It’s not likely to influence whether the canal is built or not, but the proposed interoceanic passage now contemplated for Nicaragua received a nod of support Friday from Joaquin Villalobos, who once was a leading figure in the armed struggle to overthrow the government of El Salvador.
Villalobos, who as head of the People’s Revolutionary Army was the foremost military strategist for the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front coalition that became a legal political party in El Salvador after the 1992 peace agreement there, long ago departed from leftist politics. He left El Salvador in the 1990s to study at St. Anthony’s College at Oxford University, and has since served as an adviser to governments facing leftist guerrillas, including Colombia’s, which he’s advising on peace talks to resolve the Western Hemiphere’s longest-running civil war. The irony of his professional trajectory is lost on few.
During an appearance Friday in Washington at the Inter-American Dialogue research center, Villalobos talked about Colombia’s peace talks with the FARC guerrilla group, saying reaching a deal is complicated by the fact the FARC controls quite a large area. He discussed political protests in Venezuela by noting his own experience of the futility of attempting to overthrow a Latin American government “from the street,” He drew a contrast between the security concerns of Guatemala and Honduras and those of El Salvador by asserting that his home country still has functioning institutions not infiltrated by organized crime (members of the FMLN have won El Salvador’s last two presidential elections).
But his most definitive comment came in response to a question from a Nicaraguan reporter about the proposed canal, the possible construction of which has divided that country between supporters of President Daniel Ortega and those who oppose him.
Villalobos said it was wrong to consider the canal in relation to how one feels about Ortega, the Sandinista revolutionary turned business-friendly president who struck the canal deal with a Chinese company. Instead, the metric should be what is best for Nicaragua. And for Villalobos, “the canal is good for Nicaragua.”
He deferred on whether the canal could be built or whether it would be damaging to the country’s environment. Those were technical questions best left to experts, he said. “But,” he added, “the most important species in Nicaragua is the Nicaraguan,” and the canal’s promise of jobs and economic growth would mean an improved standard of living for residents of what is generally considered the second poorest country in Latin America.
As for questions about whether the Chinese company set to build the canal, HKND Group, can come up with the financing, Villalobos said the project was an opportunity for China to do something that had never been done before. Then he referred to John F. Kennedy’s vow to send a man to the moon. “I don’t think they thought about profitability” when Kennedy set that goal, he said.