Last week in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, the number of demonstration events remained high. Anti-government demonstrations were reported in Guatemala, Haiti, and Costa Rica. In Guatemala, the approval of the 2021 budget amid suspicions of corruption led to discontent. In Haiti, the impunity of gangs and resulting insecurity continued to drive mobilization. In Costa Rica, the possible resumption of negotiations over a loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) triggered demonstrations. Meanwhile, in Mexico and Cuba, journalists and social activists were the victims of targeted attacks. In Mexico, local communities continue to be affected by territorial disputes between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the United Cartel (CU) in the state of Michoacan.
In Guatemala, the approval of the controversial 2021 national budget by the Congress sparked unrest. Although the 2021 budget sets provisions for a 25% increase in public spending compared to 2020, demonstrators denounced the underfunding of key sectors such as health and education. The budget was further described as centered around large infrastructure projects, which would in turn benefit larger companies (BBC, 23 November 2020). Additional provisions, such as the rise of parliamentarians’ meal allowances, sparked outrage amidst corruption allegations against state officials, including President Alejandro Giammattei. On 21 November, demonstrators set the Congress building on fire, calling for the resignation of the president and the withdrawal of the bill (El Pais, 22 November 2020). Similar violent incidents targeting public buildings and clashes with law enforcement were reported in Huehuetenango and Quetzaltenango. On 23 November, the congress announced the suspension of the budget in an effort to quell the unrest (El Pais, 23 November 2020).
Meanwhile in Haiti, insecurity and the proliferation of gangs triggered anti-government demonstrations. Kidnapping and attacks targeting civilians continue to be recorded weekly. Demonstrators put up barricades and road blocks throughout the country as they demanded the resignation of the president. In Port-au-Prince, the police opened fire and dispersed the crowd, resulting in the death of a demonstrator. In Cap-Haitien and Les Cayes, the opposition political parties Haiti in Action and Platform Pitit Dessalines (PPD) accused political representatives of collusion with criminal groups. The PPD called for President Jovenel Moise to step down within a week and threatened to organize additional demonstrations. Throughout November, ACLED has recorded an increasing number of anti-government demonstrations following the brutal kidnapping, rape, and murder of a girl by gang members. According to civil society organizations, gangs have multiplied kidnappings and requests for ransom after the government stopped funnelling payments to organized criminal groups (Le Nouvelliste, 7 October 2020). The president of Haiti had been accused of supporting gang members to repress opposition groups and increase its political power ahead of elections that continue to be postponed.
In Costa Rica, negotiations between the government and the IMF sparked a new wave of demonstrations. In October, the country was paralyzed by nationwide roadblocks in response to a tax raise proposal which stemmed from a potential $1.75 billion loan from the IMF (CR Hoy, 5 October 2020). Demonstrators agreed to suspend their demonstrations after President Carlos Alvarado announced the withdrawal of the initial proposal. He subsequently invited civil society and political party representatives to a roundtable to discuss alternatives to the original agreement in order to boost the Costa Rican economy. With the discussions coming to an end last week, the National Rescue Movement — a movement that emerged during the coronavirus pandemic from a coalition of labor unions, small businesses, and landowners — called for the resumption of demonstrations. Demonstrators have denounced the lack of inclusiveness in the consultation process and the lack of structural reforms in the agreement reached during the roundtable. They fear that the government is planning to go ahead with its plan to sign a deal with the IMF (Nodal, 17 November 2020). Despite demonstrations being reported in five of the seven provinces across the country, the number of events remains significantly lower compared to the number recorded in October.
In Mexico and Cuba, attacks targeting journalists and activists continued last week. In the state of Veracruz, Mexico, on 18 November, armed men tried to kill a journalist specializing in the coverage of police news in Poza Rica. Two days later, they opened fire on the facilities of the newspaper Presente in Poza Rica. In another incident in the state of Sinaloa, a reporter for the newspaper Noroeste was kidnapped by armed men, which prompted press workers to demonstrate and ask for the release of their colleague. The journalist was released days later. In 2020, to date, ACLED records the killing of at least 14 journalists in the country. Press workers are often threatened and targeted for their investigative work into corruption or organized crime activities.
Meanwhile, in Cuba, a man attacked members of the San Isidro Movement — a collective of activists promoting freedom of expression — during a hunger strike. The San Isidro Movement was protesting against the arrest and sentencing of a rapper and member of the group. According to witnesses, the police observed the attack without intervening, suggesting the potential complicity of state forces in the attack. Amnesty International denounced the violation of the activists’ human rights and the intimidation of artists and other members of the collective by the Cuban law enforcement. (Amnesty International, 20 November 2020). In 2020, Cuba ranks as one of the least free countries on the World Press Freedom Index (RSF, 2020).
In addition to protest activity and attacks against civilians, territorial disputes between cartels continued last week in the state of Michoacan, Mexico. Communities in the Aguilililla, Buenavista and Tecalcatepec municipalities were besieged by members of the CJNG, who burned houses and set narco roadblocks with burning vehicles. The violence is thought to be part of a CJNG incursion to win territories controlled by the CU. The CU — an alliance of cartels and organized crime group cells originally formed to fight the CJNG (Infobae, 27 July 2020) — retaliated with significant roadblocks to prevent the further advancement of its rival. The state of Michoacan has been highly disputed by organized crime groups for its strategic position on drug trafficking routes (Insight Crime, 11 June 2020).
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