A Sandinista in Red Square


Photo: Nicaragua‘s President Daniel Ortega, left, shakes hands with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, after a signing ceremony in the Kremlin, Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008.AP Photo by Mikhail Metzel)

Today the president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, is on an official state visit to Russia, attending a series of events alongside President Dmitry Medvedev, who, perhaps grateful for Nicaragua’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (not even Belarus was up to that task), talked about a number of vague promises of increased ties and aid to the Central American nation.  Ortega, whose party won a landslide of seats in a flawed mayoral election last month (the Netherlands has just announced they will suspend aid because of the vote rigging), last visited Moscow under dramatically different circumstances in 1985, back when Central America occupied a disproportionate amount of real estate within Ronald Reagan’s nightmares and paranoia.  Russia’s effort to recreate Washington-Moscow antagonism over the region couldn’t be clearer – but so far nobody is buying it.

A lot of Russia’s soft power effort in Latin America is just talk.  Ithas become tradition for Russia to propose mega-development projectswith its new friends that most acknowledge will likely never happen. With both Venezuela and Argentina, it was the “Hugoducto” – a trans-Latin American oil pipeline.  For Bolivia, it was a pipelineto feed its valuable gas (which is causing civil war) directly toBuenos Aires.  For Cuba, it’s offshore oil drilling and air bases,while inimitable Hugo Chavez is queuing up for the granddaddy prize: aRussian nuclear power reactor.

Nicaragua has not been left out of this grand list of Stakhanovite fantasyprojects.  For the Sandinistas, Russia is talking about paying the billfor a +$20 billion canal to connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans,competing with the Panama canal.  Forget CAFTA or the fact that 31.7%of Nicaragua’s exports (and growing) go to the United States market.  It’s much more palatable to dream of impossible futures.