Central America Reaction to the US Election Result

Six out of seven Central American leaders congratulated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the United States  yesterday for winning the US election. Here’s what they said.

First off, don’t worry. We’re not into getting ourselves involved in the cesspit that is American politics here at centralamerica.com. No way we want to go down that road. But we thought it would be interesting to see which of Central America’s leaders would congratulate the new president-elect, and what they said.

And, by contrast, it would also be interesting to see who didn’t say anything, and what that, if anything, would infer.

After all, love it or loathe it, the US is the most important country for all Central America. Trade, tourism, remittances. The vast bulk of it all comes from the United States. Not to mention checkered and controversial histories which remain unforgotten by many.

So let’s start with Panamanian president Nito Cortizo.

Panama’s relationship with the United States could be one of the most complicated in Central America. Panama wouldn’t exist without the US. That’s not hyperbole.

Panamanian independence came about with US protection, albeit not for altruist reasons. But I digress. Read The Path Between The Seas to learn more. It could be the best book on any Central American country ever written.

But back to President Cortizo. His tweet on Saturday said, “I extend my congratulations to Joe Biden for his election as President and Kamala Harris as the first female vice-president of the United States of America. Our countries have a long and special historic relationship. We’ll work together to deepen it more.”

Next door in Costa Rica, President Carlos Alvarado tweeted twice.

His first was in Spanish (the first congratulations of all the Central American leaders), and then around an hour later, in English. Alvarado offered his congratulations to Biden and Harris and lauded the record voter turnout in the US.

Costa Rica has a good relationship with the US in general. Or at least a less traumatic relationship than the other Central American countries. The US is Costa Rica’s biggest trading partner. More tourists come to Costa Rica from the US than anywhere else, something critical for Costa Rica.

There have been tensions between Costa Rica and the US over the years, though, including during the conflicts of the 80s. Back then, the US covertly used Costa Rican territory to fight the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. But overall, the relationship has been good, for better or worse.

And talking of Nicaragua, they did it old school. They sent a letter. Granted, Ortega isn’t on Twitter or social media at all, thank God.

So… the letter. Call it a rambling, shambolic affair, full of the claptrap pseudo-religious mumbo-jumbo the Ortegas come out with nowadays. 

Nicaragua-watchers can expect Ortega to be pleased about Trump losing, thinking maybe the new guy will drop the sanctions against him. He’ll be disappointed. Despite Trump’s rhetoric about Biden being a “radical leftist communist”, Biden has always been a foreign-policy hawk. That’s something the left of his own party attack him with. Ortega will have a long wait.

Across the border in Honduras is another controversial president, Juan Orlando Hernandez.

This is a man many Hondurans see as an illegitimate, corrupt, dictator living under the shadow of US drug trafficking and money-laundering investigations.

But apart from that, US-Honduran relations have been okay over the years. The US retains an airbase in Honduras, and, for its part, Honduras tends to do what the Americans say. As a rule, Honduras supported whoever the US supported during the 80s civil wars. Although I’m greatly simplifying things here for the sake of brevity, I know.

Relations soured in 2009 when the Honduran military ousted President Manuel Zelaya. At the time, Biden was vice-president and Barack Obama publicly backed Zelaya. Over the years, relations have stayed strained, mostly over immigration and the rhetoric surrounding immigration from the Trump administration.

Fast forward a decade or so, and Juan Orlando Hernandez is tweeting out photos of himself and Biden.

“Congratulations President Joe Biden for a triumph that strengthens the democracy of the USA. My best wishes for you, Kamala Harris, and your team. I hope that we can work together, as in the past, to strengthen the alliance of our countries,” he said.

El Salvador is another country with complicated US-relations.

On one hand, US-meddling in the 80s civil war and elections is a cause of bitterness. Ditto the ongoing issue of immigration. But Salvadorans love the USA. El Salvador is of the countries with the most positive impressions of the United States.

And President Bukele has a great relationship with Trump. He’s been likened to him in many ways, actually.

Perhaps this is why Nayib Bukele waited hours until very late on Saturday night to say anything. For a leader who spends as much time on Twitter as Trump does, this is telling. Very telling.

What we saw today was a statement from Carolina Recinos, Bukele’s cabinet chief. She said El Salvador was willing to work “in hand” with the new administration.

Meanwhile, opposition politicians and parties were all over themselves congratulating Biden.

Both ARENA and FMLN, the traditional ruling parties in El Salvador seem to be outdoing themselves with fawning praise for the US result.

A cynical mind could assume this was to make Bukele’s silence appear even more deafening all day. And it seems to have worked, because Bukele tweeted in the end.

It’s clear, though, Bukele isn’t happy about Biden’s win. He seems to feel he’s losing a valuable ally in Trump. And it’s very revealing how he talked about how El Salvador-US relations had strengthened “recently”. Seems like he felt forced to say something.

Guatemala’s response came with far less intrigue than El Salvador’s.

President Alejandro Giammattei said, “I congratulate the people of the United States for the demonstration of democracy, and I congratulate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for their election as president and vice president. As we’ve done so far, we’ll continue to work in unity and strengthen bilateral relations.”

Guatemala‘s relations with the US are also complicated. I mean, you can mark most US-Central American relations as complicated.

Years of US-sponsored dictatorships and human-rights abuses are a stain between the countries. As is, like El Salvador and Honduras, immigration. The dumping back of Guatemalan illegal immigrants this year, many with COVID, hasn’t helped, either.

And finally Belize.

I’ve not seen anything from any official government sources in Belize about the US election result. Maybe it’s out there somewhere, but I can’t see anything.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow hasn’t used his Twitter account for years, and neither has the government. There’s nothing on their Facebook pages either.

Belize has its own election next week and the prime minister is isolating after a COVID test. Plus the country is flooded out after Eta. Put it this way, Belize is a country with other things on its mind at the moment.

Perhaps in the coming days they’ll say something. There’s a lot of time.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take over from Donald Trump and Mike Pence on January 20.

James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.