Central America Theater
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women march in Nicaragua's capital Nov. 25 was ironically shut down by the riot police, who blocked the streets off shortly after the demonstrators gathered. National Police troops also detained several women who were travelling to Managua from elsewhere around the country to attend the march, with vehicles stopped and seized with delegations from Chinandega, Masaya and Matagalpa. The Managua march was emotionally charged, as it was led by Elea Valle—a campesina woman whose husband, son and daughter were killed two weeks earlier in a raid by army troops on their home in the country's eastern rainforest.
Talk about bad timing. The US State Department has just certified that the Honduran government has been fighting corruption and supporting human rights, clearing the way for the Central American country to receive millions of dollars in US aid—just as President Juan Orlando Hernández has suspended constitutional rights, unleashed the army on protesters, and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to suppress unrest sparked by his contested re-election. The document, dated Nov. 28 and reported today by Reuters, indicates that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified Honduras for the assistance, just two days after the apparently fraudulent election of Washington favorite Hernández.
Independence Day celebrations in Guatemala on Sept. 15 were disrupted by protests across the country, as thousands took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Jimmy Morales. The protests were sparked after the country's Congress two days earlier approved legislation that decreases the penalties for campaign finance crimes. The reform reduces the maximum sentence for illegally funding an election from 12 to 10 years, and allows prison time to be waived altogether for a fine. Prosecutors sought to remove Morales' immunity in order to investigate the misappropriation of over $800,000 in election funds from his 2015 campaign, but Congress voted Sept. 11 to turn down the prosecutors' request. Congress only voted on the request at all after being ordered to do so by the country's Supreme Court of Justice. The Constitutional Court, the highest body overseeing civil law, has also provisionally suspended the new campaign finance legislation. (AFP, Sept. 16; NYT, TeleSur, RFI, Jurist, Sept. 15; Reuters, Sept. 13; Jurist, Sept. 12; Jurist, Sept. 11)
The Guatemalan Supreme Court on Aug. 29 suspended President Jimmy Morales' order to deport the head of a UN anti-corruption commission from the country. The order came from the president two days after Ivan Velásquez, the Colombian prosecutor who leads Guatemala's International Commission against Impunity, announced he was seeking to lift Morales' immunity from prosecution in order to investigate alleged illegal campaign financing. The Supreme Court quickly halted the deportation, stating that the order was issued improperly. The UN said that it was disturbed by Morales' actions against Velásquez. In protest of Morales' actions, citizens declared a state of siege in the capital, while US ambassador to Guatemala Todd Robinson stated that the president's moves could put at risk a US development plan in Central America to reduce poverty and crime.
A new report from Amnesty International accuses the Nicaraguan government of "placing business before the future of the country and its people" with its inter-oceanic canal mega-scheme "that will affect the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people and might leave many homeless." The report, Danger: Rights for sale, charges that "the obscure legal framework that led to the concession of the project, without genuine consultation with all affected communities, violates a catalogue of national and international standards on human rights and might lead to the forced eviction of hundreds of families." It also accuses authorities of harassing and persecuting opponents of the project. (Amnesty International, Aug. 3)
The daughter of assassinated Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres survived an armed attack, just weeks after being named leader of the indigenous alliance formerly led by her mother. Bertha Zuñiga, 26, was assaulted along with two other members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPNIH) as they drove back from a visit to the community of Cancire in Santiago Puringla municipality, La Paz department, on June 30. Three assailants hurled rocks and tried to hack the COPINH members with machetes, after forcing their vehicle to stop by blocking the raod with a pick-up truck. The activists managed to escape, but came under renewed attack as the driver of the pick-up tried to force their vehicle off the cliff-edge road.
Panama announced June 13 that it is breaking its long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing relations with China—a clear political coup for Beijing. The Panamanian statement said it recognized "only one China" and considers Taiwan to be part of it. The change was spurred by an unavoidable fact: China is the second most important Panama Canal user after the United States. Last year it sent 38 million metric tons of cargo through the interoceanic waterway, accounting for 19% of its traffic. The announcement of the diplomatic switch also comes just as Chinese enterprises began building a container port, with natural gas terminals, in Panama's Colón province, on the Atlantic side of the canal. "I think Dominican Republic and Nicaragua will soon follow," Mexico's former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, tweeted soon after the announcement.
A judge in El Salvador on May 24 sentenced seven accused members of the country's feared mara gang networks to 390 years in prison each for the March 2016 massacre at the town of San Juan Opico. Authorities say the maras kidnapped three day laborers and eight electric company workers at the town, just outside the capital San Salvador—and then killed them, without waiting for a ransom. The mara networks have been factionalizing in a struggle over the cocaine trade through Central America, as well as the lucre from their new sidelines of extortion and kidnapping. The seven sentenced are said to be from a new faction with the disconcerting name of the Barrio 18 Revolutionaries—implying they actually seek to challenge the state, in the style of Mexico's Zetas.