Nicaragua Releases 100 Jailed Protesters to House Arrest

The Nicaraguan government released 100 prisoners to a form of house arrest Monday, including three human rights activists.

The administration of President Daniel Ortega said all 100 face charges of “offenses against security and the public peace,” which have commonly been applied to participants in anti-government protests that started last year.

But opposition figures could not immediately confirm that all those released Monday were protesters. However, relatives did confirm the release of three leaders of a non-governmental group known as the Permanent Human Rights Commission.

The release apparently did not include leaders of the protest movement.

The release came an hour after the opposition had announced it was withdrawing from talks with Ortega’s government, to press its demand for the release of hundreds of jailed protesters and dropping charges against them.

Jose Pallais, one of the members of the opposition Civic Alliance who participated in the talks, said the releases “are a positive gesture, but not enough” to draw Ortega’s opponents back to the talks, which resumed in February.

“They should free all of them so the talks can resume, and ensure that all are freed without charges,” Pallais said.

Last week, 17 people who were arrested in the anti-government protests were wounded in a disturbance at a Nicaraguan prison in which a 57-year-old Nicaraguan-American dual national was shot dead.

Guatemalan Boy Dies in US Border Custody

A Guatemalan boy in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody died Monday, a day after beginning treatment for the flu. 

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez-Vasquez, 16, was found “unresponsive” while being held at the Weslaco Border Patrol Station. 

U.S. officials have not determined the cause of death, which is generally issued after an investigation by multiple federal agencies.

Hernandez-Vasquez complained he was not feeling well on Sunday morning at CPB’s Rio Grande Valley Central Processing Center where he was being held.

A health check by a nurse practitioner that day indicated he had Influenza A. He was prescribed Tamiflu, an antiviral drug, a CBP official familiar with the case told reporters on a phone call Monday.

He was then sent to the Weslaco station on Sunday to “segregate” him and await transfer to a facility for minors, the official said.

Staff last checked on Hernandez-Vasquez an hour before he was found dead.

If the boy was sick a week earlier when officials detained him on May 13 near Hidalgo, Texas, after entering the country unlawfully, he showed no signs of illness severe enough to prompt a higher level of care, the official said. 

CBP said that after being held in two facilities for detained migrants, the teen was set to be transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tasked with caring for unaccompanied children who cross the border.

U.S. law requires unaccompanied children who aren’t from Canada or Mexico generally be transferred from border or immigration officials to HHS custody within 72 hours.

Asked why Hernandez-Vasquez was not transferred on the proscribed timeline, the CBP official told reporters that HHS officials had determined when and where he would be transferred. Why HHS took a week to sort out the boy’s placement remains unclear.

While he was originally going to be sent to a facility in Homestead, Florida, HHS instead decided to send him to one in Brownsville, Texas, to shorten travel times for the sick teen. 

The boy was able to call his family twice during custody, the CBP official added. The last time was May 16. 

Hernandez-Vasquez is the fifth Guatemalan child to die in U.S. official custody at the border since December. His death comes as U.S. border officials are detaining an increasing number of unaccompanied minors and families crossing the southern border.

That figure climbed from roughly 4,968 children in October to nearly 8,897 in April; and from 23,116 families to 58,474 families in the same period, leaving officials scrambling to provide adequate services.

Brazil Officials: 11 Killed in Bar Shooting

Gunmen killed at least 11 people in a bar in northern Brazil on Sunday, officials said.

The shooting took place in the city of Belem, the public safety department of northern Para state said.

There was no immediate word on the motive of the shooting.

The attackers fled but the news website G1 quoted police as saying one was wounded and is in police custody.

The fatalities are six women and five men, G1 said.

Seven men carried out the shooting after arriving on a motorcyle and in three cars, said G1. They fled after the attack.

The bar where the shooting took place is in a neighborhood which got police reinforcements in March to fight crime.


Vast Gasoline Lines Form in Oil-Rich Venezuela

U.S. sanctions on oil-rich Venezuela appear to be taking hold, resulting in mile-long lines for fuel in the South American nation’s second-largest city, Maracaibo.

Some drivers said they’d had to wait almost 24 hours to fuel up, and people have been grabbing catnaps on the hoods of cars or in truck beds.

Nearing empty and stuck in line, infectious diseases doctor Yoli Urdaneta said she couldn’t make her shift to treat patients.

“I’ve spent four days trying to get gasoline,” Urdaneta said. “But I couldn’t.”

A satellite cruising over Maracaibo on Thursday captured pictures of cars lined up for a mile (1.6 kilometers) through the city to the pumps, according to by Maxar Technologies, a U.S.-based space technology company.

Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at the brokerage firm Caracas Capital Markets, said Sunday that stiff U.S. sanctions on top of decaying refineries has begun to hit home.

Venezuela doesn’t have the cash to import key ingredients to keep up production in a country with the world’s largest oil reserves, said Dallen, who estimated that the state run oil-firm PDVSA is producing 10 to 15% of its capacity.

“It’s all coming together in a toxic brew,” Dallen said. “That is really having a devastating effect.”

The Trump administration this year sanctioned PDVSA in an effort aimed at driving President Nicolas Maduro from office, while throwing its support behind opposition leader Juan Guado.

The U.S. sanctions essentially cut off Maduro’s government from its Houston-based subsidiary Citgo, depriving officials of an estimated $11 billion in hard currency from exports this year. U.S. officials say this cash flow long bankrolled what they call Maduro’s “dictatorship.”

Sanctions also put the squeeze on Venezuela access to diluents needed to thin its tar-like heavy crude so it can be piped over 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the field to be turned into gasoline.

And the political stalemate shows few signs of drawing near its end.

In a recent flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at peacefully solving Venezuela’s crisis, European officials said they held intensive meetings over two days in Caracas with key players.

At about the same time, Maduro’s government and the opposition sent representatives to talks in Norway. Officials engaged in both efforts reported no breakthroughs.

The panic over shortages has crept into the capital, Caracas, leading to moderately long lines for the last three days at many stations.

Across the country in Maracaibo, angry drivers lined up complaining that police were profiting off their frustrations. Drivers said officers overseeing the lines allowed some to pay the equivalent of $3.60 — more than half of the monthly minimum wage — to cut into a shorter line while others waited to fill up their tank with subsidized fuel that costs less than a penny.

Jose Eustaquio Perez, 65, said he took the offer.

“I’m too old and I’m not in the mood to wait in this long line,” he said. “I don’t feel good, so I paid it to get out of here.” 

Five Foreigners Die in Plane Crash off Honduras

Five foreigners including the pilot died Saturday when their private plane crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from Roatan island, a tourist destination on the Atlantic coast of Honduras, local authorities said.

Officials gave conflicting accounts of the victims’ nationalities. Armed forces spokesman Jose Domingo Meza said four of the victims were from the United States and the fifth victim’s nationality had yet to be determined.

Local emergency services initially said the victims included four Canadians and another victim of unknown nationality.

Local authorities did not immediately offer a cause for the accident.

The Piper PA-32-260 plane was headed to the tourist port city of Trujillo, about 80 kilometers (49.71 miles) from Roatan, a picturesque island frequented by tourists from the United States, Canada and Europe, authorities said.

Argentine Political Fixer Mounts Surprise Presidential Bid  

After decades pulling political strings behind the scenes as a cabinet chief and strategist for Argentine presidents, Alberto Fernandez now aims 

to win the top job himself. 


But rather than a power grab, the unexpected presidential bid announced on Saturday appears more a strategic maneuver orchestrated by his political patron, former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who is running as vice president. Many had thought she would be the main challenger to 

incumbent President Mauricio Macri in the Oct. 27 election. 


Putting Alberto Fernandez, a 60-year-old lawyer, at the top of the ticket is aimed at improving chances of victory for the Peronist party and is in keeping with his long service as a mostly loyal party operative, analysts said. 


Alberto Fernandez, a moderate Peronist seen in political circles as a consensus builder, will now need to unite a fractured opposition to take on center-right Macri, whose popularity in the polls has tumbled amid economic crisis in South America’s No. 2 economy. 

Strategic decision


“Alberto Fernandez is a negotiator, pluralist and dialogist,” said political analyst Ricardo Rouvier, “It is a strategic decision of Cristina to make a final push to try to build a winning electoral alliance and show herself in a more moderate and softened way.” 


Alberto Fernandez has worked for much of his political career alongside Cristina Fernandez and her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, who also held the presidency. 


Well-connected in the powerful Peronist movement, Alberto Fernandez helped an almost unknown Kirchner when he was governor of Santa Cruz province to expand his political support and take the presidency in 2003. 


Kirchner made him chief of staff for his 2003-07 term, and he continued in that role for the first months of Cristina Fernandez’s administration, which ran from 2007 to 2015. 


Alberto Fernandez resigned in 2008 after the government suffered a legislative defeat in a confrontation with the powerful farming sector that kept the country and the markets in suspense for months. 


He even became a harsh critic of Cristina Fernandez’s management and forged ties with other factions of Peronism at the time who were opposed to her ruling party. 


“Alberto I’ve known for over 20 years and we’ve had also our differences,” Cristina Fernandez said in a video on social media announcing their joint bid. 

Role of negotiator


However, in recent months Alberto Fernandez again became her main political negotiator, trying to help her generate support from the more moderate wing of the opposition. 


That fell short with many concerned about Cristina Fernandez’s divisive style and the shadow of a corruption trial hanging over her. One trial is due to begin next week, though as a senator she currently has immunity from arrest. 


“Alberto is not an electoral politician; Alberto is an operator in the shadows,” said a Peronist source who knows him. Despite her lower rank on the ticket, Cristina Fernandez is a rock star politician who commands huge crowds. 


That made it perhaps unsurprising that news broke not from the presidential hopeful but from Cristina Fernandez on social media, where she said she had “asked” him to lead the alliance. 

Strange turn


“In what country or parallel dimension does the vice presidential candidate announce who will be the candidate for president?” asked one local journalist on Twitter. 


Alberto Fernandez’s dialogue style seems, however, to already be bearing fruit. On Saturday, an important leader of another Peronist faction, Sergio Massa, said he was willing to negotiate an agreement with Cristina Fernandez’s wing. 


Alberto Fernandez posted replies on Twitter to well-wishers, saying he would work to pull Argentina out of its crisis. 


“I’m filled with joy at being able to work together to restore dignity to millions of Argentines that this government has plunged into marginality and poverty,” he wrote.

Survivors of Nazi Commune in Chile: Germany’s Compensation Not Enough

The victims of an infamous Nazi pedophile commune in Chile say the compensation of up to $11,000 Germany has agreed to pay each of them is not enough.

Germany said Friday it would pay the funds to the victims of Colonia Dignidad commune founded in 1961 by Paul Schaefer, a former Nazi soldier.

The commune was promoted as an idyllic German family village. The reality of the place, however, was something sinister.

Dozens of children were sexually abused at Colonia Dignidad by Schaefer.

Its approximately 300 German and Chilean residents were abused and drugged. They were prevented from leaving the site that was surrounded by armed guards with dogs.

Survivors say they were virtual slaves.

Horst Schaffrick told the French news agency AFP that the money is “a help, yes, but it does not solve the problem. We are a lost generation.” Schaffrick, who was three when he arrived at the commune with his family, says he was sexually molested by Schaefer.

A lawyer for the survivors said, “What we would have wanted, and what we are arguing for, would be that we give settlers who are old enough to retire a decent pension, no more and no less.”

A German report released Friday said, “The survivors still suffer massively from the severe psychological and physical consequences after years of harm caused by violence, abuse, exploitation and slave labor.”

The report also said that compensation to the victims would be paid “exclusively out of moral responsibility and without recognition of a legal obligation.”

The commune also “actively collaborated with Pinochet dictatorship henchmen on torture, murder and disappearances,” according to the German report in a reference to Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s dictator from 1973 – 1990, who tortured and “disappeared” his critics.

Schaefer was arrested in 2005 in Argentina. He was jailed in Chile for child sexual and other abuses.

He died in 2010 in prison at the age of 88.

US Navy Veteran Killed in Nicaraguan Prison

Eddy Montes, a protester shot dead in a Nicaragua prison this week, was a naturalized U.S. citizen who served in the Navy, but ultimately returned to the Central American country where he fought for a change in government, his family said.

Montes died Thursday after he and other prisoners tried to snatch a gun from a guard while the International Red Cross was visiting the prison, the Nicaraguan interior ministry said, adding that the guard acted in self-defense.

He had been jailed after protesting against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in October last year, during protests that have killed at least 300 people. The protests erupted over welfare benefits but spiraled into a broader movement to oust Ortega, who is serving his third term as president.

Angered by Montes’ death, opposition groups said Friday that they would stage new protests over the weekend.

US condemns Navy vet’s death

The U.S. State Department condemned his death as a killing at the hands of Nicaraguan riot police and urged the government to thoroughly investigate the incident. It also called for other political prisoners to be released.

“The lack of justice for these prisoners and for the hundreds of innocent civilians killed by Ortega’s security and parapolice forces shows the regime’s utter disregard for human life and democratic freedoms,” it said in a statement.

The Nicaraguan government prohibited the demonstrations last November and has accused the protesters of intending to cause chaos.

Montes had spent much of his childhood and young adult years in the United States, family members say, but returned to Nicaragua in the early 1980s to study medicine. Ortega and his leftist Sandinista party had came to power a year earlier.

In 1984, Montes organized a protest after the Sandinista government passed a law to introduce military service. Gloria Montenegro, his wife of 18 years, said his activism had put him on the radar of the government.

“With those anti-government protests, he became a target [for the government],” Montenegro said, recalling a time during the Cold War when dissidents were backed by the United States and the Nicaraguan government by the former USSR.

“So we fled to Costa Rica and after that to the United States, where he decided to join the U.S. Navy.” Montes was based out of San Diego. Later, he worked in real estate.

Return to Nicaragua

Montes returned to Nicaragua in 1993 and bought farmland in his native Matagalpa. It was not long until he joined anti-government protests again.

“He was always seen as an opponent,” said Yader Valdivia, an attorney who once worked with the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and is now in exile in Costa Rica. “When the protests began, he began to help by bringing in food, supplies and medicine to the students,” Jafet Montes, his daughter, who lives in California, said.

Ortega should be held responsible, she said.

“I blame the government, I blame the president, because he controls everything that happens in that country,” she said.

Venezuela’s Maduro Says Norway Talks Sought ‘Peaceful Agenda’ with Opposition

Talks in Norway this week with representatives of Venezuela’s government and the opposition sought to “build a peaceful agenda” for the crisis-stricken South American country, President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday.

Norway’s foreign ministry, which has a tradition of conflict mediation, said earlier on Friday that the talks were in an “exploratory phase.”

The representatives of each side arrived in the Nordic country this week, signaling a fresh approach to ending months of tensions that escalated after a failed uprising last month led by opposition leader Juan Guaido, who called on the military to oust Maduro.

So far this year, dozens of people have been killed in opposition protests against Maduro’s government. An economic downturn has driven more than 3 million Venezuelans to emigrate, fleeing hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.

The ruling socialist party, which has long said it is open to dialog, has endorsed the talks. But many sectors of the opposition remain skeptical, arguing that Maduro has in the past used dialog as a stalling tactic to maintain his grip on power as living standards steadily declined in the oil-rich nation.

“Norway announces that it has had preliminary contacts with representatives of the main political actors of Venezuela, as part of an exploratory phase,” the ministry said in a statement.

Venezuela was thrust into a deep power struggle in January when Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

​The United States and many European countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader, but Maduro retains control of state functions and the support of the top brass, as well as allies like Russia, Cuba and China.

Opposition lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez and two advisors represented Guaido’s side, while Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez and Miranda state governor Hector Rodriguez went to Oslo on behalf of the government.

Each side met separately with Norwegian mediators but there was no meeting between government and opposition representatives, Gonzalez told local media. It was not immediately clear if the mediation would continue.

Speaking to members of the armed forces, Maduro said his representatives “went to Norway to lead Venezuela’s delegation at the start of an exploration into a conversation and dialog with the Venezuelan opposition to build a peaceful agenda for the country.”

Guaido was more tepid, tweeting on Thursday that any “mediation initiative” should begin with the “end of the usurpation,” a reference to Maduro resigning.

Guaido has expressed a growing openness to potential U.S. military intervention to resolve Venezuela’s crisis, and said his envoy to Washington would meet with the U.S. military’s Southern Command next Monday.

Guaido said he would meet diplomats from European and Latin American countries who arrived in Caracas this week as part of the so-called International Contact Group on Venezuela.

Former Colombian Guerrilla Arrested Minutes After Leaving Jail

A former commander of the Marxist FARC rebel group was released from prison Friday and immediately re-arrested after new evidence came to light, the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

In a move likely to rattle an already delicate peace accord with the now-demobilized insurgents, Seuxis Paucias Hernandez, known by his war alias as Jesus Santrich, was escorted out of prison in a wheelchair and moments later, as he left prison gates, was taken back inside by police.

Hernandez, 52, was indicted more than a year ago by a U.S. grand jury for conspiracy to export 10 metric tons of cocaine, worth $320 million in street value. He was ordered released Wednesday by a special tribunal.

“As a result of international judicial cooperation, in the last few hours new evidence and elements have been incorporated that clearly account for the circumstances of time, manner and place of alleged conspiracy to conduct drug trafficking,” the attorney general said in a statement.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which prosecutes leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, who handed in their weapons under a 2016 peace deal, had said evidence provided by prosecutors did not allow it to evaluate whether, or when, he allegedly conspired to move cocaine to the United States.

The JEP’s ruling caused an institutional crisis when the attorney general immediately resigned in protest.

Because the JEP has jurisdiction over all crimes during the war, Hernandez’s extradition can only go ahead if the alleged crime took place after the accord.