It’s been a whirlwind workweek for Peter Kent, who on Monday kicked off his first field trip as Canada’s minister of state for the Americas. The junior minister post is a new position created by the Conservatives in order to fulfill their plan to re-engage in Latin America.
Kent started off his week in a meeting with President Daniel Ortega in Managua, Nicaragua.
But he didn’t make the local news until he expressed “serious concern” about “credible evidence” pointing to fraud in municipal elections in the country last November. Among the critics of the fairness of the elections are the opposition, the US, and the Organization of American States.
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said in a press release that the organization was “very concerned” about the “difficulties unfolding in Nicaragua as votes [were] being counted.” The same press release duly noted that “Insulza remarked that since the organization had not been invited to observe any of the latest elections in that country, it is not in a position to comment on them.” Ummm… ¿Perdon?
Although Kent met with Ortega, and stated that Canada will continue to work in Nicaragua, his statements do undermine, at least to some extent, the current Sandinista government in Nicaragua, which is the party that swept the November elections in question.
Kent also met with Canadian investors during his visit to Managua. According to Foreign Affairs Canada, Canadian companies are active in mining, oil and gas, garment manufacturing, financial services and energy generation in Nicaragua. Kent’s mission is in part to try and revive the long dormant negotiation of the Central America Four Free Trade Agreement with Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.
Finally, there’s the military side of things: since 1991, Canadian soldiers have been in Nicaragua to “provide training” for the Nicaraguan army through a program called the Military Training and Assistance Program. MTAP allows Canada to be “active in direct development of defence and security needs of several countries,” according to George Maclean, researcher and author of Canadian Hemispheric Security Policy: Playing at the Margins. There was no military photo-op that I know of, but posing with Canadian troops stationed abroad as part of a little known defense programme might not be not the best way for Kent to kick off his new career.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Foreign Correspondence, Canada’s only blog dedicated to tracking Peter Kent in his transition from news breaker to news maker.