While it may not initially look like it, the US’ proposed anti-Nicaraguan sanctions are aimed against China and intended to create disadvantageous macroeconomic conditions which ultimately lead to the collapse of the Ortega government and the resultant abandonment of China’s ambitious canal project through the country.
Multipolar media outlet Telesur reported earlier this week that the US was considering sanctioning Nicaragua for its strident support of Venezuela in international fora, apparently so enraged by Managua’s loyal backing of its ALBA allies in Caracas to the point that it wants to once again move forward with a regime change operation in the country. Of course, the US isn’t openly saying such and there are also many other motivating variables at play here which will be discussed shortly, but Washington’s actions prove that it’s indeed set itself out on the course of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government, albeit in a presently more “passive” way than during the 1980s “contra” War of Terror.
The public reason for moving forward with this asymmetrical aggression is that the US has accused the Nicaraguan government of corruption and despotism, with the latter claim being totally fabricated considering the history of democratic elections in the country. This makes the so-called “Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act of 2017”, or “Nica”, an instrument of “lawfare” designed to macro-economically destabilize the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere in order to pave the way for removing President Ortega. About the Nicaraguan leader himself, he famously led the Sandinista government in the 1980s but was re-elected to office in 2006 during the peak of Latin America’s “Pink Tide” of socialist resurgence. This upset the US to no end, and it’s since had him on their radar as the inevitable target of a forthcoming regime change operation.
Weaponizing Foreign Aid
Nicaragua’s domestic political and economic situation is nothing more than an excuse for the US to “justify” its structural intervention in the country through the proposed sanctions, which aim to craft the perception that it’s a “rogue, isolated state” just like Venezuela. This in turn is designed to put significant hemispheric pressure on the tiny Central American country and eventually provoke the anti-government opposition to hit the streets in protest, once again taking a page out of the Venezuelan playbook. The key fact to keep in mind amidst all of this is what Telesur reported in the previously cited article at the beginning of this analysis, which is that “Nicaragua currently relies on 70 percent of foreign funds for its budget”. While not describing the particularities that this entails, it can be inferred that the outlet is referring to the large amounts of international aid and remittances that help keep the country afloat.
It’s here where “Nica” comes into play, as it could potentially place restrictions on American aid and the transfer of remittance payments from the US-based migrant community (and perhaps even those in El Salvador and Costa Rica too, which host a significant proportion of the diaspora), which could then lead to an instantaneous shock to the economy. Given the amount of people that could be directly affected if remittances were cut off, even if they were only those originating from the US, this could understandably serve as the spark for an incipient Color Revolution led by the most desperate elements of society. The Mainstream Media would gleefully manipulate the optics of the poor and downtrodden protesting against a socialist government so as to attempt to “delegitimize” it in the eyes of the global community and advance the narrative momentum that it’s fast becoming a “rogue, isolated state” like Venezuela is portrayed as.
China To The Rescue
This fast-moving destabilization might appear imminent to many, but there’s a simple solution that Nicaragua could take which would forestall the deterioration of the situation into the full-blown crisis that the US wants, and that’s to recognize the People’s Republic as the official and sole government of China. Nicaragua is actually one of the very few countries in the world which formally supports Taipei over Beijing, and this is largely a holdover from the pre-Sandinista days when the pro-American Somoza strongmen dutifully toed the American line on all foreign policy matters. Once President Ortega entered into office, the American-provoked Soviet-Chinese rivalry was already in full swing, and with Managua being backed by Moscow in its war against the US-backed “contra” terrorist organizations, it didn’t make sense for Nicaragua to endanger that in order to make a political statement about recognizing Beijing until 1985 when the USSR’s global retrenchment slowly began under Gorbachev.
Regrettably, the end of the Cold War saw the Sandinistas democratically removed from office and replaced by a pro-American government that recognized Taiwan once again and caused Beijing to break off relations, which explains why Nicaragua didn’t enjoy formal ties with the People’s Republic of China in the period afterwards, with Ortega deciding to retain the status quo after returning to office. That being said, relations between the two countries are actually very strategic, seeing as how China plans to build a transoceanic canal through the isthmus. It’s this project, much more than Ortega’s symbolic reelection and support of Venezuela, which is why the US is so urgently moving forward with its asymmetrical Hybrid War destabilization of Nicaragua. Washington can’t countenance a future where an independent non-hemispheric Great Power such as China has unrestrained access to Central America and the Caribbean Sea, both of which have been regarded as the US’ “backyard” for centuries, through a newly built canal, hence why it’s focusing its efforts on disrupting, controlling, or influencing this initiative.
The short-term “benefit” that China would gain from the US sanctioning Nicaragua would be that Managua would be more compelled than ever to formally recognize Beijing in exchange for the People’s Republic providing foreign aid equivalent to the amount that the country stands to lose through “Nica”. Whatever the total comes out to be, it’ll be a comparatively small figure in terms of the Chinese economy and represent one of the Great Power’s best-ever strategic investments for its price because of the loyalty that it’ll command from Nicaragua in exchange and the augmented prospects that the prospective canal will be completed despite the US’ manufactured difficulties. This in and of itself would be a “victory” for China, albeit one which would be more short-lived and pyrrhic than anything, as the US is probably expecting such a move and plans to immediately propagate a strong anti-Chinese narrative in response, possibly through fear mongering via its interconnected regional NGO and media networks that China is conspiring to “colonize” Nicaragua just like it has already supposedly done to scores of African countries before it.
“Lead From Behind” “Lawfare”
Therefore, any Chinese support to the sanctions-beleaguered Nicaraguan economy – whether or not Managua recognizes Beijing but more than likely following such a development – would result in the US publicly coming out with its true anti-Silk Road motivation for opposing the Ortega government. Moreover, it would probably push the US into more closely coordinating further “lawfare” machinations against Nicaragua through the use of its regional Costa Rican and Colombian allies. The first country has a lingering border dispute with its northern neighbor over sections of the San Juan River that form most of the boundary between these two states and is also importantly expected to be part of the Nicaraguan Canal. This unresolved and long-running issue occasionally flares up from time to time, and while some observers might discount the possibility of this obstructing China’s canal project due to the fact that Costa Rica hasn’t had an army since 1948, they’d do well to remember that its patron state is the US, which could decisively intervene in San Juan’s favor just as India did to back up its own regional protectorate of Bhutan against China.
As for Colombia, it controls a few Caribbean islands off of the Nicaraguan coast and has been in dispute with Managua over the exclusive economic zone that Bogota claims as its own. The salience of this issue lies in the fact that it’s occurring beyond the Caribbean terminal point of the Nicaraguan Canal, meaning that Colombia could possibly interfere with commerce and shipping on the US’ behest under the pretext that foreign ships are “illegally” transiting through its maritime territory. Essentially, this would make Colombia exactly what the US groundlessly accuses China of being in the South China Sea, and that’s a disruptor of international shipping lanes for political purposes. It’s ironic that the US would resort to engineering a reverse-South China Sea scenario in the Caribbean Sea as a strategically “defensive” measure against China and its possible canal, but this just goes to show that Washington will do anything to promote its perceived interests, no matter how hypocritical and plagued with double standards the policy that it ultimately ends up executing may be.
Both the Costa Rican and Colombian border disputes with Nicaragua have been officially ruled upon by international legal bodies, but that doesn’t mean that they’re resolved or won’t continue to re-emerge in the future, especially in the context of an openly Chinese-pivoting Nicaragua which has drawn the loud public condemnation of the US. Legal decisions have no merit aside from their normative and political worth without any sort of enforcement mechanisms, which the international courts don’t necessarily have. However, two of the claimants can assuredly count on the US’ assistance if push comes to shove, especially if they were ordered by their Washington overseer to tear open these two territorial scabs. For all practical purposes, it won’t matter what a toothless international court (which is largely influenced by the US anyhow) would have to say, since all that’s important to these two states is the position of the US, which would be decisively on their side.
If the US’ Color Revolution and “lawfare” strategies aren’t successful in toppling the Ortega government and stopping China’s canal, then Washington will inevitably move towards more violent means to achieve its goals, particularly through Hybrid Warfare. In the Nicaraguan context, this could predictably see the indigenous people of the Caribbean-abutting Mosquito Coast armed by US forces clandestinely operating in neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica, just like they were three decades ago during the “contra” War of Terror. At that time, the US argued that it was “defending” Central America from the USSR, but this time it’ll swap out the Soviets for the Chinese and repeat the same Cold War-era script. The requisite preconditioning for this scenario has already been underway for almost a decade now as the Mainstream Media occasionally wrote about the contentious issue of land rights in this region and always made sure to hint that some sort of “contra”-like “rebellion” was brewing.
While there are indeed many serious problems afflicting the Moskito natives in their namesake (but adulterated English-spelled) coast, the point is that the US is instrumentalizing them for geostrategic purposes in trying to thwart China by instigating enough instability in this irreplaceable transit space that the project becomes unviable. In addition, the jungled and largely inaccessible geography of this region makes it perfect for hosting Hybrid War elements, just as it did during the height of the “contra” conflict. What the US intends to do is bog Nicaragua down in a costly counter-insurgency operation against the Moskito natives in order to bleed its already paltry coffers dry, misleadingly advance the weaponized narrative that the country’s leadership is “killing its own indigenous people for China”, and provoke an urban EuroMaidan-like “uprising” in response which cumulatively leads to the collapse of the Ortega government. If China gets sucked into the conflict either through its own conventional forces or private military companies (PMCs) dispatched to protect the canal, then the US will try to turn the Central American country into “China’s Vietnam”.
The US has lately been on a sanctions spree against North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Russia, but lost in the middle of this escalating asymmetrical global drama is Nicaragua, which is also on the US’ short list to be punished. Part of the reason why many observers aren’t paying attention to the US’ “Nica” threats is because none of it is “newsworthy” enough to attract major headlines, which stems in part from a lot of people simply being unaware of the overall strategic significance of this move vis-à-vis China.
As was argued in the analysis, the US’ plans to sanction Nicaragua are actually part of its worldwide Hybrid War against China and its One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, in this instance targeting the planned Nicaraguan Canal.
Observing how a replay of the decade-long “contra” War of Terror on Nicaragua seems to be just around the corner and the revived Cold War-era “Operation Condor 2.0” region-wide regime change operation is in full swing, it’s clear that the Western Hemispheric iteration of the New Cold War against China’s competitive connectivity projects closely follows the strategic patterns of the Old Cold War, though it’s comparatively under-discussed and largely outside the focus of global attention.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.