Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nicaragua -- a year of repression (April 17, 2019)

Nicaragua's government released 636 prisoners yesterday -- ahead of the one-year anniversary of violently repressed protests against President Daniel Ortega. The government framed it as a gesture of goodwill and said the number included 36 people arrested during demonstrations. But the opposition Alianza Cívica said only 18 of those released were political detainees. The release of hundreds of political prisoners is among the primary opposition demands, along with early elections. Advocates said the government has been tricky, and that several prisoners that figure as freed remain incarcerated. (ConfidencialReuters)

The opposition planned a march for today, which the government deemed illegal and could become the latest flashpoint in Nicaragua's political conflict. Organizers were determined to continue anyway. "Today more than ever we call on the people to mobilize and express their desire for freedom in the most civic and peaceful way," said the opposition Unidad Nacional coalition.

Yesterday U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on the government to abstain from violent repression of protesters and reiterated criticisms regarding the "criminalization, harassment, and attacks on student leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, and other critics."

Both the UN Human Rights Office and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have expressed concern over the deterioration of the situation in Nicaragua since April 2018, reporting serious human rights violations against those who participated in anti-government protests and those who helped them. (UNHCR)

A year into the conflict, Nicaragua's national symbols -- the flag and the national anthem -- are considered subversive by the government which retaliates against citizens dressed in blue and white, reports Confidencial. Though Ortega is internationally isolated, and has made gestures towards negotiations, he remains firmly in power. 

In the face of ongoing government repression, opposition activists have developed guerrilla protests tactics: suddenly releasing blue and white balloons or confetti on the streets; or honking horns in rush hour traffic. The Guardian reports on flash-mob style protests.

Several recaps of the past year, including these from ConfidencialAFPAmnesty InternationalAl Jazeera, and the Conversation.

Over the past year, more than 700 people have been imprisoned in relation to political protests, 325 killed and nearly 2,000 injured, according to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Students have been expelled from universities and teachers, doctors and others were fired from jobs in retaliation.

About 62,000 Nicaraguans have been forced from their homes in the Central American nation, of which 55,500 have sought safety in Costa Rica, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR). (Reuters) Opponents were skeptical of a newly announced government plan to guarantee a safe return for exiles.

News Briefs

  • Former Peruvian president Alan García died after shooting himself when authorities tried to arrest him in connection to Odebrecht corruption charges. (New York Times) The attempt to arrest García came just days after an investigation revealed his personal secretary, Luis Nava, had allegedly received $4m from Odebrecht’s bribery department. García emphatically denied accusations against him. (Guardian)
  • Former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who was detained last week in relation to Odebrecht corruption, was hospitalized last night with high blood pressure. (Associated Press)
  • The Venezuelan government allowed the Red Cross to send in 24 tons of medical equipment yesterday -- a significant about-face for Nicolás Maduro who has consistently denied the country's humanitarian crisis. The Red Cross asked the aid to remain politics free, and said materials would be distributed in a neutral fashion. The agency estimates its Venezuelan campaign could become its biggest relief effort since the beginning of civil war in Syria, reports the New York Times. (More on how the aid is being disputed by political factions: Efecto Cocuyo and Efecto Cocuyo.)
  • The power struggle between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized as president by over 50 countries, has created some bizarre diplomatic situations around the world, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. will announce additional sanctions on Venezuela, as well as Cuba and Nicaragua today, reports Voice of America.
  • European Union officials objected to U.S. plans to allow citizens to lodge claims against foreign companies that do business in Cuba. They warned last week that the U.S. decision to end a two-decade-old waiver on part of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act could lead the bloc to sue the U.S. at the World Trade Organization, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ordered the country's intelligence services to liberate about 12 million files (which will first be redacted for sensitive personal information). The files show a long history of spying on figures ranging from presidents, to Gabriel García Marquez, to Frida Kahlo, reports AFP.
  • AMLO said he will freeze the previous government's education overhaul and seek a consensus reform, reports Reuters.
  • AMLO said 269,143 jobs were created in the first quarter of this year. (EFE)
  • Brazilian Supreme Court Chief Justice Jose Antonio Dias Toffoli opened a secret criminal investigation against critics, and ordered a news site to remove a story alleging links between Toffoli and players in a corruption scandal. Critics, including attorney general Raquel Dodge, criticized the move. (Reuters)
  • Brazil's government announced a series of financial packages aimed at averting a truckers strike, reports the Associated Press.
  • Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno accused WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of hosting and coordinating numerous hackers at the country's London embassy. (Associated Press)
  • A new Chilean law targets street sexual harassment -- but the challenge will be getting victims to speak up, reports Reuters.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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