'Alarming reversal' of basic freedoms in Latin America, Human Rights Watch says

Countries across Latin America are facing a “alarming reversal” of fundamental freedoms according to Human Rights Watch’World Report 2022‘ was published on Thursday.

“Even democratically elected leaders have attacked independent civil society, the free press, and the independence of the judiciary,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting Americas director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

The 32nd edition of Human Rights Watch’s Global Report examines human rights practices in nearly 100 countries.

According to the report, the Cuban government continues to suppress and punish virtually all forms of dissent and public criticism. It noted the massive arrests following historic protests over the summer and highlighted the case of a 17-year-old woman who said she had been ill-treated and threatened while in detention.

According to the report, independent journalists and artists are being “systematically detained” and intelligence agents are showing up at critics’ homes and ordering them to stay there for long periods of time.

In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega has “dismantled almost all institutional controls over presidential power,” the report says. Ortega was elected to a fourth straight term in November after a spate of arrests involving seven presidential candidates and 32 prominent government critics, as well as journalists, lawyers and community leaders.

According to the report, people in Nicaragua are still reeling from the massive anti-government protests in 2018 that left 328 dead, around 2,000 injured and hundreds arrested.

In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro’s government and security forces “are responsible for extrajudicial executions and short-term enforced disappearances, and have detained opponents, prosecuted civilians in military courts, tortured detainees and cracked down on protesters,” according to the findings.

The International Criminal Court is investigating “allegations of possible crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela under the supervision of Nicolás Maduro,” according to Human Rights Watch. In addition, a United Nations fact-finding mission “found that the judicial authorities were complicit in egregious abuses,” it said.

In countries where leaders have been democratically elected, some continue to show authoritarian tendencies. Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro “attempted to intimidate the Supreme Court with insults and threats,” according to Human Rights Watch.

In Mexico, the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has greatly expanded the use of the military for civilian purposes, and “the criminal justice system routinely fails to bring justice to victims of violent crime and human rights abuses,” says the report.

The report said authorities still use torture to extract information and confessions, and thousands go missing each year in Mexico, despite government steps to tackle the search for the missing.

In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele replaced the Supreme Court justices, and the newly appointed justices ruled that he could run for consecutive re-election despite the constitution prohibiting it, Human Rights Watch said.

During the protests in Colombia, police “repeatedly and arbitrarily dispersed peaceful demonstrations and used excessive, often brutal, force, including live ammunition and gender-based violence,” the report said.

In Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru, the report found that “serious abuses against protesters” have been committed in recent years and that meaningful steps to reform police forces are lacking.

Human Rights Watch found that millions of people have fled their homes in recent years, including over 6 million Venezuelans, over 110,000 Nicaraguans and hundreds of thousands of people from Central America’s northern triangle.

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