2018 was year of mass migrations and violent political upheaval in Latin America

Jan 3, 2019

Venezuelans wait at the Colombian border to leave their country.

With large exoduses, deadly protests and changes of government, 2018 was anything but ordinary for Latin America and Spanish-speaking communities worldwide.

As witnesses and interpreters of such events, Global Voices’ contributors have helped us sift through the noise and untangle their complexity. From the protests in Nicaragua to the Venezuelan crisis, we have told stories of resilience, of unexpected solidarity, and unusual forms of resistance.

Crisis and exodus

By now, millions of Venezuelans have fled their country and many are using online platforms to help others who want to do the same.

Venezuelan refugees at the Ecuador-Colombia border.

Once in their destination, the growing diaspora faces discrimination by the local population — as well as other limitations that aren’t limited to language or culture. More than a million Venezuelans have settled in Colombia, 350,000 in Brazil, 275,000 in Ecuador, 200,000 in Peru, 100,000 in Chile.

Meanwhile, the crisis inside Venezuela worsens. The food shortage, along with soaring levels of urban violence, disproportionately affect women. Expanding forms of state control increasingly resembles George Orwell’s Big Brother — and government links to China’s big tech suggests surveillance will keep on growing.

Up north, in Central America a “migrant caravan” fleeing the violence and scarcity, makes it to Mexico and awakens anti-immigrant sentiments. The media follows closely what goes on by the border with the United States, but doesn’t always take the time to explain what it is that Central Americans are running away from.

Changes of power and citizen-led counter-power

A June protest in Managua.

Guatemala’s democracy was shaken by President Jimmy Morales’ refusal to renew the mandate of the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity. The country’s top court ruled in favor of the commissioner’s return, giving hope to those who support legal institutions in the struggle against impunity. The Commissioner Iván Velázquez hasn’t been back to Guatemala, however, and in recent interviews he has denounced further efforts from the government to shut down the commission. Among them, the recent withdrawal of diplomatic immunity from 11 workers of the Commission.

In Nicaragua, demonstrations against social security reforms have transformed into a national outcry against corruption and censorship. The crackdown was swift and brutal. More than 300 people have been killed since the beginning of the protests in April. Journalists have also suffered violent attacks. Human rights organizations point to Daniel Ortega’s government as the main perpetrator.

Cuban citizens debated the Constitutional changes that will regulate internet use on the island. Another Constitutional amendment opened the possibility of legalizing gay marriage, leading to heated debates in Cuban society.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López

Mexico commemorated the 50-year anniversary of the Mexican Movement of 1968. Months later, it elected a leftist president, Andrés Manuel López, after decades of right-wing rule. Still, people did not keep quiet when López, also known as AMLO, announced the creation of a militarized police force that will fight urban crime. Many difficulties lie ahead for the new president, but hopefully citizen-led initiatives will provide a helping hand.

Mexico’s was not the only election that shook the region. Costa Rica’s presidential hopeful Fabricio Alvarado, a Christian conservative, alarmed many human rights organizations, especially those devoted to LGBTQ rights. However, the winner was progressive Carlos Alvarado and with him, Costa Rica’s first black female vice-president, Epsy Campbell Barr.

The elections in Mexico and Costa Rica dispelled the idea that a “conservative wave” is underway in Latin America.

The people raise their voices

A drug trafficking suspect is taken into custody in Colombia. Wednesday.

Colombians have spoken up against the scores of murdered social activists. In a period of only the first half of the year, over a hundred activists were killed. With the peace deals and the subsequent developments of the country’s internal conflict, a battle for land control has ensued. Many Colombians are alarmed that the national murder rate is on the rise after years of decline.

Finally, Argentina was the closest it’s ever been of legalizing abortion. The Senate ended up voting against it, but the movement in the streets and online was massive and evoked memorable displays of solidarity in Latin America and beyond.

Credit: Global Voices, https://globalvoices.org

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