Thursday, April 26, 2018

Update on situation in Nicaragua: 34 confirmed dead, unknown number continue detained

Repression continues in Nicaragua

Photos of seven of the youth killed in Nicaragua during anti-government protests
Human rights groups in Nicaragua have confirmed the death of 34 Nicaraguans in anti-government protests that began on April 18, 2018. The death of 34 protesters in Nicaragua would be the equivalent of 1,785 protesters in the United States.  This explains the outrage in the Central American country at the loss of life and the call for president Daniel Ortega's resignation.

 International human rights organizations have called for investigations into the killings and the Committee to Protect Journalists tweeted about the murder of a journalist and regime efforts to shut down news broadcasts in Nicaragua.

Furthermore, students are being arbitrarily detained, mistreated and tortured according to testimony by some of them who have been released. Additionally there continue to be many who are detained.
There continue to be reports in the press of more dead that need to be confirmed. The situation in Nicaragua remains grave. A march for peace is being planned for this Saturday in Managua. #AllEyesOnNicaragua

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Carlos Alberto Montaner's cautionary prediction for Mexico

"When life goes wrong, a wet sponge erases the whole picture."-  Cassandra, from Agamemnon by Aiskhylos
Carlos Alberto Montaner (Left) warns of the threat AMLO presents to Mexico
Tonight my concerns for the future of Mexico deepened when a thinker that I greatly admire, Carlos Alberto Montaner, retweeted my tweet and added a cautionary prediction on the July 1, 2018 Presidential election in Mexico. He warned that, "AMLO [Andrés Manuel López Obrador] leads the polls in Mexico. The people commit suicide. Venezuelans and Cubans can attest to that. The Czechoslovaks also committed suicide after the Second World War. They paid with 40 years of communist totalitarianism. Until 1989 they did not breathe freedom again."

Montaner is well informed, wise and his opinion has considerable weight. Amazon provides the following biography on this scholar and defender of freedom which is excerpted below.
Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1943. Has lived in Madrid since 1970. Has been a university professor in various institutions in Latin America, the United States and Spain. He is a writer and journalist. Dozens of newspapers in Latin America, Spain and the United States have published his weekly column for the past 40 years at least. He has been described by the magazine ‘Poder’ (‘Power’) as one of the most widely read and most influential columnists in the Spanish-language world. The number of readers who have access to his articles every week is estimated at 6 million.

He has participated as an observer at several elections in Latin America and in numerous seminars devoted to the strengthening of democracy and the diffusion of the concepts of liberty.

Montaner received the Tolerance Prize awarded by the Comunidad de Madrid in 2007. In 2010 he was awarded the “Juan de Mariana for a life dedicated to the defense of freedom”. In 2009 the Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala was awarded the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa. Previously, the University of Applied Sciences in Peru (UPC) had appointed him a Visiting Professor. In 2007, during the democratic government of Enrique Bolaños, Nicaragua's government gave him the “Orden Rubén Darío”.

Montaner has published more than 25 books. Several of them have been translated into English, Portuguese, Russian and Italian. Among the better known and re-edited titles are Journey to the Heart of Cuba; How and Why Communism Disappeared; Liberty, the Key to Prosperity, and the novels Perromundo, A Dog's World, and 1898: The Plot. Some of his most controversial and most widely distributed essays are the best-sellers Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot and Manufacturers of Misery, both co-written with Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza and Álvaro Vargas Llosa. The Return of the Idiot, also by the three authors, has been published.
 Some claim that AMLO is no Hugo Chavez, but like the late Venezuelan despot, Lopez Obrador has distanced himself while following the same playbook and calling for a rewrite of the Mexican constitution. This is what Chavez did in 1998. Chavez even called Fidel Castro a dictator during the campaign, and pledged that he would turn over power prior to his five year term. Five years earlier the Venezuelan president turned dictator had been received in Cuba by Fidel Castro and celebrated as a hero. Let us hope and pray that history does not repeat itself in Mexico.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans to Daniel Ortega: Time for you to resign murderer

"Enlightened despots are mythical creatures; real despots seem more interested in stealing money or installing their sons after them." - Elliott Abrams

Thousands of anti-government protesters take to the streets of Nicargua
Call for investigations and an end to the killings
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States issued a statement today in which they condemned "the deaths of at least 25 people in a context of repression of protests against plans to reform the social security system in Nicaragua." The IACHR also made known that "four TV channels that were reporting on the protests were taken off the air following government orders."

The United Nations Human Rights Council issued a tweet and statement on the killings in Nicaragua  calling for transparent investigations and questioning their legality.

Anti-government protesters on the march in Nicaragua on April 23, 2018
Tens of thousands take to the street and call for Daniel Ortega to resign
On Monday, April 23, 2018 tens of thousands of Nicaraguans took to the streets in nonviolent protests against the violent repression of the Ortega regime and demanded the resignation of the president.  The Economist's bureau chief in Mexico tweeted video of protesters tearing down images of Daniel Ortega and his wife (and Vice President).

It is difficult to get news out of what is going on with the Ortega regime attempting to silence the press and limit internet access.

How this crisis flared up
On April 16, 2018 an unpopular reform is passed that increases contributions to the pension system while at the same time cutting benefits to existing beneficiaries. Two days later Nicaraguans opposed to the "reform" take to the streets in protest. Rather than address grievances the Ortega regime send out the national police and "Sandinista youth" to destroy commercial establishments, take over the university and crush the protests. At the same time mass media are ordered to shut down their signals in a blatant act of censorship.

Journalist Ángel Gahona was shot in the head while conducting a live broadcast of the protests in Bluefields, Nicaragua.

The Ortega government continues to ratchet up repression and the death count mounts. Later Sunday night early Monday morning this blog publishes the available information at the time. On Sunday, April 22, 2018 with over 25 confirmed dead Ortega rescinds the "reform." This would have ended the protests on April 18, 2018, but after the thuggish behavior of the regime combined with the wholesale violation of freedom of the press, freedom of expression and association the citizenry was aroused.

Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela
The Ortega-Maduro axis
This should not come as a surprise. Ortega's return to power in 2006 was fueled by support from Hugo Chavez and the relationship with Caracas under Nicolas Maduro remains strong. It is equally important to remember that behind both regimes one finds the Castro regime and its intelligence services hard at work to maintain their outposts in the region.

Sadly, the United States is funding this regime in Nicaragua with U.S. taxpayer dollars and that needs to come to an end. Meanwhile it is important to get humanitarian assistance to Nicaraguans.

Please keep an eye on the events unfolding in Nicaragua.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Crackdown in Nicaragua: Ortega's regime shuts down independent media and violently crushes non-violent protests

 Nicaragua's Ortega has returned to his dictatorial roots.
"Curse the soldier who turns the guns on his people! We do not want more dead. Long live the students!"
On April 18, 2018 long standing frustrations with the Sandinista regime of Daniel Ortega erupt across Managua in response to a "reform" of the pension system that reduces them for current recipients while raising the amount taken from salaries of current workers. At 5:00pm "Sandinista youth" and national police attack protesters, destroyed commercial establishments and took over the Central American University. The following day classes were canceled across the country and the government continued to call on the police and the Sandinista youth to counter-protest.

Committee to Protect Journalists reported that "[i]ndependent news channels 15, 12, 14, 23, and 51, which were covering the protests, went off air after the government ordered cable television providers to cut their signals, reports stated. In a Facebook post, Channel 15 director Miguel Mora called the action a "clear violation of freedom of the press."On April 21, 2018 Miguel Angel Gahona, a journalist, was shot and killed by a regime sniper while filming a confrontation between protesters and the police.

Police began to gather around Central American University before taking it over
 Communist fellow travelers are already echoing on social media Ortega's conspiracy theories to justify the violent crackdown and silencing of the press. Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo, stepdaughter of Daniel Ortega, and daughter of Rosario Murillo addressed what was going on in Nicaragua to La Nación:
“The president comes out to invent that there is a conspiracy because he does not have the lucidity nor the audacity to admit that the people are claiming autonomy, without external political leadership. For his inability to accept mistakes, for that fundamentalism in the exercise of power, he believes that there must always be an external conspiracy, ignoring the intelligence that the people have to know how to face the moments of history that have touched us.”
Rumors are rampant but the timeline of what sparked the protests was posted on social media by CARivas on  April 22, 2018 and is reproduced below.

Ortega's rise, fall, and rise
Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista party overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in July of 1979 with the help of Cuban strategy, aide and arms. They ruled Nicaragua from 1979 through 1990 and were driven out following a prolonged guerilla struggle, carried out by the Contra, a negotiated peace and free elections in 1990. Ortega spent the next sixteen years running for re-election and finally succeeded returning to power via the ballot box in 2006 with a minority of the vote, but with a splintered and divided opposition.

Recycled Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
In 2009 President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Daniel Ortega and embraced him. In 2011 Ortega "reformed" the constitution under dubious circumstances to be able to run for a third term. In 2015 Nicaragua was behaving aggressively on Costa Rica's border violating the country's frontier. Luckily it was resolved in an international court.

Despite normal relations and this high level outreach early in the Obama Administration the Ortega regime pursued closer relations with Russia and China. In April 2016 Nicaragua purchased 50 Russian battle tanks at a cost of $80 million. Vladimir Putin signed a new security agreement with Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega in 2016.  In August of 2016 Daniel Ortega names his wife candidate for vice president and won re-election in a dubious process in November of 2016. Tim Rogers, a past sympathizer with the Sandinista revolutionaries described the situation in Nicaragua in a July 30, 2016 Fusion essay that remains relevant today:
Since returning to office nearly a decade ago, Ortega has methodically and completely dismantled Nicaragua’s fragile institutional democracy from within and reshaped the laws in a way that support his personal aspirations to create a one-party system that he can govern unopposed till death do they part. By hook and crook, Ortega and his lackeys have taken control of all four branches of government, implemented a repressive zero-tolerance policy for street protests, and rewritten the constitution to eliminate checks and balances.

Ortega put the final nail in the coffin of Nicaragua’s democratic pluralism on Friday, when his sycophants in the Supreme Electoral Council ordered the ouster of 28 opposition lawmakers and substitute lawmakers from the National Assembly. Now Ortega doesn’t face any political opposition, symbolic or otherwise, and can run unopposed for another re-election in November. The Sandinistas argue that the death blow to the opposition was legal, and they should know since they wrote the laws. So congratulations, comandante, you’ve finally got your dream of turning Nicaragua into your family farm.
  The consequences today are measured in lives lost and a country plunged in chaos. Rosa María Payá Acevedo, who leads a Latin American youth network, on April 21, 2018 tweeted: "[t]here are 12 youth who this Thursday had a future, love and a dream for their country. Today there are 12 families traversed by pain because of two dictators' pride Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, students of Castroism repudiated by their people." Attached to the tweet was a list of 12 young Nicaraguans murdered in the protests over the previous 48 hours and reproduced below.

On the evening of April 22, 2018 reports indicated that the number of dead had increased to 25. The nationwide protests and failure to silence them with political terror led Daniel Ortega on Sunday to announce that the "pension reform" had been scrapped.  NPR international correspondent Carrie Khan tweeted at 11:49pm on April 22nd tweeted the photo of a protester weeping as the names of the dead were read out.

The hubris of the Ortega regime after 12 years in power has generated this crisis. Time will tell how it well end. However, of one thing we can be sure there has been an awakening in Nicaragua.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Succession Watch: Fact checking Raul Castro's cheerleaders

Fake news on Cuba

Big factual error
It has been a painful month reading the "news" on Cuba, and basic factual errors that could be corrected on a major story continue to be repeated as fact.  CNN, The South China Morning Post, NBC6,  and many more outlets are repeating the falsehood that "It's the first time in nearly six decades that Cuba is being led by a man not named Castro."

For the record: Raul Castro handed over the office of the presidency to his hand picked successor Miguel Díaz-Canel on April 19, 2018. The Castro regime is using this to give the impression that there is a transition underway in Cuba. This is not the case. General Raul Castro will remain head of the communist party and in control of the military. General Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, Raul's son-in-law, runs the Cuban economy. Raul Castro's son, Colonel Alexandro Castro, who negotiated the normalization of relations with the Obama Administration is an intelligence officer with close ties to the secret police. Diaz-Canel, like Osvaldo Dorticos who was president of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, will most likely be a puppet controlled by the Castros.The succession is not to make Miguel Díaz-Canel the new dictator but to maintain the Castro dynasty in control of Cuba.

The press has also been far too kind in the assessment of Raul Castro's tenure as President. No mention of the murdered dissident leaders, increased violence, and a dramatic increase in arbitrary detentions.Nor any mention made of Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet, whose life hangs in the balance today or that 10,000 Cubans petitioned the Castro regime to free him.

On April 16, 2018 the Associated Press's Cuba bureau reported on Raul Castro's legacy a couple of days prior to the communist dictator's departure from the presidency and the arrival of communist apparatchik Miguel Díaz-Canel and made a number of claims that need to be placed in context or risk misrepresenting the reality on the ground.

Claim: "In 2008 Raul Castro took over a country where most people couldn’t own computers ..., leave without permission, run most types of private businesses or enter resort hotels."

Context: The Castro regime banned the sale of computers in 2002 in Cuba.  The restriction was lifted by Raul Castro in 2008.

Context: The Castro regime altered regulations to allow Cubans to travel without requesting prior permission in 2013.  However restrictions are still in place, that violate international rights standards to the right to enter and exit your homeland, and many Cubans are restricted from traveling abroad or being allowed to return. This includes cases where a family member is dying or having died refused entry to attend their loved ones funeral service.   

Claim: "Cuba has nearly 600,000 private entrepreneurs, more than 5 million cellphones, a bustling real estate market and one of the world’s fastest-growing airports."  

Context: Castro regime drafted new rules in February of 2018 curtailing the private sector. This would not be the first time. In the 1980s and 1990s following economic crises the private sector was temporarily expanded only to once again be restricted when the economic need to subsidize political objectives subsided.

Claim: "Limited internet use is expanding fast, with thousands of Cubans installing new home connections this year."

Cheapest home internet connection in Cuba costs $15 per month (which is more than half the average monthly salary) and according to PanAm Post you get " 256 kilobits per second, similar to the internet services offered in the United States in the late 1990s; ... "The fastest connection price offers a download speed of four megabits per second and will cost US $70. That’s two and half times the average Cuban salary." Not to mention that it is all run through a government monopoly and censors web sites critical of the government.

Claim: "Foreign debt has been paid."  

Context: Mark Frank of Reuters offers a more accurate picture on October 18, 2017: "The Paris Club agreement forgave $8.5 billion of $11.1 billion in official debt Cuba had defaulted on through 1986, plus charges. Repayment of the remaining debt was back-loaded through 2033, with around $40 million paid last year and nearly $60 million due by Oct. 31."The Castro regime still owes $2.5 billion dollars to the Paris Club. The "foreign debt" has not been paid off.

An old problem
Sadly, this is not a new problem. In September of 2011 Cuban opposition activist Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas called attention to important information omitted by reporters from the Associated Press bureau in Havana. This caught my attention at the time and led me over the years to take a closer look at AP reporting and possible bias or omissions over the next seven years. In 2014, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez raised the concern that news bureaus in Havana, in order to maintain their presence in Cuba, compromised their ethical obligations. and risked crossing the line to become regime collaborators. In 2017 while reporting on the mystery of what is harming U.S. diplomats in Cuba the Associated Press, once again left out pertinent information regarding the expert they selected to interview who downplayed the significance of what was going on.