Nicaragua tilts to Venezuela —and away from PPP

Petroleos de Nicaragua (Petronic) has announced construction of an oil refinery in the Central American nation, with aid from Venezuela as part of Hugo Chavez’s proposed Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). Work is to begin on the “Sandino-Bolivar” refinery by June, when Chavez is slated to visit Nicaragua. Petronic director Francisco Lopez said that besides satisfying Nicaragua’s annual demand of 10 million barrels, the refinery will supply fuel to other countries of the isthmus from Guatemala to Panama. Lopez said the project is unprecedented in Central America, comparable only to the Panama Canal in magnitude. (Prensa Latina, Cuba; El Universal, Caracas, April 16)

This development is critical in light of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s failure to attend last week’s Puebla-Panama Plan (PPP) summit in Campeche, Mexico. The PPP is a mega-development project for the Mesoamerican isthmus pushed by the governments of Mexico and the US. Of Central American presidents, only Ortega failed to go to Campeche, instead sending his vice-president, Jaime Moreno. The most significant agreement at Campeche was for a regional oil refinery in a to-be-named Central American country. So it appears ALBA and the PPP are in a race to industrialize the isthmus—and, thanks to Danny Ortega, ALBA may now be ahead.

Ortega was also said to be miffed by participation in the summit of Colombia—Washington’s closest South American ally. When Colombia was added to the PPP group in 2006, Ortega protested that it is not an isthmus nation. Speaking before the Campeche meeting, he charged: “Colombia has been politicking with Honduras and Costa Rica to form alliances in order to strip Nicaragua of its territories in the Caribbean Sea, thus the presence of Colombia in this summit is disturbing.”

Ortega explictly invoked a Colombia-Honduras maritime agreement which would deprive Nicaragua of much of its Caribbean coastal waters: “We want to make it clear that under no circumstances does our participation in the summit mean that we are recognizing the attempts by Colombia to take control of Nicaraguan territory in conspiracy with Honduras and Costa Rica which decided to set the border at the 15th parallel, placing Nicaragua in a difficult situation.” Nicaragua has filed a World Court suit in the matter.

José Obdulio Gaviria, advisor to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, responded that questioning Colombia’s participation in the PPP summit was “a little out-of-place.” Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister Fernando Araujo followed up with a statement that charged: “While Nicaragua neglects the boundary agreements in full or partially, Colombia has developed its relations with bordering countries with respect and according to international law.” The communiqué reiterated Colombia’s claim that the San Andres archipelago is Colombian territory—a cluster of islands claimed by both countries, where oil may lie. (NicaNet, April 10)

In another clear tilt to Venezuela, the Ortega anounced April 19 that Nicaragua will request the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, the Cuban militant just freed by US immigration authorities. Posada Carriles is wanted in Venezuela and Cuba for terrorist activities, and the US has refused to extradite. Said Ortega: “We are giving instructions for Nicaragua, besides condemning his release, to offer its territory so that Posada Carriles can be tried in our country, taking into account that he also committed terrorist acts here.” Posada Carriles was an operative in the “Contragate” network that supported right-wing guerillas in Nicaragua in the 1980s. (Prensa Latina, April 18)

Nicaragua’s sea border dispute with Costa Rica is also heating up at this moment. Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister Samuel Santos April 16 defended his navy’s seizure of Costan Rican leisure boat El Privilegio, saying the vessel had violated Nicaraguan waters. He rejected Costa Rica’s demand for the boat’s immediate return.

A statement from Santos charged the vessel “was in clear violation of international security norm… No one aboard had verifiable official documentation.” He said the detention was “in the context of…fighting crimes at sea.”

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, in turn, accuses the Nicaraguan military of crossing into Costa Rican waters to seize the boat, and illegally detaining four Costa Ricans and two US citizens. He also rejected Ortega’s charges of Costa Rican collusion with Colombia and Honduras to pillage Nicaraguan resources. “Naturally my government rejects this… attitude that goes against our nations’ historical links of friendship and brotherhood,” Stagno said.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua are currently negotiating a treaty over their maritime borders. (Xinhua, April 17)

See our last posts on Central America and the PPP, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia and the Posada Carriles.