Last week in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, political activists and opposition groups continued to be repressed by state forces. In Cuba, government repression continued with a new wave of arrests of members of the San Isidro Movement. In Nicaragua, police arrested and physically assaulted members of the opposition. Meanwhile, gang violence continued across the region. In Mexico, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) clashed with local security providers as it seeks to extend its influence in the state of Michoacan. In Haiti, police operations in several neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince were answered with attacks by the G-9 gang against the police. Insecurity and the increasing number of kidnapping cases continue to trigger demonstrations in the country.
In Cuba, police forces continued to crackdown on activists associated with the San Isidro Movement, arresting at least six activists and artists. The government reneged on an earlier promise for dialogue with the movement, amidst allegations that the activists are funded by the United States (Radio France International, 5 December 2020). The government had initially agreed to a dialogue after nearly 300 people participated in a protest on 27 November against the police crackdown on hunger strikers affiliated with the movement. For more than three weeks, the movement has organized actions and protests against the arrest and sentencing of a rapper and member of the group. The group has demanded the cancellation of Decree 349, which allows the government to control and censure artistic work.
In Nicaragua, attacks perpetrated by the police against members of the opposition were reported. Police officers arrested, tortured, and interrogated a member of the Nicaraguan Farmers’ Movement as they tried to obtain information about other members of the organization. The organization was founded in 2013 and has opposed Ortega’s government. It rejects the government’s plan to expropriate land to give in concession to a Chinese company in exchange for the construction of an infrastructure project (Infobae, 21 June 2020).
Also in Nicaragua, a member of the National Coalition — a political opposition movement formed from the merger of the National Unit Blue and White (UNAB) and the Civic Alliance — was arrested by the police and released after being interrogated and beaten. Different opposition groups have reported acts of intimidation perpetrated by the police and pro-government militias in recent months. Opposition groups have been under mounting pressure as the government seeks to avoid new opposition alliances ahead of the general election scheduled for 7 November 2021 (VOA, 1 October 2020).
In Mexico, violence perpetrated by the CJNG gang escalated in the state of Michoacan, where the criminal group seeks to extend its influence. Last week, there was a significant increase in the number of clashes in the state compared to previous weeks. The clashes resulted in at least 10 fatalities. Members of the CJNG clashed with local self-defense groups in at least six municipalities as the latter tried to prevent the organized crime group from winning territories.
These ‘local self-defense groups’ might be connected to gangs present in the area. Earlier in May, Juan José Álvarez Farías (alias ‘El Abuelo’) — a former leader of a self-defense group, known for his ties with the United Cartels (CU) alliance — called for local self-defense groups to push back CJNG’s offensives (La Jornada, 1 May 2020). The CU was formed from an alliance of criminal groups, such as Los Viagras and La Familia Michoacana, with traditional footing in the state of Michoacan. Their goal is to restrain the territorial expansion of the CJNG that seeks to expand its control of key drug trafficking routes that connect with the Pacific. The state of Michoacan is also a strategic area for the production of synthetic drugs. In addition, avocado production and revenues generated from the extortion of producers is a lucrative source of income coveted by criminal groups (Insight Crime, 11 June 2020).
Lastly in Haiti, law enforcement launched an operation into the Village de Dieu and Grand-Ravine neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince to win back control of these areas from various gangs. The operation followed three simultaneous attacks against two police patrols and a police station in Port-au-Prince, perpetrated by the G9 gang alliance led by the former police officer Jimmy Cherizier. Another clash between the police and the Village de Dieu gang, which is part of the G9 alliance, was reported days after the police operations. In response to the surge in gang violence, the Prime Minister announced that further measures against the G9 gang will be taken. This is the first direct declaration by the government against the operations of the G9 gang. The gang has been accused of collusion with members of the government to increase the ruling elite’s political power in certain areas of Port-au-Prince and to repress government opponents (Washington Post, 3 December 2020).
Against the backdrop of increasing gang violence, demonstrations against the rise in kidnappings and insecurity in the country continued in Haiti last week. Following the kidnapping of a doctor on 28 November, health workers demonstrated in Port-au-Prince, Saint-Marc, Mirebalais, and Hinche. The kidnapping of a taxi driver and his two daughters further sparked outrage among the taxi driver community who demonstrated in Port-au-Prince. 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). In addition, deteriorating socio-economic conditions due to the coronavirus pandemic have further pushed gangs to increasingly rely on kidnapping as a source of revenue (SRM, 6 May 2020).
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