Taiwan, Guatemala’s allies resist Beijing’s overthrow

According to president Alejandro Giammattei, president of the central American country Alejandro Giammattei, Beijing has been putting pressure on Guatemala to shift diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing and offer to provide the country with a coronavirus vaccine.

But Guatemala, the largest economy that still recognizes the island territory, which Beijing considers part of China, intends to remain loyal to Taipei even as neighboring countries change allegiance, Giammattei told Financial Times in an interview.

After Nicaragua’s decision on Thursday cut ties with Taiwan, the island territory has only 14 diplomatic allies left, most in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Beijing has lobbied vigorously in the region and over the past four years has persuaded El Salvador, Panama and the Dominican Republic to abandon Taiwan. President-elect of Honduras Xiomara Castro, who took office in January, promised in her election manifesto to move to China.

“We are the last country where China has not succeeded in infiltrating itself,” Giammattei said via video link during a visit to Washington. “The Chinese are putting a lot of pressure on us, they are giving us a lot. . . they suggested [vaccines but] We did not accept. “

The president added that Guatemala’s allegiance to Taiwan was a “question of principle”, adding that Taipei was his country’s “only real ally”. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the “first person” [bio]security clothing that they send to Guatemala. . . was sent by Taiwan when no one could get it because it was out of stock; The first respirator arrived in Guatemala. . . from Taiwan,” he said.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen with Guatemala's ambassador to the island territory of Willy Alberto Gomez Tirado

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, left, with Guatemala’s ambassador to the island territory of Willy Alberto Gomez Tirado. The Central American country is one of 14 diplomatic allies of Taipei © Walid Berrazeg / Hans Lucas via Reuters

But Pepe Zhang, an expert on China-Latin American relations at the Atlantic Council, said Guatemala was making a calculated decision. “Taiwan’s allies. . . will need to weigh the costs and benefits of their relationship with Taiwan, the US and China,” he said. “Guatemala now sees a greater interest in maintaining relations with Taiwan. . . but we’ll see if this continues. “

Conservative, pro-business Giammattei came to power in January 2020, committed to promoting prosperity in Guatemala’s impoverished highlands – the source of many migrants who have joined tens of thousands of people from Central America go to the US border In recent years.

The president expressed frustration with the Biden administration of America, which has struggled to deal with the influx of people. The United States has promised a $4 billion aid plan to Central America to tackle the root causes of migration, which analysts say is caused by corruption, violence and poverty. However, Washington has faced difficulties in implementing it amid disagreements with governments in the region.

When asked when the planned aid could begin to be disbursed, Giammattei replied: “If you’re clueless, neither am I.” Washington and his government don’t understand each other, he said, adding: “Maybe they don’t understand my Spanish and I don’t understand their English.”

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – the three countries known as the “northern triangle” that are at the heart of US efforts to stem the flow of migrants – have been excluded from a US-led virtual democracy summit this week because of what Uzra Zeya, a state ministry official, described as concerns about “the direction of the rule of law and its anti-corruption and management efforts”.

This move comes after the US announced sanctions in September against two Guatemalan officials, including María Consuelo Porras Argueta De Porres, the attorney general, for allegedly obstructing corruption investigations and firing an anti-money-matching prosecutor.

Earlier that month, Guatemalan prosecutors opened an investigation into reports that a mining company had attempted to bribe Giammattei. The president, who enjoys immunity under his office, has not been charged with any crime and has denied any wrongdoing.

Giammattei accused Washington of not responding to Guatemala’s efforts to help improve US security. Listing a series of arrests and drug dealers deported from Guatemala to the US, he said: “Even so, we consider ourselves an ally of the United States. . . America doesn’t treat us like an ally.”

Guatemala’s economy outperformed its neighbors during the pandemic, shrinking only slightly by 1.5% in gross domestic product last year. The IMF expects Guatemala’s economy to grow 5.5% this year and 4.5% in 2023, making the country one of the top doing business in Latin America.

Last month Millicom, a European telecommunications company, made largest foreign investment ever in the country, spending $2.2 billion to take full control of the largest mobile operator Tigo. Guatemala expects total FDI this year to reach $3.4 billion.

Giammattei said he hopes to get $5 billion invested in toll roads as Guatemala rolls out public-private partnerships to fill gaps in infrastructure and make the country competitive. more competitive for multinationals looking to move production out of China.

The country’s location next to Mexico gives it easy access to North America’s USMCA business district and the president said a Japanese car parts company is about to announce a production facility in the Guatemala free zone near the border with Mexico.

“We spoke to US senators and congressmen yesterday about the possibility of the US giving tax breaks to North American companies in China to get them on this side of the world,” he added.

Giaammattei rules out competing with neighboring El Salvador, which has Be the first person to count in the worldy to apply bitcoin as a legal tender.

“We have had 25 years of macroeconomic stability. . . do you think we will risk going from a stable pattern to one that is ever-changing, fluctuating and prone to manipulation? ” he say. “I do not think so. I think it’s like shooting myself in the foot.”

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