Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Nicaragua's ongoing repression, U.N. report (Aug. 29, 2018)

A new scathing U.N. Human Rights Office report denounces ongoing repression and violence in Nicaragua -- carried out by state forces and pro-government armed elements that acted with the acquiescence of high-level State authorities and the National Police. The report covers the first four months of the Nicaraguan crisis, from the protests that started on April 18 through August 18. It calls on the government of President Daniel Ortega to immediately halt the persecution of protesters and disarm the parapolice groups responsible for much of the violence. (Associated Press)

During the course of the crisis, about 300 people have been killed and about 2,000 injured, according to sources. Most of the deaths occurred through mid July. The report divides the period in two phases: the initial violent repression of anti-government protests, and a second second “clean-up” stage, from mid-June to mid-July, when police, pro-Government armed elements, including those known as “shock forces” (fuerzas de choque), and mobs (turbas) forcibly dismantled roadblocks and barricades set up by protesters.

"...The third and current stage of the crisis has seen demonstrators and others regarded as Government opponents persecuted and criminalized. ... as of 18 August, at least 300 people were being prosecuted, including on charges of terrorism and organized crime, for having participated in or supported the protests. These trials have serious flaws and do not observe due process, including the impartiality of the courts," the report says. The report denounces official harassment of protesters and human rights defenders, who are characterized as "terrorists." "There are currently no conditions for the free and safe exercise of the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association," according to the U.N. report.

Human Rights Watch has denounced the use of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions by the government. Protesters charged with terrorism have been denied due process and access to lawyers. HRW lauds the creation of an OAS working group to oversee the situation in Nicaragua -- the first such observation group created despite opposition from the government in question, and a potent tool for confronting authoritarian practices. "The OAS should ensure that the working group can rigorously monitor the human rights situation in Nicaragua and prevent Ortega’s government from using enforced disappearance and other aberrant crimes to perpetuate its own power."

The persecution has silenced many of the protesters, notes the report, which calls on the U.N. Human Rights council to establish an international inquiry or truth commission. (Reuters) A recent piece by the Associated Press reports on protesters forced into hiding after constant threats, uncertain as to how to maintain pressure on the government.

Ortega's tactics, such as denying responsibility for the pro-government shock-troops, mimic those of autocrats from abroad, writes Jon Lee Anderson in a New Yorker piece that references Russia's 2014 incursion into Crimea. The piece covers a similar time period as the U.N. report, providing on-the-ground detail and historical references.

Last night a judge convicted two young men for killing journalist Angel Gahona in Bluefields on April 21, during a protest. But his widow disputes the sentence, saying the men are innocent and her husband was killed by riot police, reports the Associated Press.

The report also notes some attacks on members of the ruling Sandinista party, government officials and security forces. Twenty-two police officers were killed, and some of the attacks were notably brutal, though the report emphasizes that cannot justify state human rights violations.

Anderson's New Yorker piece looks at the difficulties in exiting the crisis -- most analysts say Nicaraguan's will not be able to forgive the bloodshed, but Ortega might prefer to rule at gunpoint than step down and face justice or exile. Experts also point to the potential for criminal organizations to move into the destabilized country.

News Briefs

  • Two years after what became a major political gaffe, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto explained that he invited then-U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump to visit him in order to mitigate potential negative consequences for the country if he were elected president. Trump met with Peña Nieto in August of 2016, and then returned to the campaign trail where he promised to make Mexico pay for an unwanted border wall between the two countries. Peña Nieto was criticized at home for not standing up to a candidate that made bashing Mexicans a staple of his presidential run. The explanation has convinced few at home, reports the Los Angeles Times. (See posts for Sept. 1 and Sept. 8, 2016.)
  • Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has taken over 11 primary health clinics in Mexico's Guerrero state, where chronic gang violence has left many communities without access to medical services, reports the Guardian.
  • Reuters reports optimism over Canada reaching a deal with the U.S. by Friday in order to salvage a revamped NAFTA agreement. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Diosdado Cabello, Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly head, said images of the exodus from the country are being staged in order to discredit the government. Migration out of Venezuela is causing a refugee crisis in neighboring countries, which are increasingly unable to absorb the thousands of people who leave each day. Though the Venezuelan government has urged migrants to return, the exodus has also provided a pressure valve that benefits the Maduro administration, reports the Guardian.
  • Venezuelan migration is headed to a crisis point in the region, according to the United Nations. Yesterday Peru declared a health emergency at its northern border, citing "imminent danger" to health and sanitation due to immigration. (Reuters)
  • Last week, the Pan American Health Organization urged Latin American countries to boost measles vaccinations, as an outbreak in Venezuela has killed more than 60 people and threatens to spread in the region, reports the Miami Herald. The Americas became the first region in the world to be declared measles free in 2016 and the majority of nations in Latin America haven’t had endemic cases of the virus in almost two decades.
  • Brazil will deploy more military troops to the Venezuelan border in order to "guarantee law and order" as the influx of migrants continues to cause conflict with locals in Roraima state, reports the BBC.
  • Venezuela's indigenous Warao communities were among the first to flee into Brazil, reports AFP.
  • Proponents of Colombia's anti-corruption referendum, which narrowly failed to pass on Sunday, are asking officials to scrutinize results, reports EFE. (See Monday's post.)
  • La Silla Vacía analyzes the results of the referendum, which demonstrate a divide between urban and rural Colombia.
  • President Iván Duque's proposed changes to the peace accord with the FARC are more symbolic than substantial, according to La Silla Vacía.
  • Powerful former Guatemalan congressman Manuel Baldizón has withdrawn his asylum claim in the U.S. and will be deported to face criminal charges at home. He is accused of receiving illegal payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, and the case may draw other members of the political elite into the scandal, reports InSight Crime.
  • A legal battle over whether a little girl can wear dreadlocks to school went all the way to Jamaica's Supreme Court, which ordered she be allowed to start classes without cutting her hair. The case, a constitutional challenge made by a local human rights group, is of particular relevance in a country where Rastafarians -- who sometimes sport dreadlocks, have been discriminated against, reports the Washington Post.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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