needs better friends. Rather than elbowing itself up to the table between North Korea, Zimbabwe and Syria, Nicaragua would have been smarter to take it’s lunch tray somewhere else.
International image counts for a country that’s trying to be taken seriously as an emerging destination for tourism and foreign investment. Message counts too. And Nicaragua’s blind support for Russian expansionism is counterproductive to the Sandinistas’ efforts to champion Nicaraguan sovereignty and territorial integrity in border conflicts with Costa Rica and Colombia. And it makes President Ortega’s recent challenge to the legitimacy of Costa Rica’s 1824 annexation of Guanacaste appear insincere, in addition to ridiculous.
Over the past seven and a half years, Nicaragua’s higgledy-piggledy foreign policy has mostly been cause for wonderment and laughs over beers.
The country’s effort to befriend Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008 was endearing and silly, and paid off big when the South Ossetian government was one of the few to congratulate Ortega on his controversial reelection in 2011.
It was fun to watch the Nicaraguan government apologize repeatedly for the nutty outbursts by deputy foreign minister Manuel Coronel Kautz, who called Swedish Ambassador Eva Zetterberg “the devil” (apology #1), called Holland as a “shitty little country” and said all European diplomats in Managua are “cats in heat” (apology #2), and then accused the U.S. of “killing people everywhere always with bombs everywhere” (apology #3). (Kautz was eventually promoted to head the Interoceanic Canal Commission, where he’s now in charge of maintaining Nicaragua’s pen-pal relationship with Chinese businessman Wang Jing).
Political watchers also got a chuckle out of the Ortega administration’s tender eulogy for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, whom First Lady Rosario Murillo hailed for his lifetime of dedication to “constructing more peace and more prosperity for all the families of that country.”
But kidding aside, the Sandinistas’ repeated defense of anti-democratic regimes and its sadly servile relationship with Russia and Venezuela is an embarrassment that’s harmful to the country’s standing in the world. Not only is it bad PR to pal around with international outcasts, it’s also an inaccurate representation of the open, embracing and western-friendly country that Nicaragua has become.
If you were to have visited Nicaragua this week, you would have seen U.S. tourists, Canadian backpackers and European expats. You would not have seen any goose-stepping North Korean tourists, Syrian surfers, or South Ossetian investors. If you looked really hard you would have seen the only Russian tourists visiting the country: a small and disheveled-looking delegation from the Duma, whose visit got way more play in the official media than it deserved.
Nicaragua — in many ways — is a country that’s coming into its own. It’s growing slowly but surely into a maturing destination for tourism and foreign investment. The Nicaragua brand name is now starting to be associated with good things, not just war, poverty and severe dysfunction. Sandinista handlers need to do more to encourage those positive changes, rather than risking it all by palling around with the nutjobs of the world.
Instead of glad-handing with glassy-eyed Russians and blowhard Bolivarian basket cases, or courting meaningless friendships with obscure breakaway Georgian republics whose names I have to google every time I write about them, the Sandinista government should do more to improve relations with its immediate neighbors in Central America and other nations whose friendships actually contribute to Nicaragua’s growth and wellbeing. Nicaragua should also do more to reach out to the truly progressive and prosperous countries in Latin America, such as Uruguay, Brazil and Chile.
Nicaragua needs to look in the mirror and remind itself that it has a lot to offer the world. The country is a natural beauty, full of innovative, intelligent, industrious and friendly people. Nicaragua deserves to have better friends — and it certainly has no excuse to continue hanging out down by the train tracks with all the international misfits, pipeheads and crackpots.