(updated May 30, 3:00 p.m.)- Ali Saidlu, Iran’s vice-president for international affairs, announced last night in Managua that the Iranian government is finally ready to pardon Nicaragua’s Cold War debt—totaling some $164 million—and in exchange offer the country an additional $250 million loan for development.
Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, whose first government became indebted to Iran by buying oil on credit that was never paid, welcomed the announcement as good news. After nearly 26 years of accumulating interest, Nicaragua’s debt to Iran had more than tripled. Ortega has been requesting debt cancelation since his return to power in 2007.
It’s unclear how Nicaragua plans to use the new $250 million loan from Iran, or whether the president’s intention is for it to be public or private debt. “We’ll have to see where we put the money,” Ortega said vaguely.
Under Nicaraguan law, the government can only receive loans and assume debt with the approval of the National Assembly. But opposition lawmakers say they don’t know anything about a loan offering from Iran.
“If there were a loan offer, it would have to come from the economic and budget commission, but we haven’t received anything,” commission member Carlos Langrand told The Nicaragua Dispatch this afternoon. “We are a Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC), so any new loan or debt we take on has to have certain conditions.”
Another commission member consulted by The Nicaragua Dispatch also didn’t know anything about an Iranian loan offer.
‘Milking’ Iranian aid
The Iranian diplomat also said his government is ready to move forward on his country’s aging promise to build a dairy plant in Nicaragua.
“We have the machinery ready and we’re just waiting for you to tell us where to install it,” the he said through a translator during a Tuesday evening meeting in Managua at Ortega’s presidential compound. President Ortega.
Saidlu seemed to say that Iran would also build a second dairy plant that was originally promised by Venezuela, though that part of the message got a bit jumbled in translation.
“Then we hope to do much bigger works—to use our potential to bring better results for both countries,” the Persian diplomat said.
Saidlu said the Iranian government will “anxiously await” Ortega at the 16th Meeting of Leaders of Nonaligned Nations, which will be held next August 30-31 in Tehran.
The Iranian official notably failed to mention whatever became of Iran’s lofty promises of to build a $230 million hydroelectric plant and a $350 million deep-water port on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Indeed, five years after reestablishing diplomatic relations between Tehran and Managua, the only Iranian investment in Managua has been a $1 million health clinic in Managua.
Saidlu repeated that his country is “looking only for peace.” However, he told Ortega, “We have to recognize the enemy and unite against his efforts.”
President Ortega also spoke of the importance of peace and lamented that some countries are using the “pretext that Iran is a threat to block their efforts to develop atomic energy.”
Several Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have been raising repeated concerns about Iran’s involvement in Nicaragua and other Latin American countries. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been leading the charge by demanding that the Obama Administration take tougher stance against Iran’s foray into the hemisphere.
“In January, Iran’s Ahmadinejad traveled through the region on a ‘Tour of Tyrants’ to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador, trying to form an alliance based on hatred of the U.S. and a commitment to authoritarian rule,” Ros-Lehtinen said during a May 11 speech at the University of Miami’s Center for Hemispheric Policy. “We should not be surprised that the leaders of these countries welcomed him with open arms and reaffirmed their support of the Iranian regime. As the U.S. and its allies tighten sanctions against Iran, Ahmadinejad is trying to identify countries that will help him evade their impact.”