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Nicaraguan activists sentenced to 200 years in prison (Feb. 20, 2019)
Two anti-government activists were sentenced to over 200 years in prison on Monday. Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena plotted the murder of four police officers and a teacher killed during a shoot-out outside a police station in the village of Morrito in July of last year, according to the judge. They were also found guilty of organized crime and terrorism. (BBC)
The sentence throws into question recent signs of movement towards a dialogue by Nicaragua's embattled government.
The Ortega government has largely quashed protests in the country, and many of the most prominent anti-government leaders and independent journalists are either in exile or in hiding. But international sanctions and criticisms have the government isolated and in economic difficulties.
Nonetheless, there were recent overtures towards a negotiation in the Nicaraguan crisis' stalemate.
This weekend three of Nicaragua's richest men, representing the COSEP business lobby, met with President Daniel Ortega. They said the goal was to convince the leader to negotiate with the Alianza Cívica, in order to end the crisis that threatens to further tatter the country's economy, reports El País. They set the release of political prisoners as a precondition to talks. The discussion was attended by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and the Vatican's Managua representative. The Alianza was formed last year in the wake of brutal repression to negotiate with the government, but dialogue failed when Ortega refused to contemplate reforms and early elections.
Nicaragua's government announced the talks with the private sector last week, in what appears to be a bid to repair the relationship with the business sector. Nicaragua's lawmakers are expected to discuss a tax reform this week that would raise taxes on business, reports Reuters.
Last week OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro met with Ortega, both sides agreed to maintain an open channel of communication -- a change from enmity over most of last year. Almagro said freedom for political prisoners is a precondition for negotiation.
Government opponents said they were open to talks but said preconditions include not just the release of 700 political prisoners, but also complete freedom for the media and demonstrations, and the disbanding of armed, pro-government militias, reports the Associated Press.
Taiwan gave Nicaragua a $100 million loan, a lifeline for embattled Ortega administration which has become increasingly isolated after brutal repression of anti-government protests last year. The United States passed the Nica Act last year, making it harder for Nicaragua to access multilateral loans. (See post for Nov. 28, 2019)
Nicaragua is one of the last remaining Central American countries that recognizes U.S.-ally Taiwan over China, notes Reuters. (See post for Aug. 24, 2018 on the strong U.S. reaction to El Salvador's decision to recognize China last year.)
Haitian authorities detained eight heavily armed in Port-au-Prince this week -- five are U.S. citizens, three former military and another a former federal government contractor. They were stopped at a police check point for driving without license plates, and the two vehicles they were in contained six automatic rifles, six pistols, two professional drones and three satellite phones. Police sources revealed links to a presidential advisor, reports the Miami Herald.
Haiti has not had clashes this week, after violent anti-corruption protests last week had many urban residents under siege. But citizens face threat of ongoing unrest and food prices that have doubled in recent weeks, reports the Associated Press.
At least 43 people have been killed in Venezuela in anti-government protests that started last month when the National Assembly declared president Nicolás Maduro illegitimate, reports the Associated Press. Human rights groups say some of those deaths appear to be targeted slayings by the National Police Action Force, or FAES, which is particularly focusing on youths in poor neighborhoods. (See Jan 31's post.)
The stages are literally being set for Venezuela's battle of the bands on Friday, reports the Associated Press. British billionaire Richard Bransen is holding a Live-Aid style concert on the Colombian side of the border in support for an opposition and U.S. orchestrated humanitarian aid effort, aimed at ousting Nicolas Maduro's legitimacy-challenged government. Maduro, in turn, is holding a "Hands off Venezuela," in protest of what he calls foreign intervention. (See yesterday's post.)
It's a reiteration, with a twist, of usual optics battles between anti and pro Maduro demonstrators, explains David Smilde in the Venezuela Weekly.
In the meantime, members of Venezuela's opposition are gathering in Cúcuta, Colombia, to prepare to bring in shipments of humanitarian aid -- despite Maduro's refusal to allow entry into Venezuela, reports the Guardian. Delivery will also come in through Roraima, Brazil, where Venezuelan trucks and drivers will be used to transport aid. Many humanitarian groups have distanced themselves from the aid initiative, protesting what they call a politicization of humanitarian assistance. (See Monday's post.)
The aid transfer is scheduled for Saturday, and will be accompanied by anti-government protests around the country, in which demonstrators will go to military barracks and ask for troop to allow aid into the country, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
The Weekly also qualifies the Maduro administration's refusal to let in a group of Europarliament Deputies. (See Monday's post.) The group was not part of the International Contact Group, which is scheduled to arrive in Caracas today.
U.S. support for Venezuela's opposition has become pronounced this year -- but the Trump administration's steps grow from 20 years of quiet U.S. support for anti-Chávez movements, writes Timothy M. Gill in the Washington Post.
A transgender woman who was deported from the U.S. was murdered after returning to her native El Salvador. She had migrated because of threats she received, said advocates. (Washington Blade)
A radio announcer was killed in a Sonora shooting last week, and another reporter was injured. Reynaldo López is at least the third Mexican journalist killed so far this year, reports Univisión. (See Feb. 12's briefs.)
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently criticized protections for indigenous groups -- and his promises to roll back territorial protections and funding have emboldened land grab attacks on tribal communities, reports The Intercept. An investigation published this week by Repórter Brasil found that at least 14 fully protected Indigenous territories are currently under attack.
A new film directed by Narcos star Wagner Moura is about Carlos Marighella, a Marxist guerrilla fighter during the beginning of Brazil’s military dictatorship. But its bringing contemporary Brazilian political controversies to the limelight. At the Berlin Film Festival premier Moura denounced Brazilian state racism. "The state-sponsored violence committed against revolutionaries in the 1960s is the same that’s committed in the favelas against blacks," he said. He also kissed Jean Wyllys, a gay Brazilian congressman who resigned due to death threats, and held a sign commemorating Rio councillor Marielle Franco who was assassinated last year. In turn, Bolsonaro denounced the film, saying it glorified a terrorist. (Guardian)
The Bolsonaro administration sent a long-awaited pension reform bill to Congress. The plan would save the government $289.5 billion over 10 years, reports the Wall Street Journal. Bolsonaro doesn't have the votes to get the proposal through Congress without support from other parties -- and attempts by previous governments to pass reform have met with widespread resistance.
Grande dame of the Brazilian stage, Bibi Ferreira, died at 96. (New York Times)
Peruvian prosecutors are interrogating former Odebrecht executives in Brazil for information on bribes paid to Peruvian officials, reports El Comercio. Sergio Nogueira declared that $45 millions dollars were paid in bribes for Interoceanic highway contracts.
Last week Brazilian scandal-plagued construction giant Odebrecht said it reached an agreement with Peru's government to support the investigation into corruption. (Reuters)
A national registry of indigenous names in Peru is helping traditional names make a comeback after decades of disuse, reports EFE.
Salvadoran authorities arrested a man convicted of participating in the 1981 killing of two American labor advisers and the head of the country’s land reform agency, reports the Associated Press.
A woman living in Sydney has been arrested on charges that she kidnapped seven people in 1976 and 1977 in Pinochet-era Chile. (Associated Press)
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