Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Nicaragua cracks down on hunger strikers (Nov. 19, 2019)

A group of women on hunger strike in a church, in protest over the detention of their children, has flared up into a new confrontation between Nicaragua's Ortega government and opposition activists. Seven women -- mothers of political detainees -- started a hunger strike yesterday in Managua's cathedral, which was then stormed by government supporters. The Managua group was in support also of another group of mothers that launched a hunger strike last week in Masaya. Security forces have blockaded them and cut off electricity and running water to the church. The situation as of this morning was desperate, according to Rev. Edwin Román, who is inside with the protesting mothers. “We are urgently denouncing that they want to break down the door. This is an SOS,” the priest said by phone to the Washington Post. (See also Confidencial.) 

The Managua group has also been isolated by security forces, who yesterday allowed over 100 government sympathizers in to harass the hunger strikers and the doctors assisting them, reports Confidencial. The church was vandalized and a priest and nun were hit, according to La Prensa

Yesterday, sixteen Nicaraguan opposition activists, including 13 social leaders who were arrested as they tried to deliver water to the Masaya group, were charged with allegedly transporting weapons. Civic leaders say the charges are bogus, aimed at quashing dissent. “The dictatorship is clearly imposing draconian sanctions to make sure that nobody crosses the line — not even the mothers of political prisoners who tried something so peaceful” to win their children's’ release, said José Miguel Vivanco, the director for Latin America at Human Rights Watch. (Associated Press, See Friday's briefs.)

Opposition leaders say Nicaragua is holding 138 political prisoners, after about 700 were released earlier this year. Dánae Vílchez writes in the Post Opinión about how the dictatorship has radicalized under the international radar.

Some analysts say that the new crackdown is spurred by fears of "Bolivia syndrome," reports Infobae.


Colombia braces for protests, Thursday

Not that the Ortegas are the only ones wary about protest contagion -- in Colombia the government is concerned that a general strike called for this Thursday could morph into a broader movement akin to that in Chile. Already the calls for demonstrations  on Thursday have attracted a grab-bag of dissatisfactions from various sectors, including economic demands and concern over the mounting assassinations of social leaders. Opposition to privatizations and labor, pension, and tax reform head the agenda, which has gathered more than 40 organizations and includes indigenous groups, artists, students and unions. (Semana, Semana, Semana

The government has not released bills for the reforms protesters are opposing, and says there is no plan to increase the retirement age or lower the minimum wage. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez said yesterday that "false motivations for the call to strike" existed. The national government said it would authorize local authorities to adopt exceptional measures to contain protests on Thursday, reports Reuters.

But there's also an effort to win over hearts and minds: the Duque administration launched a media offensive urging citizens to contribute to Colombia by not striking. (Semana) Lest anybody miss the message, an ad juxtaposes images of violent protests with peaceful images of people working.

News Briefs

  • Thousands of Bolivians protested against Bolivia's interim president Jeanine Áñez, yesterday. “Añez, you racist, the people don’t want you,” chanted indigenous supporters of former president Evo Morales. Demonstrations were peaceful in La Paz, though pro-Morales groups have called for a siege of the capital city. Police fired tear gas at the protesters to keep them from entering the city of Cochabamba. Some farmers threw rocks at security forces and at least ten protesters were arrested. (AFPReuters, Wall Street Journal)
  • Áñez cancelled a trip to her home province due to a credible threat against her life by a "criminal group," reports Reuters. Government authorities accused Venezuelans, Cubans, and Colombians of involvement, without providing evidence.
  • Áñez claimed office promising swift elections -- and nothing else. But in the week since she declared herself Bolivia's interim president, she's "acted like anything but a caretaker," according to the Washington Post. Instead, "she’s been putting her own ideological stamp on South America’s poorest nation ..."
  • Put more succinctly, the government represents a neoliberal economic restoration; political repression; social regression and return of racist elites; and subordination to the White House in foreign relations, argues Sacha Llorenti Soliz in a Post Opinión piece.
  • Online, an army of Twitter bots is spreading confusion over what happened in Bolivia -- the Verge.
  • Thousands of Chileans maintained ongoing protests yesterday, marking a month since massive demonstrations against inequality redefined the country's political paradigm. Protesters said they'd remain in the streets until the government meets specific demands for systemic change and improved social conditions -- despite a new agreement to kick off a process for a new constitution, reports Al Jazeera.
  • That the government has opened the possibility of rewriting the constitution at all is "an astounding political acknowledgment of structural demands that have long festered unaddressed," according to the New York Times editorial board. Indeed, the demands for constitutional change have been loud and clear for years, but politicians failed to listen, writes María Jaraquemada at Americas Quarterly.
  • A group of opposition senators will present a constitutional accusation against President Sebastián Piñera today, in relation to human rights violations committed by security forces in response to protests, reports Cooperativa.
  • The OAS's response to the ongoing crises in Bolivia and Chile has been inconsistent, and demonstrates "ideological rifts and power politics," wrote Stefano Palestini Céspedes at the Aula Blog last week. The trend responds to an internal schism between a larger and stronger coalition of right-wing governments within the organization and a smaller and weaker one of leftist governments with an anti-imperialist or a non-interventionist rhetoric. "Breaches of democracy and human rights violations exist on both sides of the rift, but the OAS political bodies seem to focus only on the side that happens to be weaker," he writes.
  • Speaking of bias, Glenn Greenwald sums up a media trend on coverage of the Bolivian crisis: “I think it’s amazing that U.S. media outlets just explicitly refuse to call it a coup and are going out of their way to say everything but, ... it just shows how in U.S. discourse, ‘democracy’ means putting a leader in place who serves U.S. interest, and ‘tyranny’ or ‘dictatorship’ means a leader — even if they’re democratically elected — who refuses to.” (The Intercept)
  • A Miami professor specialized in organized crime, money laundering and corruption in South America was arrested in the U.S. on charges of laundering corruption proceeds from Venezuela. Bruce Bagley is accused of helping to launder $3 million in dirty money from Venezuela while pocketing about $300,000. The headline jokes have been many and predictable, but the statement from an FBI field office head is worth transcribing: "About the only lesson to be learned from Professor Bagley today is that involving oneself in public corruption, bribery, and embezzlement schemes is going to lead to an indictment." (Washington Post, Associated Press, Bloomberg
  • The Brazilian Amazon's deforestation rate shot up sharply over the past year, since President Jair Bolsonaro's election. Newly released government data shows a 30 percent increase in lost forest cover between August 2018 through July of this year. Activists say it is the direct result of Bolsonaro administration efforts to roll back environmental protections, through policy and rhetoric. (New York Times, Guardian)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...


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