Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Nicaragua's crackdown continues (June 22, 2021)

Nicaraguan police raided the home of independent journalist Carlos Chamorro last night, part of a broadening crackdown against government opponents and critics. Yesterday police announced they had placed former First Lady María Fernanda Flores Lanzas, the wife of former President Arnoldo Aleman, under house arrest for alleged crimes against the state. And last night police detained Manuel Mendoza Urbina, a sports journalist, under the same "defense of sovereignty" law that has been used to detain over a dozen leaders and civil society leaders in recent weeks. Most of the recent arrests have been related to allegations that opposition figures accepted foreign financing for activities against the government. (Confidencial, Associated Press. See yesterday's briefs, and last Friday's, among others.)

"The Ortega government’s intensifying campaign of violence and repression against the opposition and civil society in Nicaragua requires escalating involvement by the United Nations to address the situation," Human Rights Watch said in a new report. The recent spate of high-profile arrests and other serious human rights violations against critics appear to be part of a broader strategy to eliminate political competition, stifle dissent, and pave the way for President Daniel Ortega’s re-election to a fourth consecutive term in November, according to HRW.

Mexico and Argentina are recalling their ambassadors to Nicaragua after the government broadened its crackdown against opposition figures, according to a joint statement yesterday. Nicaragua had carried out "concerning" actions "that have put the wellbeing and freedom of various opposition figures (including presidential pre-candidates), activists and Nicaraguan businessmen at risk," the statement said. Both countries had abstained from last week's OAS vote to condemn restrictions and arrests in Nicaragua and called for the release of all political prisoners. (Reuters, Confidencial, see last Wednesday's post.)

Costa Rica's government announced it has paused the appointment of an ambassador to Nicaragua due to “the current political conditions in the neighboring country.” (Tico Times)

The current crackdown is the intensification of a three year process of deteriorating press freedom in Nicaragua, details Oswaldo Rivas in Columbia Journalism Review.

News Briefs

El Salvador
  • El Salvador's homicide rate has dropped dramatically in recent years, 2021 is on track to be the least deadly on record. But there is no social consensus on the importance of the historic moment for the country, much less regarding the causes behind the drop and how to advance in order to consolidate the gains, writes Roberto Valencia in the Post Opinión
  • El Salvador's Supreme Court ordered the attorney general's office to investigate the forced disappearance of three people during the country's civil war and to punish those responsible, reports AFP.
  • The U.S. and Mexico agreed to cooperate on tackling Mexico's disappearances, a little noted announcement following U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit this month. The scale of Mexico’s disappearance crisis is immense, reports The Intercept. Nearly 90,000 Mexicans have disappeared in 15 years, at minimum. Thousands more migrants from Central America have vanished in those years, cases that go largely unaccounted for.
  • DNA tests confirmed that a badly decayed corpse found last week in Mexico's Sonora state belonged to Indigenous rights leader Tomás Rojo Valencia, who disappeared nearly four weeks ago, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to investigate the border shootings that left 19 people dead over the weekend, reports the Associated Press. He said evidence indicated that 15 of the victims were innocent bystanders. The other four dead were suspected gunmen from a criminal group. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The continuing exodus of millions of Venezuelans is reaching “a tipping point” as the response to the crisis remains critically underfunded, reports the Guardian. More than 5.6 million have left the country since 2015, when it had a population of 30 million, it has become the largest external displacement crisis in the region’s history.
  • With its access to the global financial system restricted by U.S. sanctions, Venezuela managed to make some payments for the country's coronavirus vaccines by asking a handful of private local banks to pay on the government's behalf, reports Reuters
  • Venezuela's economy is set to expand slightly this year -- a turnaround that is mostly due to a combination of reforms straight out of economic orthodoxy, according to Bloomberg: eliminating price controls, reducing subsidies on essentials such gasoline and removing many restrictions on foreign exchange. 
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro told a journalist who questioned his frequent refusal to wear a mask to "shut up" and called Globo Group, the country's largest media conglomerate, "shitty," reports AFP.
  • A top Rio de Janeiro militia leader was gunned down by police -- but the attack doesn't signal an end to militia protection through connections with security forces, reports InSight Crime.
  • The Federal Court in Brasilia has acquitted former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, his former chief of staff Gilberto Carvalho, and five other people accused by federal prosecutors of favoring automakers through the issuance of Provisional Measure 471 of 2009. It is one of several corruption cases faced by the former president. (Rio Times)
  • Ecuador said it had signed an agreement to rejoin the World Bank's arbitration tribunal more than a decade after it left, reports Reuters.
  • Covid-19 is receding in much of the world, but the pandemic is raging in South America, which has just 5% of the world’s population but now accounts for a quarter of the global death toll, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Colombian protest leaders have agreed to pause mass marches as hospital ICUs struggle to cope with surging coronavirus cases. Colombia is being battered by a surging third wave of Covid-19. About 40,000 lives have been lost to the disease since mid-March – about 40% of the total death toll, reports the Guardian.
  • After 50 days of social protests against Colombia's government, Cali's class divide seems to be getting wider, reports AFP.
Comparative politics
  • U.S. actor and activist Kendrick Sampson draws a parallel between the #BlackLivesMatter struggle for justice in the U.S. and how Afro-Colombians are fighting for justice as well. In the context of the widespread police brutality that Colombians are experiencing during the ongoing protests, it is important to understand the danger of being an activist for Black lives in one of the world’s deadliest countries for human rights defenders, he argues. (El Espectador)
  • Tom Perriello, the U.S. executive director of Open Society Foundations, contrasts the courageous struggle for human rights carried out by some Catholic leaders around the world, and contrasts their approach with that of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in a New York Times guest essay. "Catholic bishops in El Salvador, the country where Saint Óscar Romero was assassinated for standing with the poor and vulnerable ... chose to take a courageous position against President Nayib Bukele’s move to consolidate power and create impunity for corruption. They also sent the Biden administration a clear message that “tough talk” on the border only helps the coyotes and gangs extort a higher price from those most at risk."
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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