Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans joined a march for "Peace and Justice" called by the Catholic Church on Saturday, reports the Associated Press. The march was the largest the country has seen in decades, but no disturbances, confrontations or injuries were reported, according to the Miami Herald. Police and government supporters, accused of causing violence in April protests, were absent.
Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes told Managua demonstrators in the capital that the church would give President Daniel Ortega's government one month to reach agreements that satisfy society's demands in the wake of deadly protests and looting in April. No date has been set for talks aimed at bringing peace after the brutally repressed protests, which stemmed from changes in the social security system, but morphed into wider demands for Ortega's resignation.
Church leaders told El Confidencial that if no progress has been made in a month, they will retired from the dialogue process, reports El Confidencial. Groups of university students said they too would participate, though they asked for more time to organize representation, reports El Confidencial separately. Student leaders also requested the discussions be open to media and include relatives of people killed in the protests. Their demands include a new electoral council and early presidential elections. The movement is still unorganized, but channelling considerable discontent, , according to the New York Times, which asks "can the students, who astonished and awakened this Central American nation of six million people, transform their street activism into actual political change?"
Nicaragua's protests, and the government's harsh crackdown and tone-deaf discourse, are a sign of the ruling couple's disconnect from popular sentiment, writes Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker. He notes the many ironies of the former Sandinista revolutionary potentially falling to a democratic protest movement, and the broader regional swing towards conservative governments. The piece mentions the work of el Confidencial, "arguably the only other independent Nicaraguan media outlet of note," next to La Prensa.
In a Los Angeles Times op-ed Ben Radestorf and Bruno Binetti call on the U.S. and regional governments to press for democratic reform rather than isolation. "Without a clear path forward, this Nicaraguan Spring may meet the same fate of protest movements past: lasting instability, violence and even more repression."
It may seem odd that pension reform is the issue that could finally topple Ortega's increasingly autocratic government. In the Washington Post, Francisco Toro and James Bosworth argue that it's a tricky issue everywhere, that cannot be carried out without government legitimacy. They point to Argentine President Mauricio Macri's difficulties in passing reform in December, and Brazilian President Michel Temer's ongoing failure to follow through with a signature pension reform bill.
It is also key that the protests appear to have alienated Ortega from a key pillar of support, the business community in Nicaragua, argues Marc Margolis at Bloomberg.
- A caravan of hundreds of Central American families crossing Mexico, trying to reach the U.S., have become an unlikely showdown between the Trump administration migrants fleeing terrible violence at home, reports the New York Times. U.S. authorities stopped about 100 who planned to apply for asylum today saying the crossing was at capacity, reports the Associated Press. The group self-identified with white arm bands, and defend their right to seek asylum, reports the Washington Post. Many however are concerned as they learn about the difficulties they could face in the asylum process, especially separation of families.
- In fact, U.S. authorities appear to be aiming to separate immigrant children from their families as traumatically as possible in order to discourage migrants, write Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times.
- If current rates of Venezuela's exodus remain, more than 1.8 million Venezuelans could leave by the end of this year, joining the estimated 1.5 million who have already fled the economic crisis, reports the New York Times. The flows are testing the region's generally friendly immigration policies. The piece focuses on Brazil, where social services and public spaces in the border state of Boa Vista have become overwhelmed by refugees, and local residents resent the influx.
- WOLA researcher Geoff Ramsey has been interviewing Venezuelan migrants along the Brazilian and Colombian borders. At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights he explains how these are often people from low and middle income backgrounds who lack resources to travel further from Venezuela. Many seek work in the informal economy and send funds to relatives back in Venezuela. In an NPR interview speaking from Brazil Ramsey says about half the migrants aim to seek formal status as residents, while others aim to stay in the border area.
- Civilians in Colombia's Catacumbo region are caught in the crossfire of criminal groups fighting over former FARC controlled territory. More than a month of clashes between rival guerrilla factions has forced more than 6,000 people in the region to flee their homes, and human rights groups say about 30 people have been killed, reports the Guardian.
- An encampment of Lula supporters in Curitiba was shot at on Saturday injuring two people, reports the Guardian. There are reports that the weapon is one only used by armed forces and police in Brazil.
- Contracorriente reports on how the Honduran National Party allegedly employed irregular moves to ensure reelection last year.
- Cuba's new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel has ushered in a period of generational change for the island's government. Forty-two percent of the 31 members selected for the Council of State are new, and women now hold 48.4 percent of the council seats. Black and mixed-raced representation on the council has reached 45.2 percent, reports the Miami Herald.
- Argentine writer Martín Caparrós remembers Díaz-Canel when he was just a young Communist Party official 20 years ago in a New York Times Español op-ed.
- A group of U.S. lawmakers want the Trump administration to help Haiti crackdown on contraband from the Dominican Republic, which is costing the Haitian government $400 million a year in uncollected revenues, reports the Miami Herald.
- Guyanese activists are calling for public action in the midst of a spate of domestic violence -- which has increased 40 percent over the past decade -- and several recent femicides, reports Kaieteur News.
- The horrific murder of a traditional healer in Peru and the subsequent lynching of the alleged killer, a Canadian studying indigenous medicines, "has cast a harsh spotlight on the unregulated world of ayahuasca tourism," reports the Guardian.