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Nicaragua tries to hold the line against Cuban emigrants trekking to the U.S.

Nicaraguan soldiers guard the border at Peñas Blancas

This story first appeared in Fusion. PEÑAS BLANCAS, Costa Rica—Nicaragua’s southern border has become an unusually crowded place in recent days. Thousands of road-weary Cubans of all ages congregate under malinche trees, compete for the limited shade of awnings, and hang their hand-washed clothes on the fence to catch some afternoon sunrays before the evening brings another tropical downpour that turns everything to soup. It looks like a refugee tent city, only without the tents. And similar to its namesake, it’s a place Cubans aren’t allowed to leave. Continue Reading →

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Will US property claims office in Nicaragua be a model for Cuba?

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The stars and stripes are once again fluttering brightly in front of the U.S. embassy in Havana. But in the darker recesses of the building, the chore of mapping a route towards a full normalization of relations is just getting started. https://instagram.com/p/6XkLN-kpNv/

Obstructing the path forward is the monstrous 55-year-old U.S. trade embargo. Though presidents Obama and Castro have made great strides to reestablish diplomatic relations over the past 10 months, taking things to the next level means dealing with the elephant in the room: a nearly $7 billion pile of unresolved U.S. property claims.

This is where things get tricky. The Cuban government’s expropriation of U.S. properties in the 1960s was the original raison d’être for the embargo, whose function was later expanded to include loftier considerations for democracy and human rights. Continue Reading →

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Are narco cows a thing in Central America

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Central American authorities are spending more time than usual eyeballing the backsides of bovine this week, following a Honduran media report that claims drug cartels are using cattle to hoof drugs north to Mexico. A recent article published in the Honduran daily La Tribuna reports —with rather curious precision— that each narco cow can carry between 88-132 pounds of carefully packaged cocaine in its intestines. The cattle are reportedly purchased in Nicaragua, back-loaded with drug packets somewhere along the early stages of the route, then lumber northward — presumably with a slight hemorrhoidal limp—followed by their stinky-handed minders. It’s a dirty job, but it’s a résumé-builder for those on a certain career path. La Tribuna’s article is admittedly weakly sourced. Continue Reading →

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How a bucket of fried chicken can help prevent a gang war in El Salvador

A little Pollo Campero can go a long way to bringing peace to El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — A greasy 12-piece combo of fried chicken isn’t always the smartest menu choice. But in this case, the double Promoción Súper Campero was all about preserving my health. I was cabbing across San Salvador cradling two soggy-bottom boxes of chicken parts to make a prandial offering to the leaders of the Pandilla 18, one of El Salvador’s two main gangs. I was told not to come empty-handed. “We always start every round of peace talks by eating Pollo Campero,” Salvadoran gang whisperer Raul Mijango told me after arranging the interview. Continue Reading →

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Nicaragua’s plans to buy Russian fighter jets is ruffling feathers in the region

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Nicaragua’s sudden interest in purchasing a squadron of MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia could trigger a pointless arms race between one of the smallest and one of the largest militaries in Latin America. Nicaragua says it wants combat jets to fight the war on drugs. But that argument has failed to convince anyone. Instead, skeptics wonder if Nicaragua’s efforts to purchase military aircraft isn’t somehow tied to its canal plans, or — more likely yet— an effort to assert a stronger military presence in disputed Caribbean waters bordering Colombia. Though Nicaragua has legal claim to Caribbean waters out to 200 miles off its eastern shore, Colombia has all the naval muscle in the area — a fleet of 232 ships, including submarines and battleships. Continue Reading →

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Campesinos threaten school boycott in protest over canal

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Nicaraguan farmers are threatening to pull their kids from school if the government doesn’t halt plans to build a $50 billion Chinese canal through their communities. Anti-canal activists in several dozen farming communities along the canal route are circulating petitions asking parents to boycott the 2015 school year, which starts next Monday. Community leaders in San Miguelito claim soldiers have been using rural schoolhouses during students’ summer recess as makeshift barracks to militarize the countryside and quell anti-canal protests. Though the army has recently withdrawn from the area, residents fear the soldiers could return at any moment and occupy the schools again. And parents don’t want their kids around when that happens. Continue Reading →

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Watch Nicaraguan student challenge Sandinista canal rep in Spain

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Nicaraguan canal spokesman Telemaco Talavera seems to have inadvertently admitted that the Sandinista government doesn’t know the exact route of a $50 billion canal that will bisect Nicaragua. During a confrontation with a Nicaraguan student studying abroad in Madrid, Talavera refuted her claim that 60,000 campesinos will be affected by the canal, saying “That means someone has the route more clearly defined than we do.” Nicaraguan university student Alejandra Espinoza today challenged Talavera about the “enormous concerns” in Nicaragua over unanswered questions about the “social, political, economic and environmental affects” of the $50 billion Chinese canal planned in Nicaragua. In doing so, she presented Talavera with a bundle of papers that she said contained “more than 60,000 signatures of people who will be affected” by the canal. The stack of papers also included copies of the 32 constitutional challenges filed on behalf of 182 Nicaraguans opposed to the canal project. Continue Reading →

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In Nicaragua, can Chinese move the canal, avoid Rio San Juan, and still play golf?

The Sandinista's canal spokesman says the route is being moved south, but how far south will it go?

Adding a wrinkle of confusion to a mystery shrouded in doubt, a spokesman for the Chinese canal in Nicaragua announced that the route has been redrawn to circumvent a farming community that has been energetically protesting the $50 billion project for months. Nicaraguan canal spokesman Telemaco Talavera announced last weekend that the canal route has been pushed south to sidestep the community of El Tule and the protected San Miguelito wetlands on the eastern shore of Lake Nicaragua. The decision, Talavera said, was made to avoid environmental and social problems associated with the original route. We’ll have to take his word for it, since the original canal route and environmental impact studies were never made public. But instead of assuaging Nicaraguans’ concerns about the megaproject, the offhand nature of the announcement has only heightened fears that Sandinista officials aren’t giving appropriate seriousness of purpose to the so-called “biggest infrastructure project in the history of humanity.”

“Together with all the other anomalies related to this megaproject, now we have this erratic type of communication about the canal,” said Nicaraguan environmental lawyer Monica López Baltodano, who has been active in coordinating many of the 18 protest marches against the canal over the past six months. Continue Reading →

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Wang Jing: there’s ‘no turning back’ on Nicaragua canal

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For a project that’s being billed as the “biggest infrastructure project in the history of humanity,” Monday’s groundbreaking of the great Chinese canal in Nicaragua was a pretty hum-drum affair. First of all, it wasn’t really a canal groundbreaking — just the start of construction on a lonely access road. But mostly, it was an opportunity for Sandinista politicians and Chinese canal planners to put on hardhats and pose next to a dump truck, which is something they promised to do before Christmas. The only real excitement of the day was provided by anti-canal protesters who blocked highways and burned tires in Rivas and Nueva Guinea. The Sandinistas tried to manufacture some excitement of their own by sending identically dressed loyalists into the streets of Managua to wave flags and repeat the first lady’s talking points about God blessing the canal (#DiosBendigaElCanal). Continue Reading →

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