Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Nicaragua's controversial crisis (July 24, 2018)

  • President Daniel Ortega spoke with Fox News, and denied responsibility for bloodshed that has claimed at least 300 lives over the past three months in Nicaragua. He said the uprising agains this government was already dying down (see last Wednesday's post of an example of the brutal repression opponents face) and blamed discontent on political conspiracy aimed at overthrowing his administration. Ortega insisted that peaceful protests have not been targeted by repression, despite well-documented cases to the contrary, reports the Guardian (See May 31's post on the Mothers' Day March crackdown, for example.)
  • The latest estimates from the Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (Cenidh) put the death count at nearly 300 since April 18, and 400-500 people in detention around the country. (Confidencial)
  • Roman Catholic leadership defended their mediation role in the conflict, after Ortega accused them of supporting a coup against his government, reports Confidencial. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • A Nicaraguan youth has denounced that he was tortured for a week in a clandestine jail at the end of May, after being kidnapped by pro-government paramilitaries. (Confidencial)
  • A longtime reader to Latin American Daily Briefing asked to unsubscribe last week in light of my coverage of the Nicaraguan case, which he called neo-liberal and pro-imperialist. Indeed, that is how Ortega himself has characterized international condemnation of his regime, as has the Venezuelan government. The Sao Paulo Forum held last week in Havana condemned "coup attempts" in Nicaragua. And Atilio Borón, for example, compares the uprising to the recent overthrows of leftist governments in Honduras and Paraguay, noting that they have been accompanied with worsening human rights situations. But many other voices have been more critical, while still noting the complexity of the case. Costa Rica's Frente Amplio marked disagreement with the Sao Paulo Forum's statement regarding Nicaragua. Former San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele strongly criticized repression of Nicaraguan protesters. In The Nation last month, Rebecca Gordon warned against viewing the current face-off as a reprise of the Contra war, noting that "although leftists around the world hailed Ortega’s return to power, his is not the revolutionary government of the 1980s." In Página 12, Boaventura de Sousa Santos challenges characterizations of the Ortega administration as leftist at all, noting its increasing authoritarianism, kleptocratic nature, and cozy relations with business elites. Former Sandinista Gioconda Belli takes on the Ortega characterization of protesters as terrorists, which apparently justifies killing them. And former Uruguayan President José Mujica spoke last week of a revolution that has lost its way, urging Ortega to step down.
News Briefs

  • Nineteen people -- including three lawmakers -- were detained yesterday in relation to the Pandora case, in which 38 politicians, officials and private citizens have been accused of illegally funneling some $11.7 million in public funds to political parties. An investigation by the OAS backed international anti-corruption mission (MACCIH) and public prosecutors said the funds were used for the campaign of President Juan Orlando Hernandez in 2013, to pay debts of the opposition Liberal Party and to finance other campaigns. Former presidential candidate and current Liberal party lawmaker Elvin Santos is among those detained. (ReutersEl Heraldo, and La Prensa)
  • Honduran unions called a 48 halt in what has been a three-day public transportation strike, in order to negotiate with the government. Drivers are demanding a 92 cent reduction in the price of gas, the government has offered a two cent reduction. (La Prensa and TeleSUR)
  • Earlier this month the Guatemalan Interior Ministry withdrew 20 officers assigned to the CICIG. The decision likely indicates that President Jimmy Morales has chosen the ministry as a vehicle to undercut the U.N. backed international anti-impunity mission in Guatemala, according to InSight Crime.
  • Former attorney general Thelma Aldana is preparing for a 2019 presidential run. She met this weekend with leadership from Movimiento Semilla -- which is preparing to obtain status as a political party -- as well as  Encuentro por Guatemala, LIBRE, and Clase Media Organizada (CLAMOR). The groups are analyzing an alliance for the next electoral cycle. (República) Aldana's team is headed by journalist Oscar Clemente Marroquín, head of La Hora newspaper, who is rumored to be her potential running mate. (Nómada)
  • Former Guatemalan congressman Luis Rabbé was arrested in Mexico, after nearly two years on the run from charges of corruption. (El País)
  • Venezuela's fractured opposition was reinvigorated by the return of  Henrique Capriles Radonsky, and the leadership of the main parties met to discuss a possible agreement. One proposal under discussion is primary elections to decide opposition leadership, writes David Smilde in his Venezuela Weekly.
  • At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, José Ignacio Hernández González, argues for a transitional justice system to create incentives for a democratic transition in Venezuela.
  • Smilde also writes about increased workers' strikes demanding higher pay, and the delay in releasing a new currency.
  • The IMF predicted Venezuelan inflation will hit one million percent by the end of the year in a report that compares the situation to that of Germany in 1923 and Zimbabwe in the late 2000's. (New York Times)
  • A study by Cáritas Venezuela, following 725 children, found that 78 percent presented some form of malnutrition. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Facing acute shortages of medicines, Venezuelan HIV patients are resorting to home remedies in hopes of saving their lives, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Over 300 social leaders have been murdered over the past two years in Colombia -- the national ombudsman's office has described recent killings as an "extermination," and some observers fear the violence will only get worst under the incoming right-wing government. (Al Jazeera)
  • Colombia is among the most dangerous countries in the world for land defenders -- 32 were murdered last year. The deaths are associated with paramilitary groups filling the power void left by the FARC, which demobilized in 2016, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexico's homicide rate grew 16 percent in the first half of this year, breaking the country's own record, reports the Associated Press. However, there are some signs that the rate of increase may be flattening. Security expert Alejandro Hope told the AP that the numbers reflect increased homicides in certain concentrated areas, while homicides in other areas are dropping.
  • President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador plans to personally take command of the national security strategy, though his team has given few details of how he will do so, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Guardian profiles nurse-turned environmental activist Isela Gonzalez, who lives with bodyguards after constant threats to her life. Mexico is increasingly dangerous for land defenders: In 2017, 15 were killed (a more than fivefold rise over the previous year).
  • Aid programs targeting women can hurt their recipients even as they help lift families out of poverty, writes Nora Haenn in the Conversation. She studied Mexico's Prospera program, and found the subsidy actually liberated men from some of the burden of maintaining their families, forcing women to shoulder more responsibility.
  • Basic costs of life are spiraling out of reach for Haitians, a malaise at the heart of four days of unrest earlier this month in relation to fuel price hikes, reports the Associated Press.
  • Several events in Brazil yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the Candelaria massacre, in which police opened fire on 43 children sleeping on the steps of a Rio de Janeiro church, killing eight. (EFE)
  • In the midst of the trade war with the U.S., China is increasingly investing in Brazil. (AFP)
Dominican Republic
  • Some of the DR's most picture perfect tourist beaches are inundated with garbage, a sign of the world's growing problem with plastic in oceans say environmentalists. (New York Times)
Fake News
  • The increasing impact of fake news poses difficulties -- regulation has tended to backfire, writes John Dinges at Aula Blog. "In the ongoing asymmetric war between journalism and fake news, investigative journalism, if protected and funded, would appear to offer the most efficient defense for democracy.  Digital platforms have created new tools and platforms for investigative journalism, and new organizations, such as ProPublica, the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism, among others, are raising the skill level of professional journalists and enhancing their best practices." (See yesterday's briefs.)

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