Are Nicaragua & Guatemala entering a diplomatic cold war?

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By Lourdes Hurtado M.

The president, Bernardo Arévalo, recognizes that in the international framework there will be collaboration with the neighboring country; in practice, Nicaragua and Guatemala have withdrawn their ambassadors.

President Bernardo Arévalo, since the electoral campaign, maintained a clear position regarding Nicaragua and the regime of Daniel Ortega: it is a repressive regime. Consequently, in recent weeks, various actions have evidenced a diplomatic distance between both countries.

Analysts consulted consider that the strategies that the government defines in the coming weeks are crucial in the relationship with the world, and rule out that recent events with Nicaragua could influence Central American integration.

In fact, the retirement of the Nicaraguan ambassador in the country, Luis Briones, is recorded, who a few days before Arévalo assumed power was appointed ambassador in El Salvador, according to Nicaraguan media. Days later, the closure of the Nicaraguan Embassy in Guatemala was reported on social networks, although the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry says it is unaware of this fact.

“To date, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not received any official notification or notice from the Nicaraguan government about the closure of the Nicaraguan Embassy in Guatemala,” they responded.

Guatemala, for its part, removed its ambassador in Nicaragua at the beginning of February. The Giammattei government signed the retirement of Jaime Regalado as the head of the mission in Nicaragua. So far the Foreign Ministry has not appointed a new ambassador, although it does maintain the diplomatic mission in that country.

“The Embassy of Guatemala in Managua continues to operate normally, and has officials who are carrying out the tasks of the diplomatic mission,” the Foreign Ministry assured.

An attempt was made to establish communication with the Guatemalan Embassy in Managua to obtain a position, but it was not possible. In the same way, an attempt was made to contact the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, without success.

Fixed posture

Bernardo Arévalo stated on different occasions his position regarding the Ortega regime. In 2023, at the Central American Journalism Forum, held in Antigua Guatemala, being already elected, he referred to the Central American country as experiencing systematic repression.

“Wherever it is, (we are) going to be clear that we do not approve of the repressive policies they are exercising,” Arévalo said on that occasion.

Already in office, Foreign Minister Carlos Ramiro Martínez maintained the same position, explaining that Guatemala is governed by democracy and that a line of insisting the neighboring country return to democratic channels would be maintained.

“We are governed by respect for the principles of democracy, of law and there are things that are simply not shared,” he declared in this regard and added that he adheres to the statements already made by the president.

On the other hand, last Wednesday the Minister of Defense, Henry Saenz, received the Defense attaché of the Nicaraguan Embassy in Guatemala, Colonel Guillermo Guzmán González, to strengthen the ties of friendship between the armies, according to official publications. 

Central American integration

Guatemala converges with Nicaragua in the Central American integration organizations. However, before Arévalo took office, he visited the member countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA), except for Nicaragua, and Daniel Ortega was not officially invited to the inauguration, as was done with the rest of the presidents of Central America.

Former ambassador Luis Padilla described the closure of the Nicaraguan embassy in Guatemala as “very strange,” and refrained from making further comments because the Foreign Ministry claims to have not been notified.

Padilla recalls that Central American integration emerged from the Spanish colony, which later evolved into the Central American Federation. Now in regional organizations all member countries collaborate and obtain benefits from it.

“The integration process brings benefits to all countries that are now not just the original five from the time of the Captaincy General, because Panama, the Dominican Republic and Belize have been added,” he explained.

Both Padilla and former ambassador Luis Fernando Andrade detailed that the benefits focus on trade, tariffs, exports and imports.

According to the Central American Trade Statistics System, of the Central American Integration Secretariat (Sieca), Guatemala is the third exporter of products to neighboring countries and the main importer in the region.

The main imported products are medicines, food preparations, gas, oil and hydrocarbons. And the most exported goods are medicines, bakery products, plastic packaging items and palm oil.

“There have always been obstacles and challenges, and Guatemala is one of the key countries in Central America,” Andrade explained.

Recent actions with Nicaragua should not affect relations in these organizations, nor can it be predicted that the country will leave integration.

“It requires a lot of judgment, a lot of knowledge to manage the challenges that will always arise in a region that has different visions, but there are interests in integrating,” Andrade added.

Furthermore, it emphasizes the importance of establishing the main strategies in foreign policy to have a guide to how Guatemala is going to relate to other countries in the world.

“There are the principles that guide and sustain a policy, the democratic principles, the freedoms regarding human rights. And there are the commercial lines, the integration line and the diplomatic management of the problems,” he said.

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in Prensa Libre