Indigenous Social Movements in Latin America Resist an ‘Atmosphere of Repression and Human Rights Violations’

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Conflict between populist social movements and national governments that aim to silence dissent by criminalizing them is on the rise across Latin America, Jeff Abbott reports. Abbott’s report first focuses on Guatemala, where two indigenous leaders—Rigoberto Juarez and Domingo Baltazar—have been targeted with arrest for their leadership in a fight against proposed hydroelectric dams in their communities. The criminalization of activists in Guatemala is “reflective of a trend that is occurring across the western hemisphere,” Abbott writes, as more Latin American countries pass anti-terrorism laws that, in practice, stifle a broad range of dissent.

From Guatemala to El Salvador, Argentina, and Honduras, governments have taken advantage of new anti-terrorist legislation to label indigenous leaders who protest corporate development and government policy as terrorists. These laws have led to what Abbott describes as “an atmosphere of repression and human rights violations by state forces against protesters.” He describes a study, produced by free speech organization Article 19, which found that from January 2014 to July 2015, police and state forces in Brazil were responsible for over 849 arbitrary detentions and human rights violations during 740 protests.

Abbott’s report also describes how activists have challenged government repression of dissent, by rallying to support political prisoners, and pressuring political elites through lobbying and independent media.

Corporate news coverage of the trend described by Abbott is extremely limited. A review of recent news coverage found just one article—published in the Los Angeles Times—that addressed the larger context of Latin American governments using anti-terrorism laws to criminalize dissent. Sonia Perez Diaz’s June 2013 article, titled “Dispute Over Guatemala Silver Mine Turns Violent,” covered local protests against a Canadian mining company, whose proposed silver mine would threaten the region’s water supply.

Source: Jeff Abbott, “Across Latin America, Governments Criminalize Social Movements to Silence Dissent,” Waging Nonviolence, March 10, 2016,

Student Researcher: Hugo Martinez (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)