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  • Nicaragua!

  • You probably haven't heard about how crazy things have gotten

  • And China has a hand in it

  • Welcome to China Uncensored,

  • I'm Chris Chappell.

  • So, I interviewed my first terrorist.

  • At least, that's what the dictator of Nicaragua,

  • Daniel Ortega calls him.

  • At the Oslo Freedom Forum,

  • I sat down with Felix Maradiaga.

  • He's an academic and political activist in Nicaragua.

  • Back in September 2018,

  • he spoke at the UN Security Council about how the Ortega regime

  • brutally represses Nicaragua's people.

  • Afterwards, the Ortega regime issued a warrant for Maradiaga's arrest.

  • They accused himorganized crime and financing of terrorism.”

  • Riiiight.

  • In fact, Maradiaga was attacked by a mob of 50 Ortega supporters

  • and had to be hospitalized.

  • Now I'm betting a lot of you watching

  • probably don't know much about the situation in Nicaragua.

  • The country rarely makes it into the US news.

  • But there is one country that really cares about Nicaragua

  • and that's China.

  • The Chinese Communist Party has its fingerprints all over Nicaragua.

  • And Felix Maradiaga joined me in Oslo to give the rundown.

  • Thank you for joining us today, Felix.

  • Thank you for the invitation.

  • Absolutely.

  • So, for those watching who don't really know much about Nicaragua,

  • can you tell us what the political situation is like there?

  • It's very complex at this point.

  • The Daniel Ortega regime

  • has closed any possibility for peaceful protest.

  • There are about 400 people in prison,

  • just for exercising their constitutional right to protest.

  • Basically, we live in a police state.

  • But isn't he a president?

  • Doesn't that mean it's a Democracy?

  • Well, that's the problem with dictatorships.

  • I call them dictatorships 2.0;

  • because they have been able,

  • many of them,

  • to bend the rules,

  • which have been developed for Democracy,

  • to pretend they are Democratic Regimes.

  • And Daniel Ortega came to power in 2007 again,

  • due to a very strange reform in the Constitution,

  • that allowed him to be elected.

  • But in any case,

  • in 2011 he was re-elected against the Constitution.

  • So, our argument,

  • as we have presented to the organization of American states,

  • is that he is not a legitimate president under our Constitution.

  • Well, I coined a term that I use to describe the leader of China.

  • Not quite a president, not quite a dictator.

  • A “presitator”.

  • So, if you would like to usepresitatorto describe Ortega,

  • I'm perfectly happy with you using [crosstalk]

  • I think it works perfectly,

  • and that should be a red flag for Democracies around the world.

  • I like to use the painful situation of Nicaragua

  • to make a case for Democracies around the world.

  • That when Democracies do not really deliver

  • what the average citizen wants,

  • it opens a door;

  • an opportunity for authoritarian regimes to emerge.

  • So, what's China's role in Nicaragua?

  • The situation in Nicaragua is quite strange,

  • in terms of the relationship with China.

  • Nicaragua is one of the very few countries around

  • the world that actually has diplomatic relationship with Taiwan,

  • not with China.

  • On the other hand, at the political level,

  • it's well known that Nicaragua has ties with China.

  • And, in fact, the flagship project,

  • as Daniel Ortega argues,

  • in terms of foreign investment;

  • it's a canal that is supposed to connect both of the oceans.

  • And that is not an investment from Taiwan,

  • but actually from China.

  • Which, once again, is strange,

  • because we do not have, as a country,

  • a formal relationship with the People's Republic of China.

  • It is clearly a move by the Chinese regime as well,

  • because a project of such size could not be pursued

  • without the support of the Chinese government.

  • They're using, at this point,

  • a company registered in Hong Kong to pursue the project.

  • So, you think China may be trying towooNicaragua?

  • To abandon Taiwan in favor of the Communist Party?

  • I think that, ideologically,

  • that has been a long term project of the Sandinista party.

  • Ideologically, the Sandinista party and China,

  • they've always had a lot in common.

  • When Democracy was re-established in Nicaragua in 1990,

  • during the sixteen years of Democratic transition that we had,

  • Nicaragua developed a close relationship with Taiwan.

  • But I have to say that, unfortunately, even Taiwan,

  • at least in relationship with Nicaragua,

  • has behaved in a very unfortunate way;

  • in the sense that Taiwan,

  • despite many requests,

  • is one of the very few countries

  • that continues to openly support the Daniel Ortega regime.

  • So, we are seeing China and Taiwan

  • competing for Daniel Ortegas' attention.

  • How is the Sandinista party ideologically aligned with China?

  • Well, as you know,

  • the Sandinista party emerged as a classical Marxist party in the 1960s.

  • And in 1979, it became a successful,

  • political military movement that defeated the dictatorship of Somoza.

  • Now, the new version of the Sandinista party,

  • that came back into power under Daniel Ortega in 2007,

  • continues to have the rhetoric of Marxism and Socialism;

  • but in practice, is a very pragmatic regime.

  • It's just one more authoritarian regime

  • that will use rhetoric and one side just to attract allies,

  • but will basically use any tools, any ally,

  • to pursue its objectives.

  • Well, it's interesting you say that;

  • because I know the, sort of,

  • Marxist or Communist rhetoric is often used in Latin America,

  • where there is a lot of promises made,

  • but it always seems to end in authoritarianism.

  • Why does that line of reasoning still keep getting used?

  • That's a very interesting question.

  • But I think that a big component of that line,

  • as you clearly define it,

  • is that there is sort of romanticism;

  • Utopia of socialism being closely tied to egalitarian principles.

  • And we have to be very candid in saying that Latin America

  • has been one of the most unequal regions of the world.

  • There is a big issue of poverty.

  • There is a big issue of class struggle in Latin America.

  • And of course,

  • the narrative of Marxism continues to be very compelling,

  • at the narrative level.

  • But in practice, it's a system of dominance

  • that doesn't really provide freedoms for the individuals.

  • And in countries where levels of education are so low,

  • that type of populistic rhetoric becomes really dangerous.

  • So, I think that, in the case of Nicaragua,

  • as in many other underdeveloped parts of the world,

  • the only tool to fight that kind of lines is through education.

  • When people are well informed,

  • and when people have the basic tools

  • to pursue employment and health and basic rights,

  • populism, and particularly Marxism, doesn't have any chances.

  • So it's basically,

  • in Latin America it's still a fertile ecosystem

  • for this type of narrative,

  • because of our inequality and low levels of education.

  • Well, so with the Nicaragua canal,

  • I know that seems to have stopped.

  • Correct?

  • Yes.

  • We have seen that many of the initial parts of the projects,

  • such as, for example the environmental impact studies,

  • the meteorological studies as well.

  • And some other engineering studies,

  • they have been stopped at all.

  • Many environmental activists argued,

  • from the very beginning when the project

  • was first mentioned about five years ago,

  • is that this project was never an authentic,

  • legitimate investment.

  • It was always a project that had something fishy,

  • for example, money laundering.

  • For example, something that is quite clear;

  • a project designed to, basically,

  • take away land from indigenous communities,

  • and from the farmers and the campesino communities of Nicaragua.

  • In fact, what we see today in Nicaragua,

  • it is closely connected to what is known as The Campesino Movement;

  • which are the land owners that mobilized in 2013, 2014,

  • against the Chinese project.

  • This movement that emerged,

  • as a land right movement,

  • is closely connected to the peaceful protests

  • that we see in Nicaragua today.

  • So, the Chinese investment in the canal.

  • That didn't do anything to benefit the people of Nicaragua?

  • No, not at all.

  • Not at all.

  • And if you read the law that was approved in record time,

  • so it took very few hours to approve.

  • One of the strangest laws, in terms of investments.

  • The Canal Law has been elevated to the rank of a constitutional law

  • in order to create, almost, a state within a state.

  • So, let's assume that the project will evolve.

  • Basically, the canal area would have been

  • outside of the tax authorities of Nicaragua.

  • It would be outside of the judicial authorities of Nicaragua.

  • So clearly, the Daniel Ortega regime

  • was trying to develop something with the Chinese

  • that went beyond a normal investment.

  • And the land owners actually perceived that,

  • as that's the reason why they mobilized.

  • This project never benefited Nicaraguans.

  • It actually affected and destroyed

  • many of the environmental areas of our country.

  • Well, now that it's been stopped,

  • does that benefit the people of Nicaragua?

  • Well, the people of Nicaragua have always said that

  • we are a country that has open arms to foreign investment,

  • as long as these investments are clean,

  • are legitimate, are under the rule of law,

  • are based on the principles of fair trade and free markets.

  • That's what the Nicaraguan people believe.

  • I mean, we are a country of entrepreneurs,

  • and a country that has suffered many wars,

  • and we understand that investments are important.

  • However, the experience with the Chinese has been very unfortunate.

  • The way in which some teams of Chinese engineers

  • have intervened in private property rights,

  • the way in which the project has been developed

  • with complete lack of transparency,

  • is something that raises a lot of flags.

  • So as we have argued,

  • together with many environmental activists

  • and grassroots leaders and local communities,

  • is that the way this project was designed,

  • it's far from a project that could bring development to Nicaragua.

  • So, is there concern about debt trap diplomacy?

  • Yes.

  • Yes.

  • And it's also a concern of a project that was assigned,

  • as many other projects in Nicaragua

  • that have been developed with Russian money,

  • with Venezuelan money from either the period of Hugo Chavez,

  • or Nicolas Maduro.

  • It's just another project to enrich a family.

  • Another project just to enrich an authoritarian regime

  • that has amassed money as no other regimes in previous times.

  • So, it's not a project aimed at developing the country

  • in terms of attracting employment,

  • and other types of clean investments.

  • Does China provide any military equipment or training?

  • As I said, Nicaragua is a country

  • that does not have a formal relationship with China.

  • So, at least officially, the Chinese are not working;

  • in terms of bringing official corporations

  • to the military or to the police.

  • There are unofficial accounts,

  • and we have strong suspicions

  • that there are some relationships in terms,

  • for example, of espionage,

  • and in terms of collaboration with the regime.

  • But it has been very hard to actually document

  • and prove those suspicions.

  • Okay.

  • What about things like censorship and surveillance?

  • I know there's been, sort of,

  • a push for more internet censorship,

  • more surveillance, facial recognition technology.

  • Is any of that coming from China?