There were a number of developments last week in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean region. The number of demonstrations against a tax raise proposal dropped significantly in Costa Rica. In Panama, students protested against budget cuts to the University of Panama following the approval of the 2021 budget by Congress. Despite a slight decrease in violence against civilians, politicians, activists, and journalists continue to be the victims of targeted attacks and intimidation in Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua. In Haiti, a group of people protested against a presidential decree seen as a ploy to strengthen executive powers. Lastly, in Mexico, clashes between gangs and law enforcement continued to be reported in the state of Tamaulipas.
In Costa Rica, the number of demonstrations against a tax raise proposal dropped significantly after civil society and political party representatives agreed to participate in a government-led dialogue. The roundtable discussions were set in order to find an alternative to the original agreement of a $1.75 billion loan financed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to boost the Costa Rican economy.
Elsewhere, austerity measures to deal with the immediate impact of the coronavirus pandemic continued to trigger demonstrations across Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. In Panama, several protests were reported after Congress approved the 2021 budget. Although the government reported an overall budget increase compared to 2020, students affiliated with the University of Panama protested against a $46 million cut to the university budget. On 29 October, several students were arrested during a demonstration in front of the National Assembly. A journalist was also detained and interrogated by the police on grounds of disturbing public order. Human Rights Watch qualified the arrest as arbitrary (Newsroom Panama, 31 October 2020). According to Reporters Without Borders, in Panama, journalists remain the targets of criminal investigations for their coverage of corruption cases and for voicing criticism against the government (RSF, 2020).
In Mexico, a journalist died in a targeted attack in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, after leaving the facilities of Canal 6 where he worked. In 2020 to date, ACLED has recorded the killing of at least 11 journalists in the country. Press workers are often threatened and targeted for their investigative work into corruption or organized crime activities.
In Honduras, a member of the Garifuna community was killed by unidentified men in La Ceiba. This comes three months after the kidnapping of four Garifuna leaders in Triunfo de la Cruz, which sparked several demonstrations. Members of the Garifuna community have been the targets of attacks since 2009 for their vocal activism against extractive industries and logging companies (The Guardian, 23 July 2020).
In Nicaragua, police attacks targeting representatives of opposition groups to the regime of Daniel Ortega continued. Members of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy – a coalition of human right activists, peasant movements, and organizations promoting democracy – were physically assaulted by police officers as they were driving to a local assembly in Masaya. In Wiwili de Jinotega, police and members of pro-government militias took over the municipality and prevented workers from entering the building. The mayor of the municipality is a representative of the Liberal Party and a known opponent to the Ortega regime. Following the last municipal elections in 2017, municipalities ruled by mayors openly opposing the government have been under increased pressure. The national government has cut funding and resources to these municipalities, in addition to threats and intimidation targeting municipal workers and critics of the government (La Prensa, 23 October 2020).
Meanwhile in Haiti, a group of people protested in Port-au-Prince against a presidential decree allowing President Jovenel Moise to appoint members of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). The council is a recently formed body in charge of organizing and supervising elections. Members of opposition parties have raised concerns about the legitimacy and neutrality of the council (VOA, 16 October 2020). Despite the United States pressing for elections, the president announced that parliamentary elections – originally planned for October 2019 – will be further postponed until after a new constitution is voted upon (Miami Herald, 23 October 2020). Moise has been campaigning for constitutional reform to strengthen executive powers. In January 2020, the parliament was dissolved after it reached the end of its mandate and after the government failed to organize new elections. Moise has been ruling by presidential decree ever since (Caribbean National Weekly, 3 November 2020).
Lastly, in Mexico, clashes between criminal groups and law enforcement continued. In the state of Tamaulipas, ten members of the Tropa del Infierno – the armed splinter group of the Cartel del Noroeste – died in several clashes with the National Guard and military forces. The state of Tamaulipas is home to frequent clashes between gangs and security forces in Mexico. Law enforcement has tried to curb the presence of criminal groups that are fighting over control of the US-Mexico border (Insight Crime, 30 January 2020).
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