By Carlos Alberto Montaner
Gentlemen only defend lost causes. Borges, who loved boutades, said it. I like to remember it in relation to Taiwan. It is a beautiful and lost cause. Taiwan is a small island, the size of Catalonia, with 23 million inhabitants, which has simultaneously achieved the miracle of development and democratization.
It went from being a poor agricultural country, tyrannized first by the Japanese and then by the Kuomintang, to a prosperous, highly industrialized and essentially democratic nation. However, it has not been recognized as an independent entity. Mainland China prevents it with its impressive checkbook and its growing market of 1.3 billion people.
In 1969, 71 nations recognized Taiwan and only 48 recognized Communist China, back then Mao’s needy China. Today, Taiwan’s waning diplomatic strategy is based on parts of Central America plus Paraguay and Haiti, and on some beautiful Pacific islands endowed with a flag and a seat at the UN. Only 17 nations recognize Taiwan, while 177 have embraced the People’s Republic of China.
The latest country to cut its ties with Taiwan is El Salvador. The Dominican Republic and Panama had done it a little earlier. The one that started the stampede was Costa Rica in 2007, under the second government of Oscar Arias. Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and, surprisingly, Nicaragua remain in the fold. The four will also end up severing their ties. It’s just a matter of time and offers.
The Farabundo Martí for National Liberation Front (FMLN), a communist party that governs El Salvador, received a magnificent offer. China will convert the smallest nation in Latin America (8,108 square miles) into the distribution center of Chinese products for the entire region.
The approved project includes a port capable of receiving one million containers every year, four theme parks and four centers related to the economy. The transformation will be made in a large stretch of coastline of 1,076 square miles (12% of the territory), and El Salvador must grant its exploitation rights to the Chinese developers for a century. At the same time, a port will be built in Honduras, on the Atlantic coast, connected by rail with the Salvadoran, to create a “dry canal” between the two oceans.
The construction will generate thousands of jobs, of which 20% will be filled with workers from China and 80% will be recruited locally. El Salvador’s current president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, as a good communist (he said it in an interview a few years ago) does not believe in losing elections and handing over power, so for him and his party, the FMLN, which has governed the country since 2009, this will be the opportunity to generate a clientelist system that allows the FMLN to stay in government indefinitely. The jobs and most of the benefits will be for the party supporters.
That is the big problem of doing business with Communist China. It does not make agreements with societies, but only with certain governments. As it is a single party system with a total lack of freedoms, it prefers to negotiate with its peers wherever it’s possible, without realizing that the only guarantee of the proper functioning of the economy is the existence of a transparent society governed by meritocracy, with an independent judiciary that resolves within a legal framework the inevitable disputes that arise.
Communist China forgot this lesson of history in Venezuela and that black hole of an economy irresponsibly swallowed billions of the Chinese peoples hard-earned dollars. In El Salvador, the same thing will happen.Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.