🌍 Nicaragua frees hundreds of political prisoners
Plus: Tunisia defrosts relations with Syria
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Today’s edition is a 4.4 min read:
- 🇳🇮 Nicaragua frees hundreds of political prisoners.
- 🇹🇳 Tunisia defrosts relations with Syria.
- ➕ Plus: Moldova’s pro-West government collapses, how the papers are covering the Russian Foreign Minister’s Sudan visit, and some intriguing news to kick off your week.
– VC & EP
🗺️ AROUND THE WORLD
- 🇮🇷 Iran: President Ebrahim Raisi will visit Beijing this week at the invitation of President Xi, whose December summit with some of Iran’s regional rivals irritated Tehran.
- 🇪🇸 Spain: Protests hit Europe over the weekend, with 250,000 people pouring into Madrid’s streets to protest the management of the city’s health services, and a million rallying across France to oppose President Macron’s mooted pension reforms.
- 🇸🇬 Singapore: Singapore is officially going mask-free, having now dropped all Covid prevention requirements. The policy shift follows several others in the region that have moved to lower travel barriers and boost tourism revenues.
- 🇧🇷 Brazil: Two Iranian warships scheduled to arrive in Rio this month will no longer be allowed to dock. President Lula, who has pursued an independent foreign policy, decided to ‘dock-block’ before his visit to the White House on Friday (10 February).
- 🇿🇦 South Africa: President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a “state of disaster” on Thursday (9 February) due to an unprecedented electricity shortage. The emergency declaration caps a tumultuous month, including the poisoning of the state energy company’s CEO.
🇳🇮 NICARAGUA | DEMOCRACY
Nicaragua exiles 200 political prisoners to the US
Briefly: In a surprise move, Nicaragua released more than 200 political prisoners on Thursday (9 February), including five presidential contenders jailed ahead of Nicaragua’s 2021 elections. Nicaraguan authorities immediately exiled them all to the US as “traitors”.
President Daniel Ortega has been shaping Nicaragua in his own image since the Cold War. Enduring years of torture and exile for robbing a bank to fund the Sandinista revolution in the 1960s, he emerged as a Sandinista leader and was eventually elected president for one rocky term in the 1980s. He then won power again in 2006, and he’s clung to it ever since.
Ortega 2.0 initially championed business-friendly policies and popular social programs, using billions in cash from oil-rich comrades in Venezuela. The economy grew, poverty fell and Ortega was popular.
But he also increasingly co-opted institutions to cling to power. And when Venezuela’s economy collapsed and its aid to Nicaragua dried up, Ortega moved to trim pensions. The resulting 2018 protests rocked the poor nation, and Ortega responded with violence and oppression.
Intrigue’s take: Like many before him, Ortega has become the very thing he once opposed: an autocrat. But now that China is growing its presence there, the US likely sees the need to deal with Nicaragua as it really is, rather than as it ought to be. So Ortega’s prisoner release is more a step towards stable relations with the US, rather than a step towards democracy.
Also worth noting:
- In an almost Pyongyang performance, Ortega ‘won’ some 75% of the vote in 2021 after jailing his opponents.
- Human rights groups say more than 300 Nicaraguan protestors have died since 2018.
📰 GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES
How different newspapers covered: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s trip to Sudan.
Links: Al Jazeera, TASS, MEE.
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🇹🇳 TUNISIA | FOREIGN POLICY
Tunisia announces a warming of diplomatic ties with Syria
Briefly: Embattled Tunisian President Kais Saied has announced the country will strengthen its diplomatic ties with Syria, the latest sign a full reconciliation between the two countries is on its way. Tunisia severed all diplomatic ties with Syria in 2012 following the Assad regime’s deadly crackdown on a popular uprising.
Some commentators believe last week’s devastating earthquake, which has killed more than 34,000 people across Turkey and Syria, presented Syrian President Assad a window of opportunity to re-engage with the international community.
Intrigue’s take: It seems Assad is (very) slowly making his way back into the regional fold. Just last month, Turkish President Erdoğan suggested he’d be open to sitting down with his Syrian counterpart, despite the two backing opposing sides in Syria’s ongoing civil conflict. We’re not expecting Assad to be invited to any multilateral banquets, but the geopolitical balance in the Levant does seem to be edging back in Assad’s favour.
Also worth noting:
- Tunisia is among the few countries that have sent aid to the Syrian government.
- The US treasury has issued a six-month sanction exemption for aid transactions to Syria aimed at disaster relief in view of last week’s earthquake.
🗺️ COUNTRY PROFILE OF THE DAY
Moldova and the breakaway region on its eastern border…
On Friday (10 January), the pro-Western government of Moldova collapsed and its prime minister, Natalia Gavrilita, announced she would resign ahead of a no-confidence vote. The outgoing government has accused Russia of exploiting Moldova’s reliance on Russian oil to undermine its stability.
Russia has been meddling in Moldovan affairs for decades. In fact, the breakaway region of Transnistria has hosted Russian troops since 1992, when Russia’s army aided the war of secession against Moldova. Transnistria, a majority Russian-speaking area that borders Ukraine (but not Russia), actually asked to join Russia in 2014, a request Moscow declined.
And long-simmering tensions are building: on Friday (10 February), shortly after Gavrilita’s announced resignation, Moldova said it spotted a Russian missile flying through its airspace.
👀 EXTRA INTRIGUE
A collection of intriguing news to get your week rolling in the right direction.
- The British Navy launched an investigation into a nuclear submarine repaired with… glue.
- Chinese police are training squirrels to carry out drug detection work.
- A bird charity was locked out of its Twitter account after posting about woodcocks.
- The Indian government is encouraging its citizens to celebrate ‘Cow Hug Day’ on St Valentines Day, to promote traditional Hindu values.
🗳️ POLL TIME!
Do you think the US offered Nicaragua something in exchange for the freeing of political prisoners?
Friday’s poll: Are you in favour of banning PFAS forever chemicals?
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🚫 Yes, the health and environmental risks are too high. (49%)
🟨🟨🟨🟨🟨⬜️ 🤔 Limitations yes, blanket bans no. (46%)
⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ⚙️ No, they’re too important to go without. (5%)
Your two cents:
- 🚫 J.B: “Constraint frequently breeds innovation whereas self-regulation almost universally fails.”
- 🤔 C.F: “The ban will jeopardise EU competitiveness and the ability to stay on top of the new technological trend and developments. Which subsequently will negatively affect Europeans’ welfare”.