Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega agreed to restart talks with opponents -- months after a dialogue process broke down in the midst of a government crackdown on dissent. The first session with the Alianza Cívica por la Justicia y la Democracia will take place next Wednesday, reports El Confidencial. The student, civic, and business groups that form the Alianza said freeing of political prisoners would be their first precondition for talks, in which they plan to demand electoral reform and an early election timetable. An estimated 700 people have been detained in relation to anti-government protests since April of last year.
Ortega's speech yesterday made no reference to the repression of protests that killed an estimated 325 people in 2018, nor of the persecution of opponents and independent media, notes Confidencial. The announcement comes after a meeting this weekend between Ortega and business leaders, accompanied by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and the Vatican's Managua representative. (See Wednesday's post.)
The Alianza will also demand freedom of speech, following government raids on media outlets, including El Confidencial. They also want freedom to hold protests, banned since September, reports the Associated Press.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet criticized the "criminalization of dissidence" in Nicaragua today, noting incarceration of opponents and activists, in some cases related to their cooperation with the U.N. (Confidencial)
Opposition leader Angel Rocha also said push for electoral reform, transparent elections and justice for victims of last year's violent repression, reports Reuters.
Venezuela's politicized humanitarian crisis
Aid has become a tool in a showdown between Venezuela's dueling leaders: President Nicolás Maduro and challenger Juan Guaidó. The Venezuelan opposition, backed by an international coalition that includes strong U.S. leadership, wants to bring in shipments of humanitarian aid in order to undermine the Maduro government's shaky claim to legitimacy. (Wall Street Journal, see yesterday's post.)
In the midst of the increasingly tense aid showdown along Venezuela's border, over 70 Venezuelan and international organizations called for supplies to be "organized and distributed in accordance with the humanitarian concerns of actors with technical expertise, both at the border towns where aid is being transported, as well as within Venezuela."
Opposition forces, led by Guaidó, are traveling to the Colombian border, where they are expected to try to transport aid into Venezuela tomorrow with volunteers. Venezuelan opposition leaders said the attempt to move aid into Venezuela with human chains of volunteers dressed in white will start at 9 tomorrow morning. (Washington Post)
Maduro has shut down the border with Brazil, as well as travel with three Caribbean islands, in an effort to block the entry of aid donated by the U.S. and other countries. (New York Times) Surrounded by military officers in a televised speech yesterday, Maduro said he might shut down the Colombian border as well, reports the Associated Press.
The presidents of Chile, Paraguay and Colombia are expected to visit the border in support of Guaidó's push.
Guaidó called on Venezuela's armed forces to stand aside and let the aid in, citing the example of former military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal who broke with Maduro yesterday. (Efecto Cocuyo) Carvajal, who has three decades of military experience and is now a lawmaker for the Socialist Party, called for troops to allow aid in, reports the Wall Street Journal.
His strongly worded statement came amid a wave of other defections by government officials, including a top air force official, diplomats, military attachés and members of the national guard, reports the New York Times.
International organizations warn that limited aid has been coming into Venezuela for years. Most organizations on the ground have kept their distance from the opposition efforts, warning that aid must be neutral. In the meantime chronic patients in dire need say the political theater is eclipsing their needs, reports the New York Times.
The Atlantic looks at some historical examples of politicized U.S. aid, including a 1980's program in Nicaragua used to smuggle in $27 million in weapons for far-right groups. (The Iran-contra scandal the Trump administration's Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliot Abrams covered for in the Reagan administration.)
The Trump administration consistently refuses to rule out force. Most recently, the head of the U.S. Southern Command said Wednesday it is prepared to face any situation in Venezuela, though he emphasized the U.S. is currently looking at diplomatic solutions. (Miami Herald)
But unilateral military intervention is not a valid response to Maduro's lack of democratic legitimacy, argues Aryeh Neier in Americas Quarterly. "The best role for the United States is to provide the diplomatic, economic and logistical support that is needed for collective action by the governments of Latin America to succeed, preferably by peaceful means."
More from Venezuela
- The Venezuelan health care system's collapse could epidemic of diseases such as malaria and dengue on an unprecedented scale in Latin America, reversing public health gains of the last 18 years. (Guardian)
- Two indigenous people were killed by a military convoy in Gran Sabana de Bolívar, and 15 more were wounded, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Colombia Monday, where he will push the international community to rally behind Guaidó, reports McClatchy.
- Guaidó's representative to Costa Rica took control of Venezuela's San José embassy Wednesday. Though Costa Rica recognized María Faria as Venezuela's legitimate ambassador, government officials criticized that she took possession of the embassy before the 60 day deadline Costa Rica gave Maduro's representatives to leave, reports Reuters.
- Five heavily armed U.S. citizens arrested in Haiti last week were returned to the U.S. where they won't face criminal charges. The decision has outraged some Haitian leaders, who question the illicit arms connections with the government, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs, and Wednesday's.)
- The episode occurs within a context of illegal weapons flooding into Haiti from the U.S., despite a U.S. arms embargo. And arms trafficking cases unfolding in the United States and Haiti show that political elites play a key role in facilitating the safe passage of the illicit arms, reports Insight Crime.
- Speaking of illegal arms: a German tribunal fined arms maker Heckler & Koch 3.7 million for illegally exporting arms to the Mexican state of Guerrero. They are believed to have been used against the 43 Ayotzinapa students who were disappeared in 2014. Mexican government spokesman Jesús Ramirez suggested the funds should be used to compensate victims' families. (El País, Deutsche Welle)
- Mexican activist Samir Flores Soberanes was killed in his home Wednesday, before a referendum on a controversial thermal-electric plant and pipeline that he opposed. The Huexca project has been championed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, reports the Guardian.
- Two sons of Sinaloa Cartel leader, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, were indicted in US on drug conspiracy charges. (Guardian)
- Three indigenous Mexican activists freed after being wrongly imprisoned for 13 years. (TeleSur)
- Roma star Yalitza Aparicio's international fame has given indigenous Mexicans in her hometown of Tlaxiaco renewed sense of pride, reports the Guardian.
- Salvadoran lawmakers are analyzing a new amnesty bill, that would reinstate a ban on investigating and prosecuting crimes committed during the country's civil war, reports El Faro. The proposal would basically revive the 1993 Amnesty Law overturned by the Supreme Court in 2016. (See post for July 14, 2016)
- Ecuador obtained a $10.2 billion bailout, in the midst of weak economic growth and deficits. The IMF will loan Ecuador a $4.2 billion, and $6 billion will come from multilateral agencies including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Latin American Development Bank. (Wall Street Journal)
- Odebrecht corruption allegations have been in LatAm headlines for years -- affecting high-level politicians and business leaders in several countries. InSight Crime has a welcome round-up of investigations or trials against prominent figures in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Brazilian mining giant Vale SA said it would pay adult residents in Brumadinho $3,227 as compensation for the damage from a dam that collapsed and killed over 300 people in January. (Reuters)
- Pollution in the Amazon Piñuña Blanco River is causing health issues for the indigenous Siona tribe, which says the Colombian subsidiary of the UK-based company Amerisur Resources is responsible. (Guardian)
- Peru's government launched a crackdown on illegal gold mining in the Madre de Dios rainforest. Officials suspended civil liberties in the area and deployed 1,500 police and military officers to the Amazon region. (Reuters)
- Oil theft has been in Mexican headlines lately, but the crime is common in Latin America, reports InSight Crime, focusing on Honduran criminal groups.