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Nicaragua vote: Ortega tightens grip on power in ‘pantomime election’

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bbc– Preliminary results from the Nicaraguan general election suggest that incumbent President Daniel Ortega has won by a landslide.

With almost all the votes counted, Mr Ortega has secured close to 76% of the vote. But as the BBC’s Central America Correspondent Will Grant reports, the result hardly comes as a surprise.

As the Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, stepped back from casting his ballot, his supporters lining the polling station broke into supposedly spontaneous applause.

Holding his thumb in the air to show off the voting ink, he and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, drank in the noise for the state television cameras before being whisked away in a silver Mercedes-Benz.

He might as well have declared himself the victor there and then.

This was an election in which the result was never in question. In fact, the outcome in Nicaragua was decided months before a vote was even cast or counted.

From the moment on 2 June when police appeared at the home of his main rival, Cristiana Chamorro, and placed her under house arrest for alleged money-laundering, it was clear that President Ortega would be re-elected for another five-year term.

In the following days and weeks, there was a slew of further detentions of presidential hopefuls – seven of them in total – including a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the US, Arturo Cruz Jr, and Cristiana Chamorro’s cousin, Juan Sebastián Chamorro. Even her brother, Pedro Joaquín, a journalist in his 70s, was arrested for merely voicing interest in running during an interview.

Three hours after uttering those words, the police arrived at his door too.

The clampdown has shocked Latin America for its speed and ruthlessness. Most of the detained candidates and many other Ortega critics have been charged under a controversial treason law.

Addressing the nation after voting, Mr Ortega again likened the round-up of his opponents to the trials in the United States of those who stormed the Capitol on 6 January.

“They have as much right as we do to open trials against terrorists,” he said, adding that the “immense majority of Nicaraguans voted for peace and not terrorism or war”.

Unsurprisingly, the president’s claims did not wash with the exiled Nicaraguans who turned out to protest in Costa Rica’s capital, San José. Instead they urged their compatriots to boycott the election in an effort to further delegitimise the vote.

“This is a consummate fraud, and all Nicaraguans are aware of it,” said Alexa Zamora of the National Blue-and-White Unity group, an opposition alliance.

“We’re calling on the international community not to recognise this vote and on Nicaraguan citizens still inside the country to stay away from the voting stations,” she yelled above the chanting and bullhorns.

Even before polls had closed, the White House issued the kind of statement the protesters were hoping for, calling the vote “a pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic”.

A vote, then, with no meaningful rivals, no independent election observers or foreign media. At a Costa Rican border crossing of Peñas Blancas, several international journalists, including from the BBC, were denied permission to enter the country to cover the vote.

But while we could not get in, thousands are desperate to leave. Droves of Nicaraguans have fled the Ortega government since the crackdown began, often crossing into Costa Rica via blind spots along the jungled border.

Lionel Hernández charges the migrants a handful of dollars to make the illegal journey across his land. A Nicaraguan, Mr Hernández said he intended to cross back into the country to cast his ballot but was resigned over the outcome.

“Every country in the world has corrupt elections, even the United States. And only God can remove a king,” he shrugs.

For those who no longer want to live as subjects under the reign of Daniel Ortega and his courtiers, their options are limited. Hundreds of Nicaraguans are currently making their way through southern Mexico as part of a migrant caravan slowing heading north.

Among them is Carla – not her real name – who used to work for the Sandinista government. When she became disillusioned and tried to leave the party, she was intimidated by armed pro-Ortega radicals who turned up at her house.

“It’s getting worse and worse,” she said under a thatched roof of a temporary shelter.

“Murders are going up, there are paramilitary groups who kill people. You can hardly go out, you can’t express yourself. If you do, you’ll be killed. Everyone knows these groups are controlled by the government.”

Daniel Ortega is perhaps the last Cold War warrior. As Washington’s nemesis during the Reagan Administration, he was second only to the late Cuban leader, Fidel Castro.

Following Mr Ortega’s return to power in 2007, he has thrown off all the vestiges of his leftist guerrilla past. Behind a façade of pseudo-evangelical language, particularly from Rosario Murillo, there is an iron ruthlessness to the couple’s will to remain in power until the bitter end.

Their supporters will claim another five-year term is somehow the will of the majority of Nicaraguan people. In reality, President Ortega’s rule is increasingly repressive, autocratic and dynastic – and this controversial vote only further consolidates his control over his fiefdom.

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Brazil’s indigenous communities fear mining threat over war in Ukraine

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Maurício Ye’kwana worries about the future. He comes from the community of Auaris, in northern Brazil, close to the border with Venezuela.

The area, part of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory, is rich in gold, diamonds and minerals – and illegal miners want a piece of it. In all, there are an estimated 20,000 illegal miners on the land.

“It’s got worse in the past few years,” Maurício says, explaining that during the pandemic, the number of planes, helicopters and boats linked to illegal mining increased.

He’s only 35, but it’s the younger generation that concerns him – boys increasingly being lured into illegal work.

“The young people are the best boat drivers,” he says. They can earn as much as 10,000 Brazilian reais ($2,140; £1,645) for a single trip.

Maurício has come to Brasilia to take part in the Free Land Camp, an annual event that brings together indigenous communities looking to defend their land rights.

On Brasilia’s main esplanade, a grand avenue that leads to Congress and the presidential palace, communities from across the country have erected hundreds of tents.

Milling around the camp are indigenous Brazilians, many of them wearing feathered headdresses, intricate beaded jewellery and painted with geometric tattoos identifying their tribe.

This year, the event has taken on an even bigger meaning.

President Jair Bolsonaro has made it his mission to push economic development in the Amazon. In his latest attempt to make inroads into indigenous territories, he has cited the war in Ukraine. Brazil relies heavily on imported fertilisers for its agribusiness industry – more than 90% of its fertilisers come from abroad, and Russia is its most important partner.

“A good opportunity arose for us,” Mr Bolsonaro said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has argued that by mining in indigenous territories, Brazil can build more of its own potassium reserves.

It’s an argument questioned by some experts.

“Only 11% of the reserves are inside indigenous lands and other states like São Paulo and Minas have reserves,” says politician Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous woman voted into Congress in 2018. “It’s a false narrative that tries to confuse the minds of the Brazilians, making them believe it’s important, that people won’t have food on their table.”

Also, it’s not a short-term fix.

“From a technological and environmental perspective, the licences needed and the infrastructure – it all takes time. Being able to offer these products to the Brazilian market would probably take seven to 10 years,” says Suzi Huff, Prof of Geology at the University of Brasilia. “We’re talking about an extremely sensitive area in which care needs to be taken. It’s false to say that it will solve Brazil’s problems.”

The bill has been in the works since 2020. But last month, the lower house voted to consider it under emergency provisions, removing the need for committee debates.

“It’s very clearly blackmail,” says Prof Huff. “Bolsonaro saw an opportunity to continue with this project of allowing mineral exploration including in indigenous lands and used the scarcity of fertilisers in Brazil to move forward with this project.”

It was expected to be voted on in the lower house this week, but that hasn’t happened – and few believe, in this election year, that it will. Not even the big players in the industry agree with it, with the Brazilian Institute of Mining last month saying it was a bill “not suitable for its intended purposes”, and calling for broader debate.

While a delay in voting is seen as a relief by indigenous leaders, it’s still a challenge on the ground.

“A fiery political discourse encourages invasions in indigenous lands,” says Joenia Wapichana. “The fact that Bolsonaro says he supports mining, that he will regulate mining in indigenous lands already exposes the indigenous people and makes them more vulnerable.”

The discourse is, of course, deeply political, especially with elections around the corner. On Tuesday, former president Lula da Silva – and the man leading in the polls to win October’s vote – made a visit to the camp.

“Today the headlines are about a government that doesn’t have scruples when it comes to offending and attacking the indigenous communities who are already on this land,” he said.

The response was huge cheers of “out with Bolsonaro” – but there are still six months until the elections. And this is Brazil – much can change in politics here, and the future of Brazil’s indigenous tribes is more uncertain than ever.

Read from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-61093258

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Homes engulfed as deadly landslide hits Colombia

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A landslide triggered by heavy rains has killed at least 14 people in central Colombia, officials say.

Another 35 people were now in hospital after several homes were engulfed in the Dosquebradas municipality, Risaralda province, on Tuesday.

The officials issued a photo showing a gash in the lush foliage covering a mountain overlooking the area.

Other residents living close to a swollen river nearby have been moved to safety.

Rescue teams have been searching in the mud for more survivors, Colombia’s disaster management officials said.

“A very loud noise scared us. We went out and saw a piece of the mountain on top of the houses,” taxi driver Dubernei Hernandez told the AFP news agency.

“I went to that place and it was a disaster, with people trapped.”

Mr Hernandez said he helped dig up two bodies and a survivor. At least five homes were buried by the mud, he added.

There are fears that the death toll will rise further.

Landslides are common in Colombia and houses built on steep hillsides are at particular risk during the country’s rainy season.

In 2019, at least 28 people were killed after a landslide hit the south-western Cauca province.

Two years earlier, more than 250 people were killed when a landslide hit the town of Mocoa, in the southern Putumayo province.

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Mexico violence: Third journalist killed this year

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A Mexican journalist has been shot dead in the northern border city of Tijuana, officials say, the third journalist to be killed in the country this year.

Lourdes Maldonado López, who had decades of experience, was attacked in her car as she arrived home on Sunday.

She had previously said she feared for her life, and was enrolled in a scheme to protect journalists, activists said.

The country is one of the world’s most dangerous for journalists, and dozens have been killed in recent years.

Many of those targeted covered corruption or powerful drug cartels. Campaigners say the killings are rarely fully investigated, with impunity virtually the norm.

The motive for Maldonado’s killing was not clear and no-one has been arrested.

During a news conference in 2019, Maldonado asked President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for his “support, help and labour justice” because, she said, “I fear for my life”.

She was referring to a labour dispute with Jaime Bonilla, who was elected governor of Baja California state later that year as a candidate from the president’s Morena party. Mr Bonilla, who left office late last year, owns the PSN media outlet, which had employed Maldonado.

Maldonado had sued the company for unfair dismissal and, last week, said she had won the lawsuit after a nine-year legal battle. Mr Bonilla and PSN have not commented.

Rights group Article 19 said she had previously been attacked because of her work and was registered in the Mexican government’s programme to protect journalists.

The campaign group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was “shocked” by the murder.

The killing came six days after photojournalist Margarito Martínez was shot dead outside his home in Tijuana. He covered crime in the city, with his work appearing in national and foreign media.

A week earlier, José Luis Gamboa Arenas was found dead with stab wounds in the eastern city of Veracruz. An editor at the Inforegio and La Notícia news websites, he often wrote articles about organised crime and violence.

Exact numbers of victims are hard to come by as investigations often get nowhere, and different studies apply different criteria in counting the dead.

According to Article 19, 24 journalists were killed between December 2018, when President López Obrador took office, and the end of 2021.

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