Human Rights Watch alerts for freedom tremors in Latin America

miamiHuman Rights Watch said on Thursday that Latin America is experiencing a sharp decline in fundamental freedoms in countries whose governments are democratically elected and in others where their leaders are in dubious power.

“2021 is a year that leaves us with enormous concern as we face an alarming setback in the basic freedoms that we took for granted in Latin America,” said Tamara Tarasiuk Broner, HRW interim director for America said in a telephone interview with The Associated. Press. “Even leaders who came to power through democratic elections have attacked free civil society, freedom of the press and judicial independence,” he said.

Human rights degradation in 15 countries in the region, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, is reflected in a 752-page world report that analyzes the situation in 100 countries around the world.

According to HRW, Latin America has democratic leaders such as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro; from Mexico, Andres Manuel López Obrador; And from El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, who has implemented actions to undermine judicial independence, is creating “a very delicate situation” for democracy in the region.

They seem to be losing the positions they enjoyed after the fall of military dictatorships decades ago, such as the strength of the judiciary, freedom of expression, the active role of civil society, Broner explained.

For HRW it is clear in countries that it qualifies as dictatorships, including Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, but also in other democracies.

“They are abusing the democrats to come to power, to undermine precisely the democracy that drew them to that position,” Broner said, citing Bolsonaro and Bukele as an example.

In Cuba, the government “in response to largely peaceful protests against the government,” has “systematic abuses against critics and artists, including arbitrary arrests, abuse of detainees, and outrageous criminal proceedings.”

Relatives and activists on the island indicated that legal action took place this week against 57 people who protested in July and called for changes in government to address food and medicine shortages. According to the Cuban organization Justicia 11J, 1,300 protesters were arrested and more than 200 were prosecuted. Officials alleged that the protests – some of them with acts of vandalism – were instigated by opponents backed by the United States.

In Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega has assumed his fourth consecutive term, November’s elections were held “without the slightest democratic guarantee”, HRW said.

In its election campaign, the Ortega government arrested more than 40 opposition leaders, activists and professionals, including seven presidential candidates. All 120 are still in prison, along with other “political prisoners”, according to opposition figures not confirmed by officials. The president has said those arrested were trying to destabilize his government with foreign aid.

In Venezuela, HRW has condemned the harassment of opponents and inequality to compete in elections. In November, the International Criminal Court’s prosecution began an investigation into possible crimes against humanity committed during the presidency of Nicolás Maduro, and UN experts concluded that judicial officers may have been involved in the abuse, according to the Rights Organization of Reports by Humans. indicated.

Maduro has rejected criticism of the electoral process in his country and accused the United States, which has implemented a series of sanctions with the European Union, of conspiring against the elections in Caracas and its officials.

In Brazil, the HRW report explained, Bolsonaro tried to intimidate the president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal through insults and threats and baseless allegations of electoral fraud.

Brazil’s president has spent weeks criticizing his country’s voting system, condemning his officials for allegedly effecting fraud. He later admitted that he had no evidence to support those allegations. Despite this, he continues to accuse former and future presidents of the Electoral Tribunal. On Wednesday, he said both support his main rival, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

In Mexico, HRW noted, López Obrador continued his attacks against journalists and human rights defenders and his efforts to “co-opt the judicial system to dismantle independent public bodies and persecute political enemies”. kept.

López Obrador alleges that those who criticize him – journalists, feminists, environmentalists – are in the service of conservative and neoliberal forces and claims to be the most open president to the press, thanks to the conventions he presents every morning. Huh. In them, he started a weekly session called “Who’s Who in the Lies of the Week” accusing journalists and media outlets of publishing false information about his government.

In El Salvador, HRW said, Bukele and his political allies in the legislature briefly replaced Supreme Court magistrates with whom they differed and enacted legislation to remove hundreds of lower-level prosecutors and judges. The new magistrate paved the way for a new presidential nomination, despite the fact that the Constitution prohibited it.

Bukele is very popular in El Salvador and the high level of acceptance prompted his Nuevas Idea Party to defeat traditional political parties in the 2021 legislative elections. His colleagues in the Legislative Assembly removed the members of the Chamber from their posts. First day in office of the Constitutional Supreme Court. They were one of the few checks on the power of Judge Bukele. The new legislators also removed the attorney general and replaced him with someone close to the presidential administration.

It is a big challenge for HRW to keep the independence alive in this sector.

“If we compare the Latin America of today with the Latin America of a few decades ago, when dictatorships came out, democratic places began to be gained gradually and today it seems that we are losing them,” said the interim director of ” America. “The job is to protect the democratic spaces we have taken for granted.”