Nicaragua released 91 political prisoners (Jan. 2, 2020)
Nicaraguan authorities released more than 91 political prisoners on Dec. 30. Sixteen activists arrested in November for taking water to a group of hunger strikers were among those released. Human rights groups say there are still 65 political prisoners behind bars in Nicaragua. (New York Times, Associated Press)
The Ortega administration responded to intense national and international pressure, and likely seeks to avoid further international sanctions, especially from the European Union, reports Confidencial. The move will likely be portrayed by Daniel Ortega and his wife, vice president Rosario Murillo, as a sign of goodwill. Confidencial reports, separately, that the release was in response to a direct Vatican request.
The outgoing year was marked by political prisoner releases, though many detainees remain under diverse forms of house arrest or other conditions. Confidencial reviews the main political developments of 2019 in Nicaragua -- citizen activism remains a bulwark against a full police state, but ongoing repression over the year included selective extrajudicial executions and persecution of the Catholic church.
An in-depth report by New York Times reporter Frances Robles details how Nicaraguan authorities have repressed dissent, focusing on the November siege of hunger strikers in churches. Hunger strikers in Masaya wound up hospitalized after a 9-day standoff with police, cut off from water and electricity. But "far from feeling defeated, the women felt victorious: Word of the siege at the church led to international condemnation," writes Robles, who was assaulted by pro-government supporters while reporting the story.
Nicaragua's next presidential election is scheduled for 2021, and there are no signs that opposition activists will succeed in their push for early elections. Opposition groups say Ortega must leave the presidency for free and fair elections, in addition to structural electoral reform, writes Maynor Salazar in Confidencial.
Bolivian interim gov't fights with Mexico and Spain
Bolivia's interim government closed off 2019 with a tense diplomatic spat with Mexico and Spain over former government officials granted protection in Mexico's La Paz embassy. Caretaker president, Jeanine Añez, gave Mexico’s ambassador and Spain’s chargé d’affaires and its consul in La Paz, the nation’s main city, 72 hours to leave, accusing them of breaking diplomatic norms by aiding former officials linked to former president Evo Morales. (New York Times, BBC, Guardian, Guardian)
Though Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is loathe to get involved in international issues, he has pledged to stick to the decision to grant asylum to former members of the Morales administration, reports Reuters. Bolivia expelled the Mexican ambassador, but Mexico did not reciprocate.
Bolivia's coca-growing Chapare region is struggling after the ouster of Evo Morales, and will likely face cuts in public services and harder-line policies against cocaine that could impede coca production, reports the Wall Street Journal.
A deadly dengue outbreak that claimed more than 400 lives in Honduras last year is the result of climate change compounded by government disfunction and gangs, reports the New York Times.
Venezuela started 2020 with 388 political prisoners, according to Foro Penal. (Efecto Cocuyo)
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro launched the new year with a call for dialogue with the U.S. (RT)
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for redoubled efforts to oust Maduro, and reiterated that he will not run for president, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
The National Assembly is supposed to renew its leadership this weekend -- Guaidó needs to be reelected in order to maintain his claim to Venezuela's interim presidency, while pro-government forces are attempting to undermine his support, reported the Venezuela Weekly before the holidays.
U.S. Republican donor and Blackwater founder Eric Prince has been referred to the U.S. Treasury Department for possible sanctions violations tied to a Venezuela meeting with a top Maduro aide, reports the Associated Press. (See Dec. 16's post.)
Reports that Rudolph Giuliani, U.S. President Donald Trump's personal attorney, was involved in back-channel discussions with Maduro provides another example of how Giuliani used his private role to insert himself into foreign diplomacy, according to the Washington Post.
Claudia López swore in as Bogotá's first LGBT and female mayor yesterday. She defended the right to social protests and promised an administration that will fight against "racism, classism, machismo, and xenophobia." (Página 12)
She also struck a conciliatory chord, backing her former opponent in the election, Carlos Galán to head the Bogotá Council, despite the fact that López's Alianza Verde has a majority in that body. (Semana)
López forms part of a new cohort of opposition local and regional leaders elected in October that will likely further complicate the national Duque administration, reports El País.
Meet Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's political guru -- Olavo de Carvalho profiled in the Atlantic by Letícia Duarte, who endured more vitriol than is usual in such interviews. "You’re a slut," he told her. "You come to my house with this cynical smile … You’re worth nothing, woman!"
Brazil desperately needs to increase tourism, but the Bolsonaro administration might be its own worst enemy in this case, reports the Washington Post.
A Christmas-Eve firebombing against a Rio de Janeiro film company didn't hurt anybody, but shows the depth of Brazil's cultural divide, in response to a Netflix movie portraying Jesus as gay. (New York Times)
Mexico increased the minimum wage by 20 percent yesterday, but experts say the historic hike sounds more impressive than it actually is, reports the Washington Post.
At least 16 prison inmates were killed, and five wounded, in a fight at Mexico's Cieneguillas men’s penitentiary in the state of Zacatecas. (New York Times)
Murder rates hit a record high for Mexico City in 2019. Lethal traffic incidents and reports of extortion and robbery also increased. (Animal Político)
Argentines love nothing more than a good murder mystery. Currently, much of the country (or my twitter microcosm, anyway) is binge-watching a new mini series exploring the 2015 death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, days after he accused then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of attempting to cover-up the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center. That sentence alone pretty much indicates why it takes six hours to review the case. Nisman: The Prosecutor, The President, and The Spy.
I hope everybody got a good start to 2020 -- and please be patient while I catch up with all the news! Lots of good pieces in the pipeline for tomorrow's briefing.