Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

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Nicaragua

WOLA Podcast: Resisting Repression in Nicaragua

I recorded this Tuesday morning with Julio Martínez of Nicaragua’s Articulación de Movimientos Sociales. Julio was an active participant in the 2018 protest movement against the Ortega regime; he got out and is now doing graduate work in New York. Here, we talk about civil society’s fight to stop human rights abuses and restore democracy in Nicaragua, the importance of international pressure, and the alarming spread of authoritarianism throughout Central America. (Download the mp3)

“Concrete actions”

Nicaraguan journalist Dánae Vílchez in the Washington Post on Friday:

The United States has taken some important steps, including the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act that was approved this week by Congress, a bill that would place conditions on the “approval of loans to the Ortega regime by international financial institutions,” and expand the Magnistky sanctions on people close to the regime (including Rosario Murillo, the vice president and first lady). The United Nations, however, seems to believe that democracy and the lives of thousands can be defended with press releases.

But only concrete actions can stop a dictator such as Ortega, a man who possesses an unquenchable thirst for power and is capable of anything to keep it.

…and the piece ends there, leaving the suggestion of “concrete actions” in the air.

The barbaric raids last week on CENIDH, IEEPP, Confidencial, and others have all of us casting about for new ways to help Nicaraguans end their dictatorship. So what did Vilchez mean here? Is the United States doing enough, but not the UN? If so, is she calling for worldwide NICA and Magnitsky sanctions? Or should the United States and the UN both be going even harder than they are against Ortega and Murillo?

And if so, what are the best options?

Nicaragua and Latin America’s “rancid” left

Some unnamed Nicaraguan student protest leaders, interviewed by Plaza Pública while on a visit to Guatemala, have run out of patience with the moldy 20th-century Latin American leftists who—out of misplaced “solidarity”—won’t speak out against Daniel Ortega’s abuses.

Plaza Pública: You define yourselves as leftists, but the Ortega government holds up the flag of the left and the Sandinista revolution.

Student protesters: They are left-leaning in their discourse. In the 1980s that discourse agreed with their actions. Nowadays, or since 2007, when Ortega took power, the discourse does not agree with the actions he has undertaken. He’s the biggest capitalist in the country. That “left” that they proclaim is not representative. This is not a problem only in Nicaragua, it’s in all of Central America and Latin America. Mel Zelaya defending Ortega, Sánchez Cerén defending Ortega … We feel abandoned.

We prefer to believe in other non-institutionalized processes, and not in this rancid left whose sole aim to which it aspires is to reach power, control everything and enrich itself. It’s another form of neoliberalism.

The left has always been afraid to criticize the left.

I think it’s regrettable to see comments like those of the Sao Paulo Forum, it’s a total shame, with Maduro at the helm. As if being a friend of human rights violators were the left’s new fashion. Or the FMLN or, right here the URNG, defending Ortega, while what we’re living through are counterinsurgency operations.

Links From the Last Month About: Civil-Military Relations in Latin America

Colombia

  • A decree has placed a representative of Colombia’s Defense Ministry on the governing board of the Center for Historical Memory, a body of academics that has produced 92 reports since 2008 about what happened in the country’s conflict. Though a governmental body, the Center has had autonomy in how it chooses and carries out its investigations. This has brought strong support from conflict victims, but also strong criticism from the military. Critics, including victims’ groups, are concerned that the addition of a Defense official—who represents the military, one of the main parties to the conflict and the generator of many victims—may undermine this crucial autonomy. The Center’s longtime director, Gonzalo Sánchez, quietly protested the Defense Ministry’s addition, but later told the press that all government ministries have the right to participate in its governing board, the military has a lot of knowledge about the conflict that it should be encouraged to share, and that the Center’s autonomy won’t be affected.
  • The McClatchy news service, using information publicized by Human Rights Watch, reported that Gen. Jaime Lasprilla, a former head of Colombia’s army, has been in Washington as Colombia’s defense attache for nearly two years despite strong human rights concerns about his military record. A decade ago, when Gen. Lasprilla headed the Army’s 9th Brigade in the southern department of Huila, the unit committed a very large number of so-called “false positive” killings: murders of civilians that were falsified as combat kills to boost body counts.

Honduras

  • The U.S. Southern Command’s Diálogo publication discusses, and praises, the Honduran military’s “Guardians of the Homeland” program, which sends soldiers to schools throughout the country “reinforcing a sense of right and wrong and instilling morals and leadership principles among minors.”
  • Soldiers are now protecting seven bus companies’ stations and lines in Tegucigalpa. Bus companies are frequent targets of gangs’ extortion and attacks.

Mexico

  • Late last year, legislators from Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), working with heavy input from the armed forces, drafted an Internal Security Law that would make permanent the Mexican military’s “emergency” role in policing. Now, even the bill’s chief sponsor recognizes that the controversial legislation now appears unlikely to pass in the current legislative session, which ends April 30. The bill had encountered criticism from opposition parties in Congress, and especially from civil-society groups. A coalition of mostly Mexican groups (which included WOLA) put out a highly critical report (PDF) in late March citing the human rights cost that Mexico has paid since the military’s involvement in internal security intensified a decade ago. (There have been at least 3,921 confrontations between military personnel and civilians in Mexico since January 2007, when President Felipe Calderón increased the armed forces’ involvement in security.) More than 120 groups collaborated on an internet effort with a multimedia website, #SeguridadSinGuerra, to pressure the Congress to reject the law and place more emphasis on training better civilian police. Mexico’s usually docile human rights ombudsman’s office (National Human Rights Commission, or CNDH) also came out against the law.
  • The chief of Mexico’s Navy, Adm. Vidal Soberón, said that the military were only playing internal security roles, “it must be said, because in many cases police forces have been surpassed” by criminals.
  • The military responded angrily after a leading opposition politician, leftist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel López Obrador, opposed the armed forces’ involvement in policing and tied them to the 2014 Ayotzinapa massacre. The Army’s human rights director, Gen. José Carlos Beltrán, called a press conference to criticize “social actors” who present “slander and offenses,” and actually denied that the military commits human rights abuses. “Those who denigrate the labor of our armed forces denigrate Mexico,” said President Enrique Peña Nieto. López Obrador responded that he views the military as “the people in uniform,” and his critics should “calm down.”
  • During the past month, Mexican military personnel were deployed to help keep order in the states of Quintana Roo, Sonora, and Veracruz.
  • Marines allegedly killed a minor, a passenger in a civilian car that went through a roadblock, in Nuevo León not far from the U.S. border.
  • In the border city of Reynosa, a woman who had denounced that her husband died last year in Marine custody said she received death threats from a group of assailants “of military aspect” who rammed her car.

Nicaragua

  • The opposition-leaning daily La Prensa reported on the sudden and unusual retirement of two senior generals in Nicaragua’s army, who normally serve five-year terms in top command positions. A retired general told the paper that the firings owe to the armed forces’ politicization, “ever since the moment when there stoped being a high command able to say to [President Daniel] Ortega, ‘this is illegal, this can’t be done, this goes against the Constitution.’” Security expert Elvira Cuadra said, “Due to the way and the moment [the sudden retirements] occurred, what it shows is that things aren’t going well within the military institution.”

Paraguay

  • During the unsuccessful late-March attempt to change Paraguay’s constitution to allow President Horacio Cartes to run for re-election, local media questioned some irregular military deployments around the capital. These included the appearance of armored personnel carriers at Asunción installations, and the posting of guards and snipers around the Congress, where the amendment was being debated. Paraguay has been very vigilant about signs of military involvement in politics since the end of the dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989).

Venezuela

  • Faced with mounting protests, the government of President Nicolás Maduro launched “Plan Zamora Green Phase,” a “special civil-military strategic plan” to involve the military in preventing a “coup d’etat.” Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino promised the armed forces’ “unconditional loyalty” to the regime against “violent marches.” The government’s disproportionately forceful response to protests, however, has mostly been carried out by police, not soldiers.
  • Maduro also announced that the number of “Bolivarian Militias”—civilians armed with rifles to defend the regime—would expand to 500,000 (out of Venezuela’s total population of about 30 million).
  • Two investigative reports in the past month from InsightCrime (March 22 and April 28) look at drug-trafficking and other corruption in the armed forces.
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