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This is what the 29 new allies that Ortega has sought to replace the U.S. are buying from Nicaragua

Daniel Ortega closed embassies and consulates of interest to Nicaraguans and is strengthening his presence in 29 new allied countries.

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In a relationship that shows no signs of generating economic benefits to Nicaragua, in recent months Daniel Ortega has focused on strengthening diplomacy with 29 countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa while closing embassies and consulates in countries and cities with a strong presence of Nicaraguan migrants. Together, the new “allies” have accounted for less than 0.5 percent of local exports over the past five years. Additionally, they do not purchase goods, as their names do not appear on the list of imports. However, despite the almost non-existent commercial relationship with the new allies, Ortega is signing “Cooperation Agreements” with them.

The list prominently features former Soviet republics attended to from Russia by Alba Azucena Torres Mejía, whose diplomatic representation extends to Kyrgyzstan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, all from the former Soviet Union. Others from Europe on the list include the Czech Republic, the Principality of Andorra, and Greece.

From Asia, Brunei Darussalam, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran, Jordan, and the Kingdom of Bahrain are listed; some of these countries and others from Africa, are attended to from the headquarters in Kuwait by Mohamed Mohamed Farrara Lashtar, nephew of the late Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. Meanwhile, the list from Africa includes Algeria, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.

In total, between 2018 and September 2023, these 29 nations purchased $91.02 million worth of goods from Nicaragua, out of the $19,041 million that the country exported in that period. This means they contributed 0.48 percent of the income received by the country during that period from the export of goods abroad.

New allied countries purchase less than 1%

Among the group of 29 countries, the Europeans are the most profitable, contributing $38.05 million during the period, which represents 42 percent of the total. A significant portion of these resources came from Russia, which is not a new ally but an eternal one, and they are using this to strengthen their presence in nearby countries. Their purchases ranged between $11 million and $3 million annually during the period, meaning that instead of increasing, they decreased in recent years, but with most of these countries, the commercial relationship is zero.

Between 2018 and September 2023, the Asian countries with which diplomatic relations were strengthened contributed $42.62 million to the income generated by exports during the period. This contribution represents 46 percent of the $91.02 million generated by the group of 29 new allied countries, primarily driven by Jordan, as its purchases increased from $2.8 million to $9.3 million during the reference period. With the rest of the Asian nations, the commercial relationship is practically non-existent.

The group of new political ally countries is rounded out by seven African nations that contributed $10.31 million to the income generated by exports during the reference period. This amount represents 12 percent of the $91.02 million generated by the shipment of Nicaraguan products to these 29 countries with which Ortega is strengthening diplomatic relations. The amount was contributed almost solely by Burkina Faso, which in 2023, for the first time, purchased Nicaraguan products.

Are the Ortegas ensuring a possible refuge?

“They are prizes. Countries for possible escape. These are not countries of strategic interest, but rather potential refuge for exile, obtaining a passport to have a gravitational pull,” expressed Manuel Orozco, a researcher at the Inter-American Dialogue.

According to Orozco, the key aspect of the issue is that the international reordering of Nicaragua is part of the five axes of political control, which are:

  1. Criminalization of democracy.
  2. Exercise of force through formal and extrajudicial forces.
  3. Propaganda, censorship, and disinformation.
  4. Capture of the State.
  5. International isolation.

“International isolation is a demonstration of distancing and rupture with the democratic world and an approach to non-democratic states, pariahs, with whom they form a political bloc in front of the United Nations, for example,” says Orozco.

Is Ortega seeking a safe haven for his money?

On the other hand, economist and former opposition lawmaker Enrique Sáenz expresses that none of the 29 countries included in the list represent economic interest for Nicaragua, neither in terms of trade relations, investments, nor credits. “But different interests can be identified, Iran and North Korea are Ortega’s spurious alliances,” says Sáenz.

The former opposition lawmaker believes that in countries like Kuwait, which is often included in the so-called tax havens, the interest of the Ortega Murillo family may be to have a safe haven to stash the profits from their businesses. Additionally, he considers that in the rest of the countries, the only possible explanation is the transnational network of human trafficking.

“It is worth remembering that when they detained a plane with migrants from India in France, the existence of a transnational organized crime network to transport migrants to the United States was reported. The extraordinary flow to Nicaragua can only be explained by involvement in this network. It is not far-fetched that if this trend continues, Nicaragua’s territory could be turned into a station along the so-called donkey routes,” warns Sáenz.

However, Orozco asserts that except for Algeria, whose citizens migrate to France, the rest of these countries do not have a tradition of emigration. Therefore, he argues that the interest is strategic to guarantee a refuge in case of a possible exile.

Trade agreements with new allies

It’s evident that the interest of the relationship is not economic, as collectively the 29 countries contribute to around 0.5 percent of the income generated by exports. Moreover, if Nicaragua purchases anything from them, it’s very minimal, as except for Russia, the other 28 countries do not appear in the list of import providers published by the Central Bank. Between 2018 and November 2023, Nicaragua imported between $62 million and $85 million from Russia annually, out of a total import value of approximately $5.2 billion to $7.5 billion in the mentioned period.

Despite the almost non-existent commercial exchange with these 29 countries, Nicaragua has signed trade and cooperation agreements with some of them. On Tuesday, February 13, 2024, the National Assembly approved a Framework Agreement of Cooperation between Nicaragua and Burkina Faso, which both countries signed in July 2023. Last year, for the first time, Burkina Faso purchased Nicaraguan products worth $9.79 million.

In July 2023, Nicaragua also signed a series of economic and trade cooperation agreements with Belarus, a country with which there is currently no trade exchange. Another document signed in July 2023 was the Cooperation Activities Program for 2023 with Abkhazia; however, as of September, the commercial relationship with that nation remained at zero. Since 2013, Nicaragua has had a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with Russia, which includes among its objectives the development of mutually beneficial trade. However, in a decade of existence, it has not managed to boost trade exchange.

China, the most significant ally

Although the relationship dates back to 2021, when Ortega broke ties with Taiwan to ally with China, the Asian giant cannot be left out of the list of new allied countries. In this exchange, China is the biggest beneficiary, as between 2018 and September 2023, China purchased $240.37 million worth of products from Nicaragua, representing 1.26 percent of the exports totaling $19.041 billion in the reference period.

However, for almost a decade, China has been established as the third-largest supplier of local imports, surpassed by the United States and Central America. According to reports from the Central Bank of Nicaragua (BCN), Nicaragua buys between 12 and 15 percent of its total imports from China each year, and during the mentioned period, Nicaragua purchased $4.351 billion from China. Despite being the most significant, its importance is minimal compared to that of the United States, which traditionally buys more than 60 percent of local exports and supplies Nicaragua with nearly 30 percent of its imports.

However, the bet is that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed with China, which has been in effect since January 1, 2024, will strengthen trade exchange. Additionally, some loans have been signed, the most significant being approximately $400 million, formalized in the first week of February 2024, and will be used to build an International Airport at the former military airstrip of Punta Huete, replacing the one currently operating in Managua.

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