Nicaragua: The Conflict Two Days Away

Just 3 days south of Texas, there is a Latin American country on the verge of Civil War. The little country of Nicaragua is experiencing social unrest and violence throughout the country that some are calling the worst it has been since the civil war 30 years ago.

Currently, 78 people have been killed, over 868 people have been injured five of whom are in critical condition and roughly 438 people, including many students, have fallen victim to government disappearances. On one side is the communist dictator Daniel Ortega and his vice president and wife Rosario Murillo, along with the Sandinistas or Nicaraguan Communists. He has most of the government’s support, as well as a fairly large portion of the poor population. Those opposed to the communist dictator are a large group of people ranging from college students, to poor farmers, to other local municipalities who all feel that Ortega is destroying the constitution. Nearly all the major cities in the country are experiencing mostly peaceful protests.

The protests started on the 18th of April after a proposed social security reform that passed practically overnight. The reform would have increased funding for the program while raising the age for individuals to access social security and decreasing the number of benefits given out to those recipients. As with most protests and civil movements, students and the young were the first to protest the bill. The Sandinistas in turn sent in the police to break up the protest. The unarmed protesters were met with police officers firing live ammunition and Pro-Sandinista groups armed by the police. After the first week nearly 50 people were killed, most of which were student protesters. In addition to the deaths, hundreds were injured and arrested. The overreaction of the government to the protests has morphed a simple protest over social security into a nationwide referendum against the Ortega regime.

Since the beginning of the protests, Ortega has given some concessions to the protesters, including withdrawing the social security reform and releasing some of the people arrested, but to the protesters, it isn’t enough. During the unrest, pro-government groups were looting local businesses and causing destruction while under the protection of the police. This only fueled the protests further and caused more people to come out against the government. There are currently hundreds of thousands of people protesting and the number continues to grow daily.

Nicaragua is a poor country with people willing to do whatever it takes to get food. To some people, their only choice is between supporting the oppressive dictator or starve. Others truly believe that the Ortega’s plan can really work and can give everyone a better life. Not all government officials are acting out. Some government workers are joining in the protest and actually keeping the peace through the chaos. The Nicaraguan military has decided to not become involved on either side.

The situation in Nicaragua is still developing and it is hard to tell which way this conflict will go. Currently, the government is engaged in the second day of talks with the protesters in an attempt to bring peace to the country. The demands by the protester are for the government to release those arrested, fire the officers who injured citizens unjustly, and for the President and Vice-President to step down from office. More information can be found by following the social media hashtag #SOSNicaragua.

Preliminary Iran nuclear deal reached

Preliminary Iran nuclear deal reached

After a night of marathon talks ending at 6 a.m., the preliminary Iran nuclear agreement was finally hashed out. Talks extended past a March 31 deadline and must now reach a final conclusion by the end of June.

“It is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives,” President Obama said. “This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.”

It is supposed to prevent Iran from “cheating” as well. “If Iran cheats,” Obama said, “the world will know it.”

If the deal is followed as it currently stands, Iran will reduce stockpiles of enriched uranium and installed centrifuges, while the West will lift economic sanctions. Iranian enrichment activities will be acceptable in one location only.

However, the limits last only ten to fifteen years, after which time Iran will be able to have as much enriched uranium and as many enriching plants as it wants. In the meantime, the country must keep its uranium levels low enough that it would take a year to acquire enough for a weapon and have inspections to verify cooperation with the deal.

For a full list of the parameters of the deal, click here.

Secretary of State John Kerry warned that sanctions can always be replaced. “And if we find out at any point that Iran is not complying with the agreement, the sanctions can snap back into place,” he said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said there was “mutual mistrust” during the dealings. “Iran-U.S. relations had nothing to do with this. This was an attempt to resolve the nuclear issue…. We have serious differences with the United States,” he said.

However, he seemed to have a different understanding of the number of acceptable enrichment locations. “None of those measures include closing any of our facilities. The proud people of Iran would never accept that,” he said.

Many American and Israeli leaders have grave concerns over the deal. “The President says negotiators have cleared the basic threshold needed to continue talks, but the parameters for a final deal represent an alarming departure from the White House’s initial goals,” Speaker of the House John Boehner said.

“It would be naïve to suggest the Iranian regime will not continue to use its nuclear program, and any economic relief, to further destabilize the region,” Boehner said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker pointed out that “the administration first should seek the input of the American people.”

“If a final agreement is reached, the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure the deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and hold the regime accountable,” Corker said.

“Iran remains the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. Iranian aggression is destabilizing the Middle East. And Iran continues to hold multiple Americans hostage,” said Senator Tom Cotton. “I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to protect America from this very dangerous proposal and to stop a nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.”

“This attempt to spin diplomatic failure as a success is just the latest example of this administration’s farcical approach to Iran. Under this President’s watch, Iran has expanded its influence in the Middle East, sowing instability throughout the region,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a potential presidential candidate and member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees.

“Iran’s support for terrorism has continued unabated without a serious response from the United States,” Rubio added.

The Israeli government called the deal “a poor framework that will lead to a bad and dangerous agreement.”

“If an agreement is reached on the basis of this framework, it will result in a historic mistake that will make the world a far more dangerous place,” Israel announced in a statement. “This framework gives international legitimacy to Iran’s nuclear program that aims only to produce nuclear bombs.”

Israel also warned against celebrating the supposed success too early. “Those celebrating in Lausanne are disconnected from reality, one in which Iran has refused to make concessions on the nuclear issue and continues to threaten Israel and all other countries in the Middle East,” Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said. “Since the statement is far from being a real agreement, we will continue our efforts to explain and convince the world in the hope of preventing a bad agreement, or at least make the necessary amendments and improvements.”

However, Obama remains optimistic about the agreement, encouraging Congress and Americans to give the potentially explosive deal a chance. “This framework would cut off every pathway Iran could take to obtain a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Former Lebanon president warns of “extreme danger” for Middle Eastern Christians, minorities

Former Lebanon president warns of “extreme danger” for Middle Eastern Christians, minorities

At a public lecture at Boston College, former President of Lebanon Amine Gemayel warned of “extreme danger” facing Middle Eastern Christians and other minorities in the region.

“I have never in my life witnessed Middle East Christians in such extreme danger,” Amine Gemayel said. He called 2014 “a year of existential crisis” for Middle Eastern Christians, mentioning “the specter of genocide,” in reference to the brutalities inflicted on minorities by ISIS.

“If present negative trends continue to intensify, we must start thinking about the unthinkable: the extinction of Christianity [in the region, which would] destabilize the region for generations,” Gemayel said.

Gemayel condemned the “inexplicable” lack of response from the U.S., saying “the response by the United States has been a resounding non-response.”

He noted that while airstrikes have been used to defend oil, they have not been used to defend the Christians and Yazidis who were being brutally killed by the Islamic State.

The U.S. not only has “the military means to do more,” he said, but is also in a good position to do so, due to its “strong relationships with regional governments.”

The former Lebanon president encouraged the U.S. to support the Vatican’s idea for “a UN-backed military force, with Muslim participation, to stop religious cleansing in the Middle East,” as well as the establishment of “in-country safe havens” for the persecuted. He urged the U.S. to help Lebanon fight ISIS and support Syrian refugees.

As long term goals, Gemayel advocated having an “Arab Marshall Plan,” which would help the Arab world rebuild and encourage the youth to “embrace democratic ideas as a prelude to the establishment of democratic systems.”

Gemayel also strongly urged Muslim leadership to put muscle behind their sympathy for persecuted Christians and put together “a comprehensive plan of action.”

The talk can be heard in full here, and was cosponsored by Christian Solidarity International and Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, Department of Slavic and Eastern Languages and Literatures, Department of Political Science, and Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life.

Israel cuts electricity to Palestine, which owes nearly $500 million in electrical bills

Israel cuts electricity to Palestine, which owes nearly $500 million in electrical bills

Palestine has refused to pay its electrical bill for years, and has not given any indication that it will do so. The Israel Electric Company (IEC) decided to institute a 45-minute blackout every day until Palestine repays its debt of nearly $500 million.

Two cities in the area of Palestine known as the West Bank, Nablus and Jenin, will lose electricity every day for up to 45 minutes. The IEC plans to continue the blackouts until the Palestinian Authority repays its debt.

Though Palestinian officials have complained that the blackouts are in response to current international tensions, the bills have been accumulating for years and the Palestinian Authority doesn’t seem to have payment plans.

Palestinians are annoyed by this development as they pay Palestine for the electricity, but are still subject to the blackout. Many, like Nablus resident Mahmoud Arafat, question what Palestine does with their payments if the IEC is not being paid.

“I feel like a sucker,” Arafat said. “I pay my electric bills, but still suffered from the blackout.”

Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of ordering the blackout, he states it was a decision made solely by the IEC, which is short on money and can’t afford to continue sending electricity without repayment.

“It was an independent decision that wasn’t done on the orders of the political leadership,” officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Palestine receives hundreds of millions in foreign aid in addition to charging their population for the Israeli-supplied electricity.

ISIS threatens Twitter with “war,” “lions”

ISIS threatens Twitter with “war,” “lions”

After Twitter blocked terrorist accounts, the Islamic State began threatening the social media company.

“Your virtual war on us will cause a real war on you,” they said, using social media site justpaste.it. “We told you from the beginning it’s not your war, but you didn’t get it and kept closing our accounts on Twitter, but we always come back. But when our lions come and take your breath, you will never come back to life.”

The post was written in Arabic and directed at Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter.

“Seems ISIS has illegally used my portrait of @jack,” Kevin Abosch, an Irish photographer, said. “Don’t they know about copyright?”

ISIS continues to exploit online resources to spread its messages of fear, anger, and hatred. The New York Times noted last August:

“ISIS is online jihad 3.0. Dozens of Twitter accounts spread its message, and it has posted some major speeches in seven languages. Its videos borrow from Madison Avenue and Hollywood, from combat video games and cable television dramas, and its sensational dispatches are echoed and amplified on social media. When its accounts are blocked, new ones appear immediately. It also uses services like JustPaste to publish battle summaries, SoundCloud to release audio reports, Instagram to share images and WhatsApp to spread graphics and videos.”

“[ISIS is] very adept at targeting a young audience,” said John G. Horgan, a University of Massachusetts psychologist.

Twitter and other social media sites, including YouTube, have been removing accounts and videos dedicated to promoting ISIS’ terrorism. Some employees have received threats of attack and even assassination in response, including Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo.

“It’s against our terms of service,” Costolo said. “It’s against the law in many of the countries in which we operate for them to use it to promote their organization. When they do, we find those accounts and we shut them down, and we shut them down quite actively.”

“After regularly suspending their accounts . . . some folks affiliated with the organization used Twitter to declare that the employees of Twitter and the management of Twitter should be assassinated,” Costolo said. “That’s a jarring thing for anyone to have to deal with.”

Though nothing has come of the threats so far, Twitter takes security seriously. “Our security team is investigating the veracity of these threats with relevant law enforcement officials,” said Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser.