Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Nicaragua arrests two more candidates (June 9, 2021)

Nicaragua's Ortega government detained two presidential hopefuls yesterday -- Félix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastián Chamorro -- continuing a roundup of the most significant opposition leaders ahead of a presidential election in November. 

Félix Maradiaga, a Harvard-educated academic and political activist, was detained after being summoned for questioning by the federal prosecutor’s office. Authorities are investigating him for allegedly inciting foreign interference in Nicaragua’s affairs, “asking for military intervention and organizing terrorist acts with financing from foreign powers” -- charges Maradiaga dismissed as trumped up and politically motivated.

Maradiaga's lawyer said officers violently pulled the politician from the car and hit his face twice and causing his face to swell.

Just before his arrest, Maradiaga had told journalists he had been interrogated for four hours about his activities as the former director of a nongovernmental group focused on economic research. Maradiaga said authorities asked whether he had requested sanctions against Nicaragua, to which he said he answered that he had requested sanctions “but not to punish the people, but rather government officials who have committed crimes against humanity”.

Maradiaga is the leader of the Blue and White Alliance, a group that arose after widespread protests against Ortega’s rule in 2018. The charges are related to controversial law passed by Ortega loyalists in December ostensibly aimed to defend Nicaragua’s “sovereignty” against hostile foreign influence, but which critics say is a tool for sidelining political opposition.

Chamorro, former director of the opposition coalition Civic Alliance, was detained last night. He had received a notice to appear for an “interview” today at the Attorney General’s Office to give a statement about a case against the nongovernmental group Nicaraguan Foundation for Social Development that he led until 2018.

Two other presidential pre candidates, Arturo Cruz and Cristiana Chamorro, were arrested on Saturday and Wednesday, respectively. (See Monday's post and last Thursday's.)

The roundup of opposition figures represented a clear challenge to the U.S. Biden administration, occurring as Vice President Kamala Harris was visiting the region to promote good governance and find solutions to unauthorized migration, reports the Washington Post.

The crackdown serves multiple purposes for Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Tiziano Breda, Central America analyst for Crisis Group told the Associated Press. It reinforces Ortega's narrative that 2018 anti-government protests were an attempted coup with foreign backing, it aims to fracture the opposition by forcing a choice to back a lesser candidate or not participate in elections, and it tests the limits to see what the international community will tolerate, but comes far enough ahead of the November elections to allow for negotiations.

News Briefs

  • Peruvian union leader Pedro Castillo retains a marginal lead over opponent Keiko Fujimori -- 0.4 percent, with nearly all the ballots counted already. (ONPE, La Republica) A preliminary count is likely to end today, although about 300,000 votes have been contested and will need to be reviewed by an electoral jury, which will take days to resolve, reports Reuters.
  • Neither of the two candidates garnered much support in Peru's April presidential election, they benefited from a fractured field of 18 candidates. Their subsequent runoff campaigns, rather than swing towards moderation, played into the country's extreme political polarization, supported by fear mongering and threats, which has distracted from the central issue of pandemic devastation in the country, writes Alberto Vergara in a New York Times Español opinion piece. "The moment requires a grandeur and humility that these candidates and their allies have not shown, but which they must show for the first time, no matter who wins."
  • Market analysts are hoping the dramatically split vote could hinder Castillo's plans for significant economic reforms, reports Reuters.
  • It is worth noting that Castillo is challenging Peru's liberal economic model, but is himself socially conservative: like Fujimori, he defends "traditional families," and opposes marriage equality and abortion rights. (AFP) In fact, there is a trend in anti-women rhetoric in Peruvian national politics this year, wrote Diana Cariboni in Open Democracy last month.
  • Members of the Colombian National Police have committed egregious abuses against mostly peaceful demonstrators in protests that began in April 2021, according to a new Human Rights Watch report. Police officers have responded to anti-government protests over the six weeks by repeatedly and arbitrarily dispersing peaceful demonstrations and using excessive, often brutal, force, including live ammunition. Human Rights Watch has documented multiple killings by police, as well as beatings, sexual abuse, and arbitrary detention of demonstrators and bystanders.
  • The protests in Colombia that began in late April over a proposed tax hike have morphed into a generational outcry over the country’s deep-rooted inequalities, reports the Guardian.
 Regional Relations
  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris concluded her first official international trip -- a high stakes visit to Guatemala and Mexico -- yesterday. She signed an agreement with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador that reiterates a commitment to deter migration north by addressing its causes — poverty, persecution and corruption in Central America. (See yesterday's post.)
  • For the New York Times, Harris "revealed a moderate approach that seeks to project the perception that the border is under control, even if it means turning away the very asylum seekers she has said the United States is committed to helping in the long term."
  • U.S. lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticized Harris for saying undocumented migrants from Guatemala should not come to the U.S. "Seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival ... the US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America. We can’t help set someone’s house on fire and then blame them for fleeing.” (Guardian)
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran Sarah Rogel has been released from prison after serving nine years of her 30-year sentence on charges of terminating her pregnancy and violating El Salvador’s harsh abortion ban. She is one of dozens of women prosecuted under El Salvador’s strict abortion ban, which often catches poor women suffering obstetric emergencies in its crosshairs, according to rights groups. (Washington PostReuters)
  • Twenty-three U.S. Democratic lawmakers want to know more about the U.S. Justice Department’s secretive role in the now-disgraced Operation Car Wash corruption investigations in Brazil, reports The Intercept. In a letter on Monday, the group sent Attorney General Merrick Garland a list of questions and expressed concern about the U.S. role in prosecutions “perceived by many in Brazil as a threat to democracy and rule of law.”
  • Brazil’s national football team has agreed to play in the upcoming Copa América despite dissatisfaction with CONMEBOL's decision to move the tournament to Brazil where surging coronavirus cases could be affected by an international event, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Brazil is bracing for the threat of a third wave of Covid-19, fueled by vaccination delays and a lack of containment measures, reports AFP.
  • Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, is set to plead guilty this week in a U.S. federal court to charges of assisting her husband to run the Sinaloa Cartel and to escape from a maximum security Mexican prison. (New York Times)
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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