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Latam Brief: Nicaragua’s Ortega seizes UCA (Aug, 17, 2023)

Latin America Daily Briefing: Nicaragua's Ortega seizes UCA
Latin America Daily Briefing

Nicaragua’s government seized a prestigious Jesuit-run University of Central America in Managua, calling it a “center of terrorism.” It is part of an ongoing crackdown on the Catholic Church, members of which have been critical of Daniel Ortega’s political repression. The university, which was a hub for anti-government protests in 2018, called the terrorism accusation unfounded.

The Jesuit order said it received a judicial order Tuesday notifying it of the confiscation of all the university’s property, buildings and bank accounts. The university suspended all classes and administrative activities yesterday.

The UCA is one of the region’s most highly regarded institution’s of higher education. “Since December 2021, at least 26 Nicaraguan universities have been closed and their assets seized by order of the Ortega government with a similar procedure,” reports the Associated Press.

The UCA is, however, the best known of the targeted institutions, reports Reuters.

In April, the Vatican closed its embassy in Nicaragua after the country’s government proposed suspending diplomatic relations.

“The unjust and illegal confiscation of the UCA by the Sandinista dictatorship is outrageous,” exiled Nicaraguan bishop Silvio Jose Baez wrote on social media.

“In this way, they demonstrate their contempt for intellectual freedom, quality education and critical thinking. Every day, they sink deeper into their irrationality, their wickedness and their fear.” (Al Jazeera)

Arévalo in the lead

Guatemalan anti-corruption candidate Bernardo Arévalo remains firmly in the lead ahead of Sunday’s runoff elections, according to two polls this week that put him over 60%. He faces off against former first lady Sandra Torres, who is polling between 35 and 39%. (Prensa Libre, Reuters)

The results threaten an upset for Guatemala’s political status quo, that has been defined as a corporativist kleptocracy dubbed “the pact of the corrupt.” (See yesterday’s post.)

But “few think those in power will allow the second round to run smoothly,” warns the Economist. “Some fear the elite will try to manipulate the results using tactics such as blocking voting in urban areas that are keenest on Semilla. Others predict it will try to stop Mr Arévalo taking power in January if he wins, possibly using a legal wrangle.”

Arévalo’s surprisingly strong showing in June’s election — following the judicial elimination of several candidates who threatened the country’s political status quo — immediately provoked a backlash from the judiciary and establishment political parties, who challenged Arévalo’s Movimiento Semilla and sought to eliminate him from the runoff.

Ahead of the potential reformist victory, U.S. officials are warning Guatemala’s powerful establishment — military, political and business forces — “of the danger of subverting democracy,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Even if Arévalo does not win, he will have succeeded in transforming his anticorruption political movement from a splinter group into an important player, the Wilson Center’s Bejamin Gedan told the Los Angeles Times.

Correction: Yesterday I incorrectly said Arévalo came in first in June’s election — he came in second, behind Sandra Torres. (See June 26’s post.)


  • Ecuador “overcrowded, corrupt and poorly financed penal system has become a breeding ground for prison gangs that have formed alliances with powerful drug cartels from abroad,” fueling the country’s rise as a player in the global drug trade, and unleashing an extraordinary wave of violence on the country, reports the New York Times.


  • Chilean President Gabriel Boric carried out his third major cabinet reshuffle this week — as a broad corruption scandal undermines his government’s reform agenda. Earlier this week Boric’s Social Development Minister Giorgio Jackson stepped down, a sacrifice the administration hopes will aide negotiations with opposition parties in order to advance on pension and fiscal reforms, reports Bloomberg.

  • Boric named Aurora Williams his new mining minister, in a ceremony, highlighting the mining industry’s role in reducing poverty and inequality and calling on the cabinet to “consolidate our national lithium policy and to continue to maintain Chile’s global mining leadership,” reports Reuters.


  • Haitian gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier said he would fight any international armed force deployed to the country if it committed any abuses. Speaking at a news conference yesterday, he called on Haitians to mobilize against the government, reports the Associated Press.


  • Brazilian federal police said they were carrying out a new round of raids and arrests as part of an investigation into the Jan. 8 riots in Brasilia. It is the fourteenth phase of the operation aimed at identifying people who participated in, funded or fostered the riots, reports Reuters.

Regional Relations

  • U.S. lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked her Brazilian counterparts to include her in conversations on the climate crisis — she spoke at the lower chamber’s Amazon and Indigenous People’s Committee, part of a tour of Brazil, Chile and Colombia. (Brazil Report)

  • The US and Brazil are discussing a possible meeting between the two country’s presidents at next month’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, reports Bloomberg.

  • Colombia will seek to renegotiate a 2012 free trade deal with the U.S., said President Gustavo Petro, saying the agreement harms output and jobs. (Bloomberg)


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