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ACLED Regional Overview - Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean (30 July - 5 August 2022)

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Last week, in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, gang violence remained high in Haiti, Mexico, and Jamaica. Meanwhile, a journalist was killed in a targeted attack in Mexico, and police arrested a prominent journalist and government critic in Guatemala, prompting demonstrations. In Haiti, police carried out security operations in Ouest and Artibonite departments, targeting the 400 Mawozo gang and the Kokorat San Ras gang, respectively. The operations in Artibonite come amid rising attacks against civilians by the Kokorat San Ras gang. In Jamaica, gang rivalries intensified in Saint Catherine parish, prompting police interventions to restore security. In Trinidad and Tobago, attacks by armed suspects remained high last week. In Nicaragua, police beat people during a raid of a Catholic radio station. In Cuba, people demonstrated amid the worsening energy crisis.

In Haiti, police carried out security operations in Gross-Morne, Artibonite department, in response to gang attacks against civilians last week, including the kidnapping of 30 bus passengers and an attack on four government officials by the Kokorat San Ras gang. Following these attacks, police officers rescued the kidnapped victims during a clash with the Kokorat San Ras gang members, killing three gang members and injuring another six. Further clashes between police and gang members in Gross-Morne resulted in the deaths of another six gang members. Security experts have highlighted how traditionally urban tactics, such as the extortion of truck drivers and kidnapping for ransom, used by gangs who control the main cities in the country, are being increasingly employed by gangs operating in rural areas (InSight Crime, 3 August 2022). Last week’s violence comes amid an upswing in violence in Artibonite department, with ACLED recording more violent events in July than in the first six months of 2022 combined.

Elsewhere, in Croix-des-Bouquets district, Ouest department, police forces clashed with gangs throughout last week amid anti-gang operations. These clashes resulted in the rescue of six kidnapped civilians and the deaths of at least six gang members, including two leaders of the 400 Mawozo gang (alias: Kòlèg, and alias: Tchouko). Kòlèg is known for being involved in the kidnapping of 17 American missionaries in October 2021 (France 24, 4 August 2022). Anti-gang operations in Ouest and Artibonite contributed to the 33% increase in violence in Haiti in the past month relative to the past year flagged by ACLED’s Conflict Change Map, which first warned of increased violence to come in the country in the past month.

In Mexico, gang attacks against civilians drove the 111% increase in violence in Colima state over the past week relative to the past month, as flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker. Last week, gang attacks left at least nine civilians dead, with most attacks recorded in the neighboring cities of Colima and Ciudad Villa de Álvarez. Violence in this state has remained high following the breakdown of an alliance between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Los Mezcales gang in the first months of 2022. The Sinaloa Cartel has sought to make new alliances with the Los Mezcales gang to seize control of drug trafficking routes that connect to Manzanillo Port (Expansión Política, 9 March 2022).

Meanwhile, in Guanajuato state, armed men opened fire in a restaurant in San Luis de la Paz last week, killing four people, including a journalist. The journalist owned the restaurant where the attack took place, while also serving as the director of a digital media outlet (Forbes, 3 August 2022). He had received threats for his work as a journalist in previous years (El País, 3 August 2022). Violence against journalists has increased in the country, and has become more lethal in 2022; targeted attacks against journalists in 2022 have resulted in the deaths of at least 13 journalists, surpassing the number of journalists killed in such attacks during the whole of 2021.

In Guatemala, the arrest of the director of a national newspaper, José Luis Zamora, triggered demonstrations last week by journalists denouncing attacks against their work and against freedom of expression by President Alejandro Giammattei’s government (DW, 30 July 2022). Police forces arrested the journalist and seized the offices of the newspaper on the night of 29 July, cutting phone lines and forcing staff to stay in the offices for hours (Expediente Público, 9 August 2022). Following the arrest, demonstrations were recorded for two consecutive days in Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango. The Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) claims that Zamora was arrested for money laundering and influence peddling — amid other charges related to his work as a businessman — not in relation to his work as a journalist (RFI, 30 July 2022). Zamora’s newspaper has openly criticized the Giammattei government and has denounced threats over their investigations into alleged corruption schemes in which government officers are involved (El Mundo, 30 July 2022). Zamora has rejected the accusations and started a hunger strike, while local press organizations condemn the arrest and police actions against the newspaper (Swissinfo, 30 July 2022; Europa Press, 30 July 2022).

In Jamaica, gang warfare intensified in Saint Catherine parish last week, with several houses burned down during clashes between rival groups in Portmore. In response to the clashes, police intervened to restore order, leading to clashes with gangs that resulted in the deaths of two gang members. These trends contribute to the 300% increase in violence in Saint Catherine over the past week relative to the past month, as flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker. On 2 August, police imposed a two-day curfew in several areas of the parish, which was later extended for two more days (Loop Jamaica, 4 August 2022). Police forces have identified at least 12 criminal groups that operate in Saint Catherine (Jamaica Observer, 17 June 2022).

In Trinidad and Tobago, violence remained high last week, driven by attacks by armed groups in the northwestern regions of the country that left four people dead. Additionally, a clash between rival gangs left seven people injured in San Juan-Laventille region. This violence contributed to the 86% increase in violence in Trinidad and Tobago in the past month relative to the past year flagged by ACLED’s Conflict Change Map, which first warned of increased violence to come in the country in the past month.

In Nicaragua, police and armed regime supporters broke into a Catholic church in Sebaco municipality, Matagalpa province, last week and attempted to seize radio equipment, attacking people inside the church. One woman was injured after having been beaten by police. The raid comes after the government announced the closure of seven radio stations owned by the Catholic church for not having all of the required legal permits to operate (Confidencial, 1 August 2022). Police also surrounded the administrative office of Matagalpa’s bishop and prevented him from leaving, accusing the bishop of organizing violent actions and plotting against the government (Catholic News Agency, 8 August 2022). Following this action, people demonstrated in Matagalpa, demanding freedom for the bishop. President Daniel Ortega’s regime considers the Catholic church to be part of the political opposition due to their reporting of human rights violations by the government (Artículo 66, 2 August 2022). The Organization of American States (OAS) General Secretary and local human rights organizations condemned last week’s attack, claiming that it was an attack against both freedom of expression and religious freedom (100% Noticias, 2 August 2022).

In Cuba, demonstrations against power outages were recorded across the country last week. People banged pots and marched in the streets demanding solutions for the lack of energy due to the country’s electrical grid and shouting slogans against the government. Police forces intervened and arrested demonstrators in Santiago de Cuba, La Habana, Cienfuegos, and Santa Clara provinces. Police also beat participants in Santa Clara. Meanwhile, in Cienfuegos and Holguín, rioters engaged in looting and broke windows of stores. In recent months, energy cuts have become more frequent and longer across the country; the government argues that damage to infrastructure, maintenance works, and fuel shortages are the main reasons behind the energy crisis (EFE, 1 August 2022). Since July, ACLED records an increase in demonstrations in Cuba, prompted by the constant power outages.