Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Ortega crackdown corners opposition (June 15, 2021)

News Briefs

  • The United States will grant $115 million in cooperation aid to El Salvador to slow migration from the Central American country, Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said yesterday. The money will include $50 million for security, $35 million for programs to counter violence against women and $30 million in job training. USAID says it will also contribute $12 million for small and medium-sized businesses in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that were affected by coronavirus-related lockdowns. (Reuters)
  • The Ortega government's crackdown forces Nicaraguan opposition leaders to make a tough decision ahead of November's presidential election, reports El Faro: They could refuse to participate, face the uneven election with a new — and maybe weaker — candidate, or try to force an internationally supported negotiation with the government. Massive anti-government protests, like in 2018, seem unlikely given the government's willingness to attack opponents. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The conditions for participating in the election are extremely complicated: Six of the recently detained opposition leaders are among the most experienced and respected leftists in Nicaragua, notes El Faro. Four leading presidential candidates are among the 13 political opponents arrested in the past two weeks.
  • The arrested opposition figures have been detained under a controversial law passed in December, which grants the government the power to unilaterally classify citizens as “traitors to the homeland” and ban them from running as political candidates, explains the Guardian.
El Salvador
  • Homicide rates have decreased drastically since Nayib Bukele took office in El Salvador. But disappearances are way up: more than three people have gone missing each day in El Salvador during the first four months of this year, a marked increase over 2020, reports The Intercept. The phenomenon dates to the 2012 government negotiations with gangs to decrease homicides, according to a recent report by the Salvadoran organization Foundation for Studies for the Application of Law (FESPAD). Gangs started hiding the bodies instead. Now experts believe that other criminal groups, security forces, and abusive partners all use disappearances to evade authorities.
  • Earlier this month, Bukele took steps to terminate the agreement between his government and OAS regarding the Commission Against Corruption and Impunity in El Salvador  (CICIES). The OAS and others assert that Bukele is kicking CICIES out of the country because the commission spent too much time investigating potential corruption in Bukele's own government, and not enough time pursuing Bukele's political opponents. (El Salvador Perspectives, See June 8's briefs)
  • The benefits of making Bitcoin legal tender in El Salvador are far from clear. Fluctuations in value make Bitcoin a weak currency alternative, it is unlikely to create investment, and the digital divide is likely to hinder use in El Salvador, according to this very didactic article in the Conversation. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • The case of the Salvadoran beach town of El Zonte, known as "Bitcoin Beach" to investors, shows how the digital divide has slowed adoption of the cryptocurrency, reports Reuters.
  • Because bitcoin is unregulated, the move has also raised concerns about the potential for money laundering, tax evasion and other shady dealings. Miguel Kattán, El Salvador's secretary of commerce and investment, said the government would introduce protections against money laundering, but it's not yet clear what those would look like, reports Reuters.
  • Peruvians are still waiting for electoral authorities to call the June 6 presidential runoff. Frontrunner Pedro Castillo has called for the count to be wrapped up quickly to end the uncertainty. His opponent Keiko Fujimori has alleged irregularities, but has not provided evidence to support her claim. (AFP, see yesterday's briefs)
  • United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged Peruvians to "remain calm." Bachelet said she was “concerned that what should be a celebration of democracy is becoming a source of division, which is in turn widening the fracture in Peruvian society with negative human rights implications." (Al Jazeera)
  • Meanwhile, the urban elite is panicking, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has increasingly taken to the courts to stifle dissent among prominent adversaries. It is part of a broader campaign to crackdown on opponents ahead of next year's presidential election, reports The Intercept. "Bolsonaro could attempt to use partisan allies in the executive branch, media, judiciary, and law enforcement to manipulate the election in his favor."
  • Brazil’s health ministry has documented 41 cases of Covid-19 related to the Copa América, including 31 players or staffers and 10 workers who were hired for the event. (Associated Press)
  • Former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos asked for forgiveness for the extrajudicial killings of thousands of people committed by the country’s armed forces partly during his time as defense minister. He testified to Colombia’s truth commission about the so-called “false positives” scandal, when soldiers murdered civilians and registered them as fighters killed in combat to receive rewards. (Al Jazeera)
  • Colombian President Iván Duque named a new ambassador to Washington yesterday, part of an attempt to improve the country's image abroad and maintain bilateral programs with the U.S. that have been jeopardized by recent abuses against protesters, reports the Associated Press.
  • A Guatemalan judge ordered six ex-military officers to face trial for their roles in the allegations contained in the Death Squad Diary – a move that was celebrated by relatives of the victims, reports Al Jazeera.
Regional Relations
  • An Ecuadorean lawmaker filed a complaint against former President Lenín Moreno for the crime of delivery and tear gas and projectiles for the use of Bolivian security forces against the civilian population during Jeanine Áñez's interim government. (Telesur)
  • The G-7 promise to distribute 1 billion coronavirus vaccine doses to poorer countries around the world is a tiny fraction of what is needed to end the pandemic, experts say. (Washington Post)
  • Mexico shipped more than a million AstraZeneca vaccines to Argentina, Belize, Bolivia and Paraguay over the weekend in the first batch of locally-produced shots, reports Bloomberg.
  • The first batch of Argentina-produced Sputnik vaccines has been sent to Russia's Gamelaya Institute for quality control. (Página 12)
  • Paraguay's health ministry created a public database with information about each person vaccinated against Covid-19 in the country. Paraguay’s degree of disclosure would be banned in many countries. But with only 400,000 vaccines and a culture of deeply entrenched corruption there are widespread concerns about line skipping, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Mexican police have uncovered thousands of bone fragments, in the home of a former butcher who is suspected of killing and dismembering at least 17 women. The number of bone fragments found underneath concrete floors at the suspect’s home would imply the corpses may have been hacked into tiny pieces. (Washington Post, Guardian)
  • Peruvian activist Liz Chicaje, who spearheaded the creation of a 809,370-hectare national park in Peru's Amazon rainforest, has been awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize - known as the "Green Nobel." The Yaguas National Park, created in 2018 in response to an indigenous coalition-led campaign, is home to some 3,000 species of plants, more than 500 species of birds and 550 species of fish. (Reuters, BBC)
  • Lithium batteries, key in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy pose an emerging dilemma in Chile, where extracting lithium from the Atacama comes at a grave environmental and social cost, writes Thea Riofrancos the Guardian. One of Chile's new constitutional delegates is Cristina Dorador, a microbiologist and a forceful advocate for protecting the salt flat from rampant extraction. Activists are working with members of Congress to draft a law that would preserve the salt flats and wetlands currently threatened by lithium and copper mining, and hydroelectric plants.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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