Beijing has put pressure on Guatemala to move diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing and offered it coronavirus vaccines as an incentive, Central American President Alejandro Giammattei said.
But Guatemala, the largest economy still recognizing the island’s territory, which Beijing considers part of China, intended to remain loyal to Taipei even as its neighbors changed loyalty, Giammattei said in an interview with the Financial Times.
Following Nicaragua’s decision on Thursday sever ties with Taiwan, the island territory has only 14 diplomatic allies left, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Beijing has lobbied heavily in the region and over the past four years has persuaded El Salvador, Panama and the Dominican Republic to leave Taiwan. Newly elected Honduran President Xiomar Castro, who takes office in January, promised in her election manifesto to move to China.
“We are the last country China has failed to infiltrate,” Giammattei said via video link during a visit to Washington. “The Chinese are putting a lot of pressure on us, they are offering us a lot. . . they offered [vaccines but] we did not accept. “
Guatemala’s loyalty to Taiwan was a “matter of principle,” the president added, saying Taipei was “his country’s only true ally.” During the Covid-19 pandemic, “the first [bio]safety clothing sent to Guatemala. . . it was sent to Taiwan when no one could get it because it was not in stock; the first respirators to arrive in Guatemala. . . came from Taiwan, ”he said.
But Pepe Zhang, an expert on China-Latin America relations at the Atlantic Council, said Guatemala was making a calculated decision. “Taiwan’s allies. . . they will have to weigh the cost and benefits of their relations with Taiwan, the United States and China, ”he said. “Guatemala sees greater benefits in maintaining ties with Taiwan at this time. . . but we’ll see if it continues. “
Conservative, pro-business Giammattei took power in January 2020, promising to boost prosperity in Guatemala’s impoverished plateaus – the source of many migrants who joined the tens of thousands from Central America in head towards the American border in recent years.
The president expressed frustration with the Biden administration in the U.S., which is struggling to cope with the flow of people. The U.S. has pledged a $ 4 billion aid plan to Central America to address the root causes of migration, which analysts say is fueled by corruption, violence and poverty. But Washington has faced difficulties in implementing it amid disagreements with governments in the region.
Asked when the aid according to the plan could start to be paid, Giammattei replied: “If you don’t know anything, I know too.” Washington and his government did not understand each other, he said, adding, “Maybe they don’t understand my Spanish and I their English.”
Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – three countries of the so-called “northern triangle” at the heart of US efforts to stem the influx of migrants – have been left out of a US-led virtual network summit of democracy this week over what Uzra Zeya, a State Department official, described as a concern about “the direction of the rule of law and governance and anti-corruption efforts”.
The move comes after the United States announced it sanctions in September against two Guatemalan officials, including Maríu Consuelo Porras Arguetu De Porres, Attorney General, for allegedly obstructing corruption investigations and firing the Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor.
Earlier that month, Guatemalan prosecutors opened an investigation into reports that the mining company had tried to bribe Giammattei. The president, who enjoys immunity on the basis of his office, has not been charged with any crime and has denied any injustice.
Giammattei accused Washington of failing to respond to Guatemala’s efforts to help improve U.S. security. Citing seizures of drugs and smugglers deported from Guatemala to the United States, he said: “We consider ourselves allies of the United States, though. . . The United States does not treat us as allies. ”
Guatemala’s economy outpaced its neighbors during the pandemic, suffering only a slight decline of 1.5 percent in gross domestic product last year. The IMF expects the Guatemalan economy to grow 5.5 percent this year and 4.5 percent in 2023, making it one of the best in Latin America.
It was created last month by Millicom, a European telecommunications company the biggest foreign investment ever in the country, spending $ 2.2 billion to take full control of the largest mobile operator, Tiga. Guatemala expects total foreign direct investment to reach $ 3.4 billion this year.
Giammattei said he hopes to attract $ 5 billion in toll road investment as Guatemala has introduced public-private partnerships to fill infrastructure gaps and make the country more competitive for multinational companies looking to relocate production from China.
The country’s location near Mexico gives it easy access to the North American USMCA trade zone, and the president said the Japanese auto parts company will announce a production facility in Guatemala’s free zone near its border with Mexico.
“We spoke yesterday with U.S. senators and congressmen about the possibility of the U.S. giving tax breaks to North American companies in China to bring them to this side of the world,” he added.
Giammattei rejected the imitation of neighboring Salvador, which it is to become the first country in the worldy adopt bitcoin as a legal tender.
“We have 25 years of macroeconomic stability. . . do you think we would risk moving from a stable model to a model that changes, oscillates and is open to manipulation? He said. “I do not think so. I think it’s like shooting yourself in the leg. “