Things That Matter

As Human Rights Violations Continue In Nicaragua, The Catholic Church Is Calling For Peace Talks

There are increased concerns coming out of Nicaragua due to an on-going human rights crisis that began in April 2018 over planned cuts to welfare benefits. The government of President Daniel Ortega has been at the front of this situation and have done everything they can to silence and stop protesters.

This has all lead to multiple violent clashes on city streets between pro-government forces and protesters that have claimed more than 300 lives, injured more than 2,000 people and countless more have been imprisoned. According to human rights groups, this has included torture and the denial of due process. In return, the violence has prompted thousands of Nicaraguans to go into exile. 

Here’s how we got to this point and what is being done to put an end to the violence in Nicaragua.

Credit: @hww_intel / Twitter

Back in April, the Nicaraguan Government announced that there would be cuts in social security payments. This resulted in immediate nationwide protests that brought flashbacks of the violence seen last year. These cuts were eventually rescinded but not the protests and calls for the resignation of President Daniel Ortega, who’s in his fourth term, to step down and for swift elections to follow. President Ortega balked at the notion of leaving office and says he’ll serve his full term until the next elections in 2021. 

The Catholic church continues to be the mediator between the Ortega government and opposition forces in its efforts to initiate talks between the two bitterly entrenched sides to resolve the crippling ongoing crisis. Last week, a Vatican representative called for the continuation of talks and negotiations. The goal here is to try to release reforms to begin “free and transparent elections” in Nicaragua. 

“The Holy See has been following with great attention the sociopolitical situation in Nicaragua and believes that the unsettled disputes should be solved as soon as possible,”  Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva, told Reuters.

The Vatican is hoping to bring both sides together in a “renewed spirit of responsibility and reconciliation” to hopefully bring forth a resolution “that respects the truth, reestablishes justice and promotes the common good.”  Jurkovic said at a speech on Sept. 10 during a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on the situation in Nicaragua that these talks will be necessary if there is any hope of peace in the country. 

“The Holy See strongly believes that it is essential to implement the agreements reached last March, to return immediately to open and mutually respectful negotiations and to realize, at the earliest, the electoral reforms for the holding of free and transparent elections with the presence of international observers,” Archbishop Jurkovic told Reuters.

The United Nations has also called for the immediate resignation of President Ortega, who has overseen violations of human rights in Nicaragua. 

Credit: @civiccusalliance / Twitter

As the Vatican voiced its concern about Nicaragua, Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, made comments on the same day about the violence in the country. She noted that while violence has decreased since the Ortega government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy met for peace talks in February, there is still human rights violation occurring. 

“Between August 2018 and July 2019, human rights violations continued to occur in Nicaragua,” Bachelet told the Human Rights Council. “However, since the end of February 2019, when the Government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy resumed their dialogue, the number of violations against life and personal integrity has decreased, proof that dialogue is a possible and peaceful way to overcome the crisis.”

From mid-March to mid-June, the Ortega administration had released nearly 400 people who were detained due to protests over the last year. The majority, however, were released under restrictive measures. While most major protests have calmed over the last few months, there have been multiple human rights violations that have occurred. The government has banned public demonstrations from those that have criticized them and have also used violent tactics to stop citizens from public self-expression.  

“We cannot remain in total silence, we cannot be silent,”  Juan Mata Guevara, a bishop of Esteli, Nicaragua, said at the bishops’ conference.“This way of proceeding is an exercise of irrational authoritarianism. This reflects how the regime does not see the needs of those who suffer.”

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Using Social Media, Russia Is Accused Of Being Behind The Massive Protests Across Latin America

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Using Social Media, Russia Is Accused Of Being Behind The Massive Protests Across Latin America

Marcelo Hernandez

For months now, Latin America has been facing a political crisis as country after country has seen massive populist protest movements that have destabilized the region. From Chile to Puerto Rico, Bolivia to Ecuador, governments have struggled to respond to growing inequality – which has forced millions of Latinos to take to the street.

Many of these protest movements lack obvious leadership but they do share a few common threads. For one, they want to see more government accountability and actions against corruption. They also share a desire to fight growing income inequality which has stifled economic development for the region’s most vulnerable populations.

Now, a new report has tied many of these massive protest movements to Russian bots – which are seen as instigating and magnifying the region’s unrest.

The US has reportedly tied Russian bots to increased protest movements across Latin America.

Although the protest movements across Latin America share a few common threads, the majority of them are overwhelmingly different. In Chile, protests started over a planned increase in public transport fares. In Bolivia, it was against alleged voter fraud by then-President Evo Morales. In Puerto Rico, it was to fight back against alleged corruption and to hold leaders accountable for homophobic and misogynistic texts.

According to the US State Department, however, they’ve identified one theme they all seem to have in common: Russian interference.

In Chile, nearly 10 percent of all tweets supporting protests in late October originated with Twitter accounts that had a high certainty of being linked to Russia. While in Bolivia, tweets associated with Russian-backed accounts spiked to more than 1,000 per day – up from fewer than five.

And in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Chile over one 30-day period, Russia-linked accounts posted strikingly similar messages within 90 minutes of one another.

Senior diplomats from the US believe that Russia’s goal may be to increase dissent in countries that don’t support Maduro’s presidency in Venezuela.

Russia’s alleged campaign to help tap support for Maduro’s regime has resulted in mixed reviews. It’s not obvious how successful the campaign has been.

With the support of more than 50 other countries, the Trump administration has imposed bruising economic sanctions against Mr. Maduro’s government in Venezuela over the last year. The coalition is backing Juan Guaidó, the leader of the Venezuelan opposition, whom most of Latin America and the rest of the West views as the country’s legitimate president.

Russia is working to expand its presence in Latin America, largely at Washington’s expense.

The US State Department frequently keeps tabs on Twitter traffic worldwide to monitor for potentially dangerous activities, like the proliferation of fake pages and user accounts or content that targets the public with divisive messages

“We are noting a thumb on the scales,” said Kevin O’Reilly, the deputy assistant secretary of state overseeing issues in the Western Hemisphere. “It has made the normal dispute resolutions of a democratic society more contentious and more difficult.”

Souring attitudes toward the United States throughout the region over trade and immigration issues, the rise of populist candidates, and the deepening internal economic and social challenges facing many Latin American countries create favorable circumstances for Russia to advance its interests.

About a decade ago, it became obvious that Russia was launching an online campaign to destabilize the region using new technology and social media.

There are Spanish-language arms of two Russian-backed news organizations that have been found to spread disinformation, conspiracy theories and, in some cases, obvious lies to undermine liberal democratic governments.

According to one state-financed group, RT Español, they’ve reached 18 million people each week across ten Latin American counties and have more than a billion views on YouTube. This is huge liability for the truth.

As Massive Protests Sweep Latin America, Here’s Why Mexico Has Been Able To Avoid Them So Far

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As Massive Protests Sweep Latin America, Here’s Why Mexico Has Been Able To Avoid Them So Far

Joaquin Sarmiento / Getty

2019 will be remembered as the year in which Latin America was swept by a wave of protests, mostly led by young people who are fed up with the status quo and right-wing governments.

Chile has been taken over by a massive wave of protests that has encompassed not only the capital of Santiago, but also places such as Valparaiso. These protests are not only attended by young activists, but also by unions, lay people and basically anyone who wants to speak out against neoliberal economic policies and conservative politics that have turned the police force known as carabineros into a repressive entity.

In Colombia, social unrest reached unprecedented levels in the capital of Bogota and even became deadly when a young activist was killed, which led to further protests against police brutality. Ecuador has also experienced mass protests and the most vulnerable, particularly indigenous groups, have unjustly suffered the consequences. 

Just like when Middle Eastern countries protested in what was collectively known as the Arab Spring in the early 2010s, Latin America seems to be at a turning point in which change seems inevitable and the polarization in society when it comes to cultural, political and social issues is at its highest.  

But Mexico has escaped this wave of protests even if it has been historically a highly politicized society… perhaps the ghost of 1968 is still lingering.

On October 2 1968, a few weeks before Mexico City was due to hold the Olympic Games, a crowd of students was massacred by the army in the infamous Masacre de Tlatelolco. This event, in which police and military forces acted with brutality and impunity, has defined political life in Mexico for decades. Even though protests are numerous, they are smaller in size and generally a one-off occurrence rather than a long and sustained effort. This might be due, in part, to the internalized fear of State repression. 

Contemporary Mexico suffers from a gross divide between rich and poor, and also corruption that is endemic to politicians and public servants. So are people not fed up? 

As the Mexicanist points out, poverty rates in Mexico surpass 40% and are only second to Honduras in the region. At the same time, the rich in Mexico are super rich, perhaps only comparable to the elites in countries such as Singapore, the United States and Britain. Corruption runs rampant in every level of government and the private sector basically does anything it wants if its pockets are deep enough. The government led my AMLO has made the fight against corruption its main policy, which in a way is a preemptive attack against dissent.  

So why has Mexico escaped mass protests? A weak opposition and a new semi-leftist government.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador addresses supporters after receiving the staff of command from indigenous people during the AMLO Fest at Zocalo square in Mexico City, Mexico December 1, 2018. Picture taken December 1, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

There are several reasons why the wave of protests that has caught fire throughout the region. The first and perhaps foremost reason is that the AMLO led government is barely a year old and so far it has been rather centrist in its political approach. The decades-long fear that an AMLO-led government would lead Mexico into a situation akin to Chavez’s and Maduro’s Venezuela.

Added to that, the opposition, mainly embodied by the conservative PAN, is in total disarray. The presidential campaign of Ricardo Anaya divided PAN-members and caused the balkanization of the party, whereby different factions emerged. Added to that, this party and the legacy of its last president, Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, has been scrutinized for the past few months and critiques reached a boiling point when Genaro Garcia Luna, who led Calderon’s war against the drug cartels, was arrested in the United States for allegedly receiving bribes from the Sinaloa cartel.

So centrist AMLO government + weakened opposition: a lid on social unrest. A very, very provisional lid, however. 

AMLO’s discourse resembled the demands of protesters in South America… and he has a 60% approval rate.

If we were to place the Mexican president in the political spectrum compared to his counterparts in Colombia and Chile, he would be to the left… the extreme left. The anti neoliberal flag that protesters wave in South America is one that AMLO has been waving for decades. Now, this is on a discursive level so far: it might be to early to tell, but early indications from the AMLO presidency lead many to believe that he is not as leftist as he seems. But the discourse is working when it comes to appeasing social unrest similar to that experienced in South America, as Mexicanist explains: “The Mexican president’s criticisms of the neoliberal model, its harmful effects on popular welfare and his “perverse vocation for corruption” are in tune with the narrative of the movements of indignant Latin Americans. Also, the harangues against public-private corruption and the system of privileges that has been forged in Latin American-style capitalism.”

Added to this, Lopez Obrador enjoys a comfortable 60% approval rate even though he lost 10-15% in the past year due to pressing matters such as the violence that the country has experienced in 2019, the most savage year on record, among other challenges and mistakes that have defined the new administration.