Last week, gang violence continued in several countries in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. In Haiti, violence against civilians rose as gangs continue to rely on kidnapping and ransoms as a source of revenue. In Mexico, clashes between criminal groups in the state of Zacatecas and Tamaulipas were deadly, as gangs continue to fight for control of key drug-trafficking routes. Elsewhere in Mexico, a union of transportation workers called a nationwide protest against insecurity, rising gasoline prices, and police abuse of power. Finally, in Cuba, activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) continue to be the targets of political arrests and ‘acts of repudiation’ amid growing political contestation.
In Haiti, kidnapping perpetrated by criminal groups1For more on ACLED’s methodology, see Gang Violence: Concepts, Benchmarks and Coding Rules. for ransom continued to increase last week. In Port-au-Prince, armed men attempted to kidnap a doctor and killed him after he resisted the abduction. This event, along with other cases of kidnappings and soaring insecurity in the country, sparked demonstrations in the capital. According to the Human Rights Analysis and Research Center (CARDH), the number of kidnappings in Haiti in the first two months of 2021 have doubled compared to January and February 2020 (Haitian Times, 5 March 2021). Similarly, ACLED records at least 21 events of violence against civilians thus far in 2021, which represents a 40% increase compared to the number of events recorded in January and February last year. According to civil society organizations, gangs have multiplied kidnappings and requests for ransom as a source of revenue (Le Nouvelliste, 7 October 2020). They have been acting in relative impunity and enjoying the support of the government. The ruling political elites rely on gangs to repress opposition groups and to increase their political power (InSight Crime, 28 January 2021) as President Jovenel Moise’s popularity continues to drop (Haiti Libre, 15 February 2021).
Meanwhile, in Mexico, gang violence intensified in the state of Zacatecas and Tamaulipas, where clashes between cartels caused numerous fatalities. In two municipalities of Zacatecas, members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) clashed with the Sinaloa Cartel and members of its armed wing named Los Cabreras, (Infobae, 28 October 2020), resulting in at least 11 fatalities. The state of Zacatecas has become a strategic area for the trafficking of fentanyl to the United States. The state is crossed with the main highways connecting the US border to the port of Colima — where the chemical precursors necessary for the production of fentanyl come in from Asia. In addition, the state of Zacatecas has limited law enforcement capacity, making the state a prolific area for drug traffickers (Infobae, 3 March 2020). The CJNG has been seeking to challenge the Sinaloa Cartel which has been leading the fentanyl trade (The Guardian, 20 December 2020). According to recent reports by the US Government, the CJNG share of drug trafficking increased in 2020, reducing the influence of Sinaloa Cartel (Milenio, 7 March 2021). (For more on cartel activity in Mexico and the scaling up of the CJNG operations, see this CDT spotlight on Mexican Cartels.)
Similarly, in the state of Tamaulipas, the number of gang-related clashes increased as the Cartel del Noroeste and the Gulf Cartel continue to fight for control of the US-Mexico border. In addition, internal factions of the Gulf Cartel, Los Escopiones, and Los Metros continue to fight to gain territories in the state, and over leadership of the Gulf Cartel. In the municipality of Reynosa, known to be the stronghold of the Los Metros, at least six men were killed in a clash between the two splinter groups (La Verdad, 13 April 2020).
Elsewhere in Mexico, bus and truck drivers protested last week against the rising prices of gasoline and police abuse of power against drivers. The Mexican Alliance of Transport Organizations (AMOTAC), an organization that brings together different transportation workers’ unions, called a nationwide protest following a 5.6% increase in diesel prices in 2021 (El Financiero, 5 February 2021). Prices have risen following the resumption of economic activities and a boost in oil demand as coronavirus measures have been progressively lifted (Infobae, 19 February 2021). Drivers also protested against insecurity, high toll rates, and abuses of power perpetrated by the police. The participants denounced extortion and killings perpetrated by gangs through their transit route, as well as the corruption of police officers who have been allegedly charging excessive traffic fines (El Universal, 2 March 2021). Protests were recorded in 23 of the 33 Mexican states last week.
In Cuba, police forces and government supporters continue to harass members of the UNPACU, an organization that advocates for freedom and supports vulnerable communities through the distribution of basic goods. Following the release of a song criticizing the Cuban government (Cubanet, 5 March 2021), a so-called ‘act of repudiation’ was conducted by supporters of the state outside of the house of an UNPACU activist. Acts of repudiation consist of state-led public humiliation or violence towards regime critics (Amnesty International, 17 September 2015). The supporters painted a facade of the activist’s house and chanted pro-government slogans, after the activist symbolically held a banner with the title of the anti-government song “Homeland and Life” outside her house. While the song has been criticized by political leaders, the title of the song has become a contestation slogan used by activists and protesters. Last week alone, a group of people chanted “Homeland and Life” while protesting against the fining of a street vendor in Caibarien. Days later on 3 March, one of the coordinators of the UNPACU was beaten and detained by police officers as he was on his way to attend the trial of an activist. In 2021, ACLED records at least eight police attacks against civilians in Cuba, three of them targeting members of the UNPACU.
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