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Tear gas, violence and new laws are all being used to frighten Latin American protesters into giving up

January 3, 2018

It’s not just the clouds of tear gas, the ping of rubber bullets or the prospect of arrest under draconian new laws that Latin Americans have to consider when they take to the streets. With freedom of expression increasingly under threat, demonstrating in Caracas’ packed plazas, Rio de Janeiro’s hillside slums or Mexico’s rural towns can mean risking one’s life at the hands of oppressive and largely unrestrained security forces.

The socialist “pink tide” of the early 2000s has subsided in recent years, giving way to broad public anger at corruption and authoritarianism on all sides of the political spectrum. Latin American governments have responded by criminalising protesters and creating pretexts for violent crackdowns, and with 14 countries due to hold presidential elections in the next two years, observers fear this cycle of unrest and repression will continue.

Luciana Pol, who coauthored the 2016 report “Latin American State Responses to Social Protest” at Argentina’s Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), warns of the increasing use of legislation and judicial rulings to regulate the act of protest. She told Index that governments are trying to make protest legally and socially unacceptable by dictating under what terms it can take place and emphasising collateral damage to public spaces or free transit.

Pol also found that the worst state aggression is usually directed at those with the least political capital and the strongest motivations to protest: the environmental activists, human rights defenders and rural, indigenous, black or LGBT populations. “When demonstrations involve the middle classes we often see less repression,” she observed. “When they’re sectors that have been marginalised for decades the repression is much stronger.”

These trends are particularly pronounced in Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico, three of the region’s most politically and economically influential countries, where rampant violence, corruption and inequality are set to shape their respective elections in 2018…

Click here to read this feature in full at Index on Censorship (subscription required for full access)

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