Under Chavez's shadow, Ortega and Maduro in a 2013 file photo
Benjamin Witte

Just hours before outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama's emotional farewell address in Chicago, another head of state was taking center stage down in steamy Central America to let just the opposite be known: He's still very much here, with no plans to leave power anytime soon.

Daniel Ortega, the long-serving leader of Nicaragua, first came to power through a 1979 revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed Somoza family dictatorship. He headed the country's junta government (1979-1985) before serving as president until 1990. Two more terms followed, starting in 2007, and on Tuesday, Ortega was sworn in for yet another five-year period, the Nicaraguan daily El Nuevo Diario reported.

"The businessmen and a segment of the country were scared of our return because of the seizures, the war, the chaos, but we have shown that it's not like that," he declared.

Joining Ortega in the ceremony was his wife and now vice-president, Rosario Murillo, who has served for years as an unofficial co-captain in the regime. So, for the first time, Murillo has a healthy dose of formal power to go along with the considerable de facto authority she'd already wielded. As vice-president, she is first in the line of succession should health or other unforeseen circumstances prevent Ortega, 71, from serving out his term.

Notable among those present at the swearing-in event was fellow Latin American leftist diehard Nicolás Maduro, the embattled president of Venezuela and an important economic and political ally of the Ortega regime. Maduro, the hand-picked successor of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, was elected to a six-year term starting in 2013, but is now fighting for his political survival. On Monday, opposition lawmakers approved a measure declaring that Maduro "abandoned his post" and demanding that early elections be held to replace him.

Before boarding a plane Tuesday on his way to Nicaragua, Maduro fired back at his critics, accusing opposition legislators of trying to provoke a coup. "As president, I call on the authorities of state not to ignore these violations of the constitution and disrespect for the rule of law," Venezuela's El Universal reported him as saying.

Maduro's delicate hold on the presidency contrasts with the vice-like grip that Ortega and Murillo have on Nicaragua. The ruling couple begins their new term having amassed an extraordinary amount of power against a divided and outmaneuvered opposition that is now virtually nonexistent. Ortega's party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), has a commanding majority in the legislature; controls nearly all of the country's municipalities; and holds sway over the military and police. It also has a demonstrated influence over the Supreme Court and Supreme Electoral Council, or CSE. The two bodies played a key role in helping Ortega bypass term-limit rules that were supposed to have prevented him from staying on as president beyond January 2012.

Against a field of largely unknown and hastily organized challengers, the Ortega-Murillo ticket, as expected, won the Nov. 6 election easily, with 71.5% of the vote, according to the CSE. Opponents refuse to recognize the results, calling the elections "farcical" and fraudulent.

"This time they carried out the perfect fraud," political analyst José Antonio Peraza told the Managua-based news magazine Envío. "There was no competition because there was no opposition. There were no monitors, so no complaints. There were no visible disruptions on Election Day, no incidents in the voting booths... Everything was perfect."

Critics can complain about Ortega all they want, but for now at least, they're powerless to stop him. And yet the Nicaraguan strongman may have some troubles in store, including those linked to their pals down in Venezuela. The oil-rich nation has reportedly pumped billions of dollars into Nicaragua since Ortega returned to power in 2007, which means Maduro's current woes may soon also be a burden that Ortega will have to bear.

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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