Friday, April 20, 2018

Four deaths in Nicaraguan protests (April 20, 2018)

A at least four people died -- including one police officer and two civilians -- in third day of protests in Nicaragua. Dozens have been wounded in demonstrations against social security reforms implemented by presidential decree, reports El País. Unrest spread from Managua to other cities yesterday.

Protesters both for and against the reform, which would reduce pensions in the future and increase worker and employer contributions, clashed in the streets, reports Reuters. Police repressed with rubber bullets and tear gas, and El País says Frente Sandinista militias participated in attacking opponents of the reform.

The government ordered off the air five independent channels covering the protests, reports the Associated Press. The only programs remaining on air are those owned by the Ortega family and a Mexican ally. They broadcast soap operas and "saccharine" news yesterday, including protesters in favor of the new measures, reports El País separately.

Vice President and first lady Rosario Murillo accused of the protesters of being manipulated and trying to “destabilize” and “destroy” the country.

Amnesty International criticized the "blatant and disturbing attempt to curtail" citizen's rights to freedom of expression and assembly.


Guatemalan prosecutors and the CICIG requested the decertification of the ruling FCN-Nación party, after presenting an investigation detailing how a group of business leaders allegedly donated over a million dollars in illicit funding to President Jimmy Morales' presidential campaign, reports EFE. The irregular contributions were allegedly used to finance party monitors for the two rounds of voting in 2015 that elected Morales.

Attorney general Thelma Aldana and CICIG head Iván Velázquez explained that the investigation was aided by two witnesses from the company Novaservicios, S.A., who came forward after allegations were initially aired against Morales last year. They said that Novaservicios channeled funds from business leaders which were used to pay for party monitors, reports Soy 502

Dozens of checks from the country's biggest businesses show the money route and demonstrate the iron-clad alliance between Morales and the business community, reports NómadaLegislators are currently considering changes that would eliminate some crimes and lessen penalties for others, changes that would potentially benefit the businessmen involved in the latest case, reports the Associated Press.The revelations also explain lawmakers haste to pass  the reforms which would eliminate the crime of illicit campaign financing, says Nómada.

The expenditures were not reported to electoral authorities, reason for which prosecutors and the CICIG are requesting the party lose official recognition. Witnesses report that Morales sought to appear independent from business financing, which is why the donations were made this way, according to Nómada.

Last year the CICIG and Public Ministry sought investigate Morales in the case of illicit campaign financing, as he was secretary general of the FCN-Nación party at the time of the campaign. Lawmakers however shielded Morales from the investigation, declining to strip him of presidential immunity. (See post for Sept. 12, 2017.) In an apparent attempt to undercut the investigation, the Morales administration attempted to oust Velásquez from his post.

The case comes as Aldana prepares to step down next month. The system to select her successor has been criticized as open to interference. (Earlier this month InSight Crime reported on how Morales was angling to undercut the fight against corruption, see April 11's briefs.) But this week the selection committee discarded the most contentious candidates to fill the post, reports Americas Quarterly

Other Guatemala news:
  • Guatemalan voters backed a decision to file a claim at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) demanding sovereignty over 53 percent of Belize. The Economist explains why this is actually a positive move.

Paraguayans head to the polls on Sunday, where they are expected to pick the candidate of the conservative ruling party. Mario Abdo is a former senator, and son of the private secretary of dictator Alfredo Stroessner, reports Reuters.

Abdo represents the most conservative branch of the Colorado party, according to El País. He is running on a business friendly platform in a country that has experienced good economic growth, but wide economic disparity. It is also however the most corrupt country in the region except for Venezuela, reports Bloomberg.

Abdo's relationship with the Stroessner regime is a demonstration of Paraguay's failure to grapple with its dictatorship past for the Guardian. Though the candidate was a child during the authoritarian years, he defends aspects of the regime's legacy, such as obligatory military service. Human rights activists say his accent is a result of a legacy of fear that has stopped a real reckoning with violations committed by the Stroessner regime.

News Briefs

Cuba: #somoscontinuidad
  • Cuba's new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, was formally named yesterday by the National Assembly. Díaz-Canel promised revolutionary continuity, and hinted at modest change. He promised to modernize the country’s economy and make the government more responsive to its people, according to the Guardian. He spoke little, and said outgoing president Raúl Castro would remain an important influence in Cuban policy, reports the Washington Post. Castro spoke for far longer yesterday, and described how Díaz-Canel was handpicked by the islands top Communist leadership. He also announced a constitutional reform commission to start in July.
  • The Guardian looks at the issue of internet access, and quotes party insiders that say Díaz-Canel understands the economic benefits of greater connectivity, but fears overwhelming the country's political system.
  • At Americas Quarterly William LeoGrande reviews Raúl's tenure in leadership, and the little known about Díaz-Canel's attitudes regarding unfinished reforms. "The timely and constitutionally prescribed succession of leaders signals the institutional strength of the Cuban regime. That said, Díaz-Canel inherits a formidable agenda of tough issues: fundamental economic changes that are desperately needed but still incomplete, a rapidly evolving public sphere in which Cubans are better informed and more outspoken but have few ways to hold leaders accountable, and an uncertain relationship with Washington that is likely to get worse before it gets better."
  • Though Díaz-Canel is relatively unknown, his actions aim to portray a "regular guy" persona, and show he could bring a new style of politics to the island, argues Lydia Hernández-Tapía in Americas Quarterly
  • A month after photographer Vladjimir Legagneur disappeared in Port-au-Prince, Haitian journalists say they are afraid and that authorities have made little headway, reports AFP.
  • Mexico’s lower house of Congress approved changes to the constitution to eliminate immunity from prosecution for all public servants, including lawmakers and the president. The move is meant to tackle deeply entrenched corruption, reports Reuters. The changes must be approved by the Senate, and would establish that defamation, libel and slander cannot be punishable with jail. The reform also allows a series of public officials, including the president, to be tried politically, reports Animal Político.
  • This campaign season has been particularly bloody for candidates, at least 82 of whom have been killed over the past seven months, reports Animal Político. The victims were mostly vying for local positions, and their deaths are attributed to criminal organizations seeking to control local law enforcement and institutions. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
Peruvian mining
  • Peruvian Prime Minister Martín Vizcarra promised not to impose mining projects on local communities, but that the government will promote mining investments, reports Reuters.
  • U.S and Colombian financial investigators presented new evidence yesterday that Venezuela's food importation program is besieged by fraud, reports Reuters.
  • Finance ministers from 16 countries, including the U.S., E.U. and major Latin American countries, agreed to cooperate in order to to locate and seize the proceeds arising from corruption by Venezuelan government insiders, reports the Associated Press.
  • Thousands of Argentines protested sharp hikes in gas and electricity rates imposed by the Macri administration, reports Reuters.
  • Militia-linked murders in Brazil is shining light on the relatively obscure criminal groups that have a long history of operation in the country, reports InSight Crime. "Rio’s militias are paramilitary-style groups rooted in a nationwide tradition of death squads that grew up in the era of the brutal military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from the 1960s to the 1980s. They are typically composed of former and current security force members that use violence and coercion to assert control over typically disadvantaged neighborhoods."
  • Brazil's prosecutor recommended that the country's environmental regulator deny a French company permission to drill for oil near the mouth of the Amazon, reports Reuters.

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