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From Ukraine to Nicaragua, another tough week
It’s been another tough week. To get the self-promotion out of the way, I’ll be on NPR’s 1A at 11 a.m. today for the international news roundup to discuss Ukraine, Russia, and other developments in Asia and Latin America.
The news out of Ukraine grows more heartbreaking. Civilians are suffering and dying. Russia is striking schools and hospitals. Based on Russia’s track record in Syria, those strikes are likely intentional and designed to terrorize and break the will of the Ukrainian resistance.
Ukrainians continue to plead for intervention, particularly a no fly zone. I am regularly receiving questions from friends and having conversations about the implications of such intervention.
The arguments in favor are clear. There is no moral ambiguity here. It’s not a civil war between violent tribes each with blood on their hands. It’s an invasion of a sovereign democracy that has sought deeper ties to Europe and the west by an autocrat bent on rebuilding a sphere of influence and spreading a white, Christian nationalist ideology.
It’s a no-brainer for the west to stand with Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. And the United States Air Force could end it all in a matter of hours. Send in some A-10s, F-16s, and a few F-35s to get them some more combat hours, and the Russian convoy and military hardware would be dust.
It’s the same reason that United States didn’t send troops into Afghanistan in the 1980s and instead laundered all of its military support for the Mujahideen through Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Putin has nukes. He’s made subtle and not-so-subtle threats to use them if NATO or the United States comes to Ukraine’s rescue. Putin’s “escalate to de-escalate” tactic is well researched and documented. The problem still remains, how to respond?
So far, Putin’s threat has been enough to keep NATO and the United States from doing anything more than sending in small/smaller arms and humanitarian aid. Polish efforts to send fighter jets into Ukraine have been stifled by fears it could escalate the conflict.
Some argue Putin is bluffing and would not go nuclear, even if NATO implemented a no-fly zone. However, many experts believed Putin was too rational to invade in the first place because doing so would strengthen NATO and Europe and weaken Russia—exactly the opposite of what he sought.
Putin proved those experts wrong and went ahead with his invasion. So, counting on him to be rational and stop short of using nukes at this point is a dangerous gamble. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who assassinates adversaries, has (and probably has used) chemical weapons, indiscriminately bombs civilians, wages cyberattacks, and has staked his entire reputation and leadership on a war against Ukraine that has not gone as well as he anticipated.
Thus, it’s conceivable if backed further into a corner, Putin could lash out with a nuclear attack. Hence, we are all feeling anguish watching this play out knowing that NATO and the U.S. military could easily stop it, but at what cost?
Now, turning to another frustrating and depressing situation: Nicaragua.
Given everything else in the world in recent months, Nicaragua has not been on most people’s radar, but it is on mine for personal reasons.
Last week, Nicaragua sentenced Juan Sebastián Chamorro and Félix Maradiaga to 13 years in prison for “conspiracy to undermine national integrity.” It’s one of those BS charges that tin-pot dictators like Daniel Ortega use to eliminate their opposition.
I’ve known Felix since 2005. We were grad school classmates. We were in several classes together and socialized frequently. He was a standout in the class—bright, thoughtful, gregarious, and devoted to making Nicaragua and the world better.
In early 2007 I spent a couple of days with him in Nicaragua. Ortega had just returned to power and Felix had been ousted from his position as Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense under the previous regime. Felix was crushed that Ortega had weaseled his way back into power, but optimistic that the opposition would rally and vote him out in the next election.
Unfortunately, what transpired was years of Ortega tightening his grip on power. He completed the oft-seen journey from Marxist to fascist.
Felix endured periods of imprisonment, torture, and exile. Through it, he continued to fight for democracy.
Last year, as Ortega was laying the groundwork for his scam reelection, he rounded up opposition figures including Felix.
I worked with classmates to raise money for Felix’s defense and to pressure U.S. officials to take action against Nicaragua. Felix’s wife Berta carried out a heroic campaign to advocate for Felix’s release.
Ortega “won” reelection in November, which raised hopes that he would release the political prisoners in the following months. Instead, he held sham trials.
Given everything else going on in the world, and given how insignificant Nicaragua is, it is unlikely that the United States or international community will spend much political capital on Felix and the other political prisoners in Nicaragua.
In the meantime, please add Nicaraguan goods to your boycott list, and vacation in Costa Rica instead of its neighbor.
Speaking of Latin America, later today paid subscribers will receive a deleted chapter from my (eventually) forthcoming book, Passports Stamps: Searching the World for a War to Call Home. The chapter recounts my reporting trip to Colombia in 2008 when I had ambitions of covering guerrilla violence in the jungles and earning journalism merit badges for brave and dangerous reporting. It didn’t quite play out that way.
Subscribe and read the tale!