Last week in South America, demonstrations decreased by 10% compared to the previous week. Nevertheless, demonstrations related to the coronavirus pandemic were reported in several countries, including in Argentina, Paraguay, and Venezuela. In Argentina, citizens took to the streets against the vaccination of authorities close to the government, while citizens protested in Paraguay against the government and its handling of the pandemic. Health workers protested in Venezuela against the collapse of the health system. In Colombia, state forces clashed with armed groups in several departments, resulting in at least 10 fatalities. In Brazil, several armed clashes that affected civilian life took place in the cities of Manaus and Rio de Janeiro. Meanwhile, truck drivers and other labor groups in the country demand the decrease of the price of fuel.
On 27 February, nationwide demonstrations took place in Argentina amid a coronavirus vaccination scandal. The demonstrations, called by the center-right political coalition Together for Change (JxC), were against the recent incident known as “VIP Vaccination” (Vacunación VIP, in Spanish). Authorities and personalities close to the government of Alberto Fernández received the vaccine without meeting the required protocols applied for the population (Pagina 12, 27 February 2021). Protests were reported in at least 18 cities, with the support of several parties and of former President Mauricio Macri. Additionally, in Formosa city, hundreds of residents gathered to complain against the return of mandatory social isolation due to the increase in coronavirus cases in the city (5 March 2021, Tiempo Sur). Clashes were reported between demonstrators and the police, who used tear gas and rubber bullets. 93 people were detained and at least 12 police officers were injured during the clash (5 March 2021, Tiempo Sur).
Meanwhile, on 5 March, a massive demonstration took place in Asunción city, Paraguay, near the National Assembly (ABC Color, 5 March 2021). Citizens called for the resignation of government authorities, including President Mario Abdo Benítez, claiming they were working against the interest of the Paraguayan people. They also demonstrated against the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to the collapse of hospitals due to lack of supplies and medicines. Clashes were reported between police and the demonstrators. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets, and many people were reportedly injured (ABC Color, 5 March 2021).
In Venezuela, health workers took to the streets in several states to demand better working conditions and the provision of protective gear against the coronavirus. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the health system in Venezuela was already at the brink of collapse (HRW, 4 April 2019). Hospitals in the country work with limited equipment and human resources amid power cuts and water shortages (HRW, 12 March 2020).
In Ecuador, demonstrations continue to take place after the results of the first round of the presidential elections. Farmers, indigenous people, and supporters of the left-wing Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement – New Country (MUPP-18) party demonstrated by blocking streets and burning tires in several cities. They demand the approval of the vote recount in different provinces by the National Electoral Council. Yaku Pérez, the Pachakutik candidate, claims the second runner-up won by only a small margin, which indicates electoral fraud (France24, 21 February 2021; Cronica, 27 February 2021). The second round of the Ecuadorian presidential elections will take place on 11 April.
In Colombia, state forces carried out several operations against armed groups, with clashes happening in at least three departments. In Calamar municipality, Guaviare, military forces bombed and subsequently raided a camp of the Gentil Duarte dissident faction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). At least 10 FARC dissident fighters were killed and three were arrested (La FM, 3 March 2021). Additionally, Gulf Clan members engaged in a shoot-out with members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) in the departments of Chocó, Norte de Santander, and Antioquia. The civilian population continues to be affected by the clashes. In Murindó, Antioquia, at least 168 Embera indigenous people sought shelter after Gulf Clan members and ELN clashes were reported on indigenous reserve land (El Espectador, 3 March 2021).
In Brazil, armed clashes decreased by 13% compared to the previous week. The cities of Manaus and Rio de Janeiro continue to be affected by armed clashes and attacks perpetrated by drug trafficking groups and police militias. In Manaus city, territorial disputes between drug trafficking groups led to at least six deaths last week. Police have been concerned with the rise in violence levels, as 12 killings were reported in a single neighborhood, Jorge Teixeira, over the month of February (A Critica, 27 February 2021). Manaus, located in the center of the world’s largest rainforest, has been the battleground of a prolonged territorial dispute between several drug trafficking groups (Insight Crime, 25 February 2020).
In Rio de Janeiro city, on two different days, the light rail vehicle (VLT) transport was interrupted due to shoot-outs. One shoot-out happened in the central zone of the city after suspects attacked the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) of the military police officers in Providência community (R7, 1 March 2021). In the north zone of the city, in Vigario Geral neighborhood, armed suspects placed wooden objects on the tracks of the VLT and demanded that passengers and the driver get off the train. The circulation of trains was suspended and the civil police carried out an operation. A civilian woman was shot and killed in the crossfire. Drug traffickers have been trying to establish a drug selling point in the VLT station (G1, 4 March 2021); this is the fifth time this year that armed suspects have interrupted the operation of trains in the city (G1, 4 March 2021).
Lastly, protests against the increase in fuel prices were carried out in dozens of cities in Brazil for the second consecutive week, mostly led by professional truck drivers, delivery workers, and app drivers. Despite the announcement of a temporary exemption of federal fuel taxes (Agencia Brasil, 2 March 2021), the final fuel prices are still increasing, mostly due to significant fluctuations in the exchange rate. Analysts fear that this could lead to a massive strike called by truck drivers, similar to the one that Brazil experienced in May 2018 when drivers blocked several highways across the country (UOL, 1 March 2021).
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