On Sunday, December 12, Nicaragua received the first 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine against COVID-19. This is the first shipment of a million doses promised by China, just three days after the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in order to renew them with Beijing.
The batch of vaccines arrived from China together with the Nicaraguan delegation that had traveled there to formalize the renewal of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Managua. Laureano Ortega Murillo, son of the Nicaraguan ruling couple, headed the delegation in his official role as investment, trade and international cooperation advisor.
According to the official information, the donation was received at Managua’s Augusto Cesar Sandino Airport by Health Minister Martha Reyes; Carlos Saenz, the Ministry’s secretary general; and a delegation headed by the deputy minister of the Chinese Embassy in Costa Rica.
“In the name of President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, we, the Nicaraguan people, express our deep gratitude for this gesture of solidarity, cooperation, friendship and fraternity from the people and government of the People’s Republic of China,” declared Laureano Ortega, as quoted in the Sandinista media.
China solidifies its presence in Central America
On Thursday, December 9, the Ortega government announced its new diplomatic policy, “in recognition that only one China exists in the world, whose legitimate government is the People’s Republic.” They added an affirmation that the island of Taiwan is an “inalienable part of (mainland China’s) territory.” With this statement, the Nicaraguan government broke off diplomatic relations with Taipei.
Hours after the regime’s rupture with Taiwan, China announced the renewal of diplomatic ties with Nicaragua. Beijing’s precondition for such relations is that the other country must recognize the territorial principle of “only one China”. The government of mainland China asserts their sovereignty over the hitherto independent island of Taiwan.
The Chinese foreign ministry announced the signing of a joint statement establishing, as of December 10, “mutual recognition”, and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations “at the embassy level.”
Following the diplomatic rupture with Nicaragua, the number of countries recognizing Taiwan as an independent state has been reduced to fourteen, among them several Latin American countries, including Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay.
Nicaragua joined others in the region, including Panama and El Salvador, which in the last few years also broke ties with Taiwan in order to ally themselves with Beijing; Costa Rica did so in 2007.
For their part, Taiwan lamented the rupture of bilateral ties with Managua, accusing the Ortega government of “belittling” the long friendship between both peoples.
Ortega seeks resources to maintain power
Up until this change, Taiwan had been Nicaragua’s most important bilateral donor, financing 27 projects in areas of food production, fruit orchards, and raising better quality pigs, among other things. These projects were valued between US $30 – $50 million dollars, according to data from the Nicaraguan government.
Political analyst Evan Ellis is a professor and researcher for the US Defense Department’s War College and an expert on Chinese-Latin American relations. In an interview with Confidencial, he stated that Nicaragua’s rupture with Taiwan and their decision to align themselves with China had been “expected for a long time.” In the short term, Ellis stated, “it will probably give new life to Ortega’s continuity in power and aid them with additional resources and the opportunity to distribute money they can divert from new loans and contracts with Chinese companies.”
Ellis continued: although Taiwan “has been a good friend” of the Nicaraguan regime, the Ortega-Murillo duo might possibly “reach an agreement with the Chinese to obtain more money than what they’d been able to extort from the Taiwanese in the last several years.” This political game has also been influenced by sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe, and the possibility of their being suspended from DR-CAFTA, the Central American-Dominican Republic free trade agreement.
“I believe that Ortega’s first imperative is to maintain power, especially in anticipation of more US and European sanctions, the possibility of being excluded from CAFTA, and also losing investments from the West that they had attracted as part of their integration with the US market. Like Venezuela’s position with China and Russia, having the People’s Republic of China as a partner also helps block UN and other organization’s actions against Nicaragua for their lack of democracy,” Ellis stressed.