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ACLED Regional Overview - Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean (7 - 13 May 2022)

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Last week in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, gang violence remained high, while rising fuel prices triggered demonstrations by transportation workers in Honduras and Panama. In Haiti, the 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped 17 passengers on a bus in Croix-des-Bouquet district and police clashed with gangs amid security operations. In Mexico, gang attacks targeting journalists and Indigenous activists were recorded in Veracruz and Guerrero states, while gang attacks against civilians in Nuevo León state increased. In Trinidad and Tobago, clashes between police and armed suspects drove an increase in violence. In El Salvador, police operations against gangs continued last week, with clashes and arrests of gang members and social leaders.

In Haiti, violence against civilians intensified last week in Croix-des-Bouquet district, Ouest department, amid kidnappings by gangs. Members of the 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped at least 17 civilians, including eight Muslim missionaries from Turkey, traveling by bus from the Dominican Republic to Port-au-Prince on 8 May (Haiti Standard, 9 May 2022). Following the incident, unidentified gang members abducted another 17 bus passengers in Croix-des-Bouquets, who were freed shortly after law enforcement officers intervened. Last week’s events follow similar mass kidnappings carried out by the 400 Mawozo gang, the dominant gang controlling extortive kidnapping in Croix-des-Bouquet (Insight Crime, 22 March 2022).

Meanwhile, clashes between gangs and police in Ouest department left eight dead. In one clash on 12 May in Petionville district, five members of the Vitelhomme gang — allies of the 400 Mawozo gang — were killed (Image 7, 26 Januart 2022). These clashes occurred amid ongoing security operations carried out by the National Police (PNH) aiming to restore security in the area (Altepresse, 9 May 2022) following deadly clashes between the 400 Mawozo gang and the Chien Méchant gang recorded in previous weeks. These trends contribute to the 132% increase in violence in Ouest department last month relative to the past year flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Threat Tracker, which first warned of increased violence to come in Ouest in the past month.

In** Mexico**, violence targeting journalists continued for a second consecutive week, with armed assailants shooting and killing two women journalists in Veracruz state on 9 May. One of the victims, the director of a local media outlet, had received anonymous threats before the attack for her coverage of criminal cases and criticism of the state security secretary (Infobae, 10 May 2022). On the same day, journalists protested in Ciudad de Mexico and in Baja California, Sinaloa, and Veracruz states, demanding investigations into the killings and denouncing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s criticism of their work (EFE, 10 May 2020). According to social organizations, state institutions have failed to investigate the perpetrators and reasons for attacks targeting journalists, leaving most perpetrators unpunished (El País, 10 May 2022). In the first quarter of 2022, ACLED records increasing attacks against journalists, which has led to a surge in reporter-led demonstrations calling for justice and greater protection. Mexico also tops the list when it comes to political violence targeting women.

Meanwhile, in Guerrero state, two members of the Indigenous and Popular Council of Guerrero-Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG-EZ) were tortured and killed in Chilapa de Álvarez municipality. Members of the CIPOG-EZ attributed the killings to the Los Ardillos gang, which has taken control of Indigenous areas for their operations in the region, including drug trafficking, extortion, and kidnapping (Infobae, 8 January 2022). Indigenous communities in Guerrero state have reported attacks by the Los Ardillos gang and recently denounced a lack of action by state forces to prevent an expansion of the gang as it seeks control of neighboring communities (Insight Crime, 13 May 2022).

Elsewhere, in Nuevo León state, violence increased last week compared to the week prior, driven by gang attacks against civilians. As a result, 20 fatalities were recorded, with four of these registered in General Escobedo municipality. Experts have attributed the recent increase in violence to ongoing disputes between cartels and local criminal groups for control of trafficking routes of drugs, migrants, and arms (El Universal, 25 February 2022; Milenio, 4 December 2021). Authorities have reported the presence of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), the Noreste Cartel, the Gulf Cartel, and, more recently, the Sinaloa Cartel in Nuevo León (Infobae, 4 Diciembre 2022). ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker first warned of increased violence to come in Nuevo León in the past month.

In Trinidad and Tobago, clashes between armed assailants and police officers and attacks against civilians drove a 45% increase in violence in the country last week relative to the past month, which is flagged by ACLED’s Conflict Change Map* —* first flagged by the tool in the past month*. *In Cocorite, Diego Martin parish, alleged gang members carried out a drive-by shooting, killing a man and injuring two people. In response, residents set a vehicle of a Muslim leader on fire. Members of the Muslim gang and the Rasta gang have been engaged in an ongoing dispute for control of drug sales in the Cocorite community (Loop News, 6 May 2019; Guardian Trinidad and Tobago, 14 November 2018). Elsewhere, in Penal-Debe, two armed men clashed with a police officer, injuring a bystander. While violence in Diego Martin and Penal-Debe has not been common, it has become increasingly volatile in both areas, resulting in a shift from places of ‘low risk’ to being considered areas of ‘growing risk’ by ACLED’s Volatility and Risk Predictability Index.

In El Salvador, while gang attacks against civilians decreased last week compared to the week prior, clashes between gangs and state forces remained high. Most clashes were recorded in Usulután department, where a gang member was killed during a clash with military and police officers. ACLED’s Conflict Change Map first warned of increased violence to come in El Salvador in the past month.

The clashes come amid security operations to combat gang violence since President Nayib Bukele declared a state of emergency on 27 March, which was recently extended for another month (La Razón, 25 April 2022). President Bukele announced more than 30,000 suspected gang members have been arrested during the state of emergency (DW, 16 May 2022). Meanwhile, international organizations have claimed that some arrests may be arbitrary and denounced the use of torture and the deaths of at least 11 arrested suspects that have been recognized by the government (Europapress, 11 May 2022). Police arrested two city hall union leaders in San Salvador department last week for alleged links with illegal organizations (Voces, 9 May 2022). This triggered city hall worker protests in Cuscatancingo, claiming the union leaders were arrested for their work defending workers’ rights (La Prensa Gráfica, 12 May 2022).

Meanwhile, in Honduras and **Panama **last week, transportation workers demonstrated over fuel price increases. In Honduras, transportation workers blocked roads for two consecutive days in at least half of the country’s departments, while in Panama, demonstrations were recorded in Panama, Colón, Herrera, and Chiriquí provinces. Demonstrators denounced precarious employment and living conditions, demanding authorities provide subsidies to afford fuel (La Prensa, 9 May 2022). Demonstrations turned violent in Panama City and the city of Colón as rioters clashed with police, resulting in two police officers being injured and several demonstrators being arrested in Colón.