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ACLED Regional Overview – Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean (1 - 7 May 2021)

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Last week in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, demonstrations increased. Workers in different sectors demonstrated in several countries across the region on International Workers’ Day, demanding better working conditions and access to coronavirus vaccines. As part of these demonstrations, in Mexico, teachers organized several protests in the state of Hidalgo. In El Salvador, Congress voted in favor of the destitution of the attorney general and five judges of the Supreme Court, triggering protests in the capital. Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, civil society organizations and relatives of two women killed by their former partners protested against gender-based violence. Lastly, in Mexico, a journalist was killed by unidentified armed men in the state of Sonora.

On 1 May, workers protested in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, and Puerto Rico in commemoration of International Workers’ Day on 1 May. In over half of demonstrations that day, workers denounced worsening labor conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic and demanded access to vaccinations. Over the last few months, coronavirus contagion rates have increased in several countries in the region, leading to new lockdown measures (Deutsche Welle, 29 April 2021). Unemployment rates have increased in Central America amid the pandemic by an estimated 9.7% in 2020 compared to 6.1% in 2019 (Nodal, 29 October 2020). In the majority of the countries in Central America and the Caribbean, less than 10% of the population has been fully vaccinated (Reuters, May 2021).

Meanwhile, in Mexico, teachers affiliated with the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) — one of the largest teachers’ unions in Mexico — protested in 27 cities across the state of Hidalgo on 1 May. The protests took place amid ongoing negotiations between the government and the SNTE. Teachers are asking for the timely payment of wages and pensions, and access to technology (La Jornada, 6 March 2021). In 2020, classes were held remotely to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This raised concerns over access to education, especially in rural areas where over 50% of the population does not have internet access (El Pais, 22 March 2021).

In El Salvador, Congress voted to remove the attorney general and five judges of the Supreme Court. The dismissal triggered protests in the capital, San Salvador. Following the legislative elections of 28 February, President Nayib Bukele’s party, New Ideas, and other parties supporting the government, have held the majority in Congress. On 2 May, a majority of deputies in the Legislative Assembly approved the removal of five judges who had ruled against initiatives pushed by the president on several occasions, such as the enforcement of strict coronavirus measures (BBC, 2 May 2021; Reuters, 16 April 2020). Similarly, they removed the attorney general for allegedly siding with the interests of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) opposition party (Deutsche Welle, 2 May 2021). The removal of the attorney comes after the opening of an investigation against Bukele’s government. The government is accused of negotiating with gangs — supposedly exchanging money or prison perks in exchange for electoral favors and reduced levels of killings perpetrated by gangs (Insight Crime, 3 May 2021; La Vanguardia, 4 September 2020).

In response to the dismissal of the general attorney and judges, civil society organizations, students, and opposition groups protested. They argue that the decision is another step towards the government’s full control of the three branches of government. Pro-government workers’ unions also demonstrated in support of the newly appointed attorney general and judges by Congress. President Bukele has been criticized by members of the international community and local civil society organizations for the authoritarian turn his government has taken (El Comercio, 2 May 2021). In February 2020, the president walked into a parliamentary session with armed police and military officers in an effort to intimidate congressmen who were about to vote on the approval of funds for the government’s security plan (La Vanguardia, 9 February 2021).

Meanwhile in Puerto Rico, the killing of two women sparked demonstrations against gender-based violence. On 29 April, a woman was killed and her charred body was discovered in the city of Cayey. Two days later, in San Juan, another woman was killed. In both cases, the perpetrators are the former partners of the victims (EFE, 3 May 2021). Relatives of the victims and members of organizations that advocate for women’s rights organized several protests in the cities of San Juan and Caguas demanding justice for femicides. In January 2021, the governor of Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency, promising to invest resources in mechanisms to prevent gender-based violence (BBC, 25 January 2021). This decision was taken as femicides have doubled in 2020 compared to the previous year (Amnesty International, 26 January 2021).

Finally, in Mexico, on World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, a journalist was killed by unidentified armed men in the state of Sonora. The victim was the founder of a local media outlet that covered political and criminal news in the municipality of Sonoyta. He had reportedly received anonymous threats days before the attack (Infobae, May 2021). This is at least the second killing of a journalist in Mexico this year. Although the motives of the attack remain unknown, the killing of the journalist might be connected to the activities of gangs in the area. Press workers are often threatened and targeted for their investigative work into corruption or organized crime activities (The New York Times, 22 December 2020). According to Reporters Without Borders, 99% of killings of journalists in Mexico go unpunished (Swissinfo, 8 May 2021).