Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Nicaragua to scout “Dry Canal” project?

As part of a new partnership with Nicaragua’s Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, Iran and Venezuela have announced a plan to help finance a $350 million deep-water port at Monkey Point on the country’s remote Miskito Coastā€”envisioned as the first step towards a “Dry Canal” corridor of pipelines, rails and highways across the country to the Pacific port of Corinto. Iran recently established an embassy in Managua, and is boasting new cultural exchange programs in Nicaragua to encourage trade and investment. A Dec. 17 account from Iran’s official news agency IRNA noted a visit to Managua by Ezzatollah Zarghami, president of Iranian state radio and television, who pledged to make programming available for local broadcast. However, the Iranian presence is being met with suspicion by the indigenous inhabitants of the Miskito Coast, who have always jealously guarded their local autonomy. From a Dec. 18 San Antonio Express-News account of a recent visit by an Iranian team to Monkey Point, arriving in Nicaraguan army helicopters:

Rupert Allen Clear Duncan, a leader of some 400 Creole who live along the shoreline, confronted the foreigners dressed in suits and military uniforms that day in March and demanded to know the purpose of their aerial trespasses.

“This is our land; we have always lived here, and you don’t have our permission to be here,” Duncan spat, when refused the courtesy of an explanation.

Not until Duncan threatened to have his machete-waving followers damage the aircraft did they learn that some of the men were from the Islamic Republic of Iran and had come promising to establish a Central American foothold in the middle of their territory.

The Monkey Point community wants legal rights recognized to roughly a half-million acres before any development proposals for the region commence. Community leader Pearl Watson offered familiar complaints about the central government in Managua:

“They don’t want to tell the people nothing; they just want to show up and do what they want,” Watson said in her office in the bustling coastal town of Bluefields, a 30-mile boat ride from Monkey Point. “Our people don’t like the way the government is imposing development on us, with no guarantees of how the people will benefit.”

A Dec. 22 piece on the conservative Nicaragua Hoy website called the Iranian team that visited Monkey Point “advance parties of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.” Ortega is cited as saying the Iranians were there as part of a cultural delegation.

Nicaragua Hoy says a feasibility study for a Bluefields-Nueva Guinea highway has been completed by the Danish development agency DANIDA, linking two towns in the Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS), with a further link foreseen to Monkey Point (which lies south of Bluefields, the RAAS seat). The Spanish national port authority completed a similar study for the Monkey Point dredging project in 2000. The report says the Venezuelan Army Corps of Engineers is now studying construction of a highway between Puerto Cabezas in the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) and Rio Blanco in the central department of Matagalpaā€”also to be integrated into the network linking to the Dry Canal.

The report also claimed Nicaraguan army chief Omar Halleslevens Acevedo is seeking to purchase helicopters, patrol boats and arms from Iran.

President Ortega visited Tehran in June, and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Managua in January.

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