Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega establishes diplomatic ties with the Taliban

The Sandinista regime becomes the first government in the West, and the second in the world, to appoint an ambassador before the authorities of the fundamentalist group that controls Afghanistan

Propaganda by the Nicaraguan governing couple, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
Propaganda by the Nicaraguan governing couple, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.Maynor Valenzuela (REUTERS)
Wilfredo Miranda Aburto

The vice-president of Nicaragua, Rosario Murillo, enthusiastically announced the diplomatic news on June 21: her government has established diplomatic relations with the People of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, that is to say, with the Taliban who took over control of Kabul in August 2021, after international troops led by the United States left the country, leaving behind scenes of desperation and terror as the fundamentalist group took back control of the land.

The government led by Daniel Ortega and his wife thus makes Nicaragua the only Western country that recognizes the Taliban regime. “We have, comrades, the presentation of letters of credence already scheduled for our comrade Michael Campbell, who has received from comrade Habaitullah Akhundzada, prime minister of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the appreciated appointment as non-resident ambassador of our Nicaragua, concurrent from Beijing, in the People’s Republic of China,” Murillo said.

Campbell would be, so far, the second ambassador appointed to Afghanistan by any country in the world and recognizing the de facto authorities. To date, only China has appointed an ambassador to Kabul. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs considers the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Nicaragua a positive step and hopes that bilateral relations will continue to expand in areas of mutual interest,” the Taliban said in a statement. “The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has instructed the embassy of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in China to maintain close relations with the Nicaraguan embassy in Beijing,” they noted.

The majority of diplomatic missions left Afghanistan in 2021 while a few others have maintained “practical relations” with the Taliban, such as Turkey. These “practical relationships” are maintained by chargés d’affaires, a position that does not require diplomatic approval, which, at the same time, does not imply recognition. The Taliban regime is not recognized by the United Nations, which rejects the Taliban, among other things, for their draconian and fundamentalist policy against women.

Ambassador in Pyongyang

In December 2023, the Ortega and Murillo Administration opened a diplomatic mission in Pyongyang, North Korea, one of the most self-contained and criticized regimes in the world. These diplomatic maneuvers of the Sandinista government are part of a strategy of international alignment with totalitarian, fundamentalist, authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, such as mainland China, Iran, Belarus and Russia, to try to alleviate the international isolation that Managua is experiencing due to the serious violations of human rights attributed to the presidential couple.

International experts consulted by EL PAÍS agree that this shift towards those countries, which all have the United States as their “common enemy,” aims to circumvent the international pressure that Washington is leading against the Ortega and Murillo regime and its continuous “crimes against humanity,” as denounced and documented by a United Nations Group of Experts.

“Afghanistan is a theocratic state. The United States has determined that the Taliban are Specially Designated Global Terrorists by executive order 13324,” explains Arturo MacFields, a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS). “Just as they do with Cuba, Russia and China are using the Nicaragua regime as an instrument of geopolitical provocation against the United States. It is a dangerous game with serious consequences.”

Despite the sanctions, the United States remains Nicaragua’s main trading partner. And the diplomatic relations that Managua has opened up with these regimes, especially with China, are not economically significant compared with its trade with Washington. In that sense, the most notable thing is a free trade agreement signed with China in December 2023 but which, according to official figures, does not compare with the one signed with the United States. In the first half of 2023, Nicaragua made exports to China worth $6.7 million. In the same period of time, its exports to the United States reached almost $1 billion.

McFields assures that the Chinese have seized strategic resources in Afghanistan such as lithium, copper, oil and critical infrastructure. “By opening the doors wide to the Taliban regime, Nicaragua is scaring away investors, dividing Central America, generating chaos, uncertainty and poverty,” said the former Sandinista ambassador.

“Typical, but unfortunate”

The person in charge of Latin American affairs at the U.S. Department of State, Brian Nichols, described the decision to open diplomatic relations with the Taliban as “typical, but regrettable. What can one say?” he asked himself in Asunción, Paraguay, where he was participating at the OAS General Assembly.

Nicaraguan critics and opponents insist that these diplomatic moves by the Ortega-Murillo family expose the country to more international sanctions due to the various implications, especially the flow of irregular migration that, since 2021, has found in Managua airport a springboard to reach the U.S. Washington reported two weeks ago that eight terrorists from Tajikistan were captured in the cities of New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The men are suspected of having connections to the terrorist group ISIS.

“It is a real threat to the United States (...) Nicaragua has received in the last 12 months more than 1,000 flights with migrants from Libya, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and a dozen countries with totalitarian or terrorist regimes. Afghanistan could even receive visa-free status,” McFields warned.

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