NICARAGUA IN CRISIS

Over the past several months the tiny Central American nation of Nicaragua has been rocked by some of the worst political violence the region has seen in decades.


The unrest began in April when President Daniel Ortega’s government cracked down on protests against an unpopular pension reform. Hundreds have been killed since. On Saturday, two more died as government-backed paramilitaries laid siege to a church complex in the capital city of Managua where students, priests, and journalists had taken refuge. Thirteen countries in Latin America have condemned the Ortega government’s actions.

President Ortega is one of the region’s wiliest political survivors. He first took power in 1979, leading a revolution by the Marxist-Leninist Sandinista Liberation Front, which prompted a decade-long, ruinous civil war against US-backed right-wing paramilitaries.

He stepped down after losing elections in 1990. But after reinventing himself as a milder sort of socialist with a business-friendly streak and more piously Catholic outlook, Ortega won the presidency in 2006 and has consolidated power ever since: abolishing constitutional term limits, appointing his wife as vice president, and handing immense media power to his children.

Ortega claims he and his wife are merely keeping order against a US-backed attempt to overthrow his government. But as a detached, nepotistic ruler cracking down on journalists and students, he has prompted protest chants that compare him with Anastasio Somoza, the man he overthrew nearly 40 years ago.

Is Ortega too on his way out? As Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro (whom Ortega has cultivated ties with) has shown to chilling effect, rulers can stay in power for a long time so long as the men with guns stay on side.

But an increasingly bloody standoff in Nicaragua could have repercussions across the region. In contrast to the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, where the governments’ inability to provide even basic security has caused homicide rates to soar and prompted hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers to head north, Nicaragua has enjoyed relative stability in recent years. As the crisis there deepens, that relative calm could fade fast, putting increasing pressure on Nicaragua’s northern neighbors.

Legislators in 8 US states have recently passed laws to limit abortions, thrusting the contentious issue into the center of the country's political debate ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The bills are intended, in part, to force the US Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which gave women the right to choose to terminate pregnancy. Here's a look at how other countries around the world regulate abortion at the national level, as well as a region-by-region snapshot of how prevalent the practice is today, compared to 30 years ago.

Last week, as trade tensions continued to rise between China and the US, the Trump administration landed one of the heaviest blows yet on Beijing, moving to severely restrict the Chinese tech and telecoms giant Huawei's ability to do business with American firms.

What happened? Two things: The Trump administration formally banned sales of Huawei telecoms equipment in the US. More importantly, it also prohibited American firms from selling their technology to Huawei without a special license.

Why? It's complicated. Technically, Huawei was blacklisted from acquiring US technology due to alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran. But the US is also concerned that Huawei could allow Beijing to spy on or disrupt data flowing across the next-generation 5G data networks of the US or its allies. President Trump may also believe the moves will give him extra leverage in his broader fight with Beijing over trade and technology.

The fallout is already starting to hit. Here's where:

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An Austrian politician got drunk with a Russian woman in Ibiza a few years ago and said some things that have now broken up his country's government.

That's right, over the weekend the German press released a video secretly recorded on the Spanish resort island just before Austria's 2017 elections, in which Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), tells a woman posing as the niece of a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch that if she donates money to his party, she'll get lucrative government contracts.

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Direct(ed) Democracy In Russia – After thousands of people protested the construction of a new cathedral in a nice park in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, President Putin weighed in to stop construction until a popular referendum can be held. What does that tell us? Well, for one thing, Putin is probably a little more sensitive to public unrest after seeing his approval rating pummeled by a botched pension reform last year. But more to the point, this is a nice illustration of how democracy works in Russia: the new tsar orders accountability to happen when and where it suits his interests.

The Size of Modi's Election Victory – Eight different exit polls released over the weekend show Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party comfortably ahead in the country's 6-week national election. Voting ended on Sunday, with final results due on Thursday. How big will the BJP's margin be? In 2014, the party won the first outright parliamentary majority in India in 30 years, but after mixed economic results and rising concerns about sectarian tensions, the BJP went into this election on shakier ground. We're watching to see if Modi heads into his second 5-year term emboldened with another majority, or if he's forced to cobble together an unwieldy coalition of parties in order to govern.

What We're Ignoring: Cash for Peace and a Southern Switcheroo

The Deal of the Millennium – President Trump has a plan to secure peace between Israel and Palestine. That plan is: buy it. The administration announced over the weekend that it will hold a "economic workshop" in Bahrain in late June to get Gulf and other Arab states to funnel aid to Palestine, in exchange for which the Palestinians are expected to drop their long-held demands for an end to Israeli settlements, the designation of East Jerusalem as their capital, and (some form of) formal statehood. We're skeptical that cold cash will solve one of the most intractable conflicts on earth. Also, it's not a great sign that the Palestinians themselves don't even plan to attend.

Don't Cry for Veep, Argentina – With her country in crisis (yet again), Cristina de Fernández Kirchner, the controversial left-wing populist who ran Argentina between 2007 and 2015, is increasingly well-positioned to return to power in elections later this year. But over the weekend she pulled a surprise move, announcing that she'd be running only as vice president, allowing former aide Alberto Fernández, whose politics are seen as somewhat more moderate than hers, to top the ticket. We get that it's an electoral strategy meant to broaden Kirchner's appeal among centrist voters, but let's be serious: if the ticket wins, only one Fernández will really be running the country – AND SPOILER: IT'S NOT GOING TO BE ALBERTO.