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Latam Brief: El Salvador — a year into the crackdown (March 31, 2023)

Latin America Daily Briefing:El Salvador -- a year into the crackdown
Latin America Daily Briefing

A year after El Salvador began its heavy-handed crackdown against street gangs, a group of relatives of people detained under an ongoing state of emergency gathered to demand their release.

The protest in San Salvador was a rare expression of dissent in a country where constitutional guarantees have been suspended for the past 12 months, reports EFE.

In the year since, a total of 66,417 people have been arrested, and 4,304 have been released. Rights groups say there have been 111 deaths in custody and 5,802 suspected cases of rights violations.

Nonetheless, the measures have broad public support, and appear to have contributed to a significant reduction in homicides, reports the Associated Press.


  • Chilean lawmakers passed a series of bills Wednesday to grant security forces more powers for self defense and toughen sentencing for crimes against them. The vote came in a special rushed session, amid a backlash against mounting crime, including the killings of two police officers in recent weeks. The bills will now head to the Senate for further discussion. (Bloomberg)

  • If enacted, the new bills would have serious consequences for human rights, Amnesty International warned. In its current form, the reforms authorize “the disproportionate use of force,” and “the new grounds for legitimate defense may limit the exercise of judicial guarantees for victims of human rights violations.”

  • Chilean police arrested 36 people Wednesday during protests on the Day of the Young Combatant. (EFE)


  • Brazil’s finance ministry presented a proposal for new fiscal rules to balance limits on spending growth with the government’s promise to increase social programs and public investment. (Reuters)
  • Former President Jair Bolsonaro returned to Brazil yesterday, and immediately went to the Liberal Party headquarters where he said his conservative allies in Congress are a needed safeguard against current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. “They’re doing what needs to be done and showing the people who for now are in power for a short time that [the left is] not going to do what they really want to do with the future of our nation,” he said. (Washington Post)

  • in his first interview with a news outlet back in Brazil, Bolsonaro suggested that acts of violence during the January riots were not perpetrated by his followers, reports the New York Times.

  • Brazilian meat company JBS’s A-minus sustainability grade, based on self-reporting, has “kicked off a debate about the rating system for environmental and social governance,” reports the Guardian.

  • Brazilian officials seeking compensation for workers forced to work as “slave labor” on cattle ranch owned by Volkswagon during dictatorship from 1973 to 1987. Talks ended without agreement and prosecutors say they could sue the German carmaker. (Guardian)

  • Brazilian Minister of Racial Equality Anielle Franco, believes her sister, Marielle, was a victim of “an unfortunately very well-planned crime of political femicide.” While she recognizes there are many reasons behind her sister’s assassination, Franco believes systemic racism played a major role, reports the Guardian.

Regional Relations

  • Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva “is behaving as if he sees threats everywhere, and his presidency runs the risk of collapse. And here’s the thing: He’s not wrong,” writes Brian Winter. (Americas Quarterly)

  • China and Brazil have reached a deal to trade in their own currencies, rather than use the U.S. dollar as an intermediary. Brazil said the move would reduce transaction costs, promote trade and investment, reports Bloomberg.

  • Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen will travel today to Guatemala and Belize, an effort to strengthen its relationship with its last allies in Central America, after Honduras’ decision to shift to China earlier this month. (AFP)

  • With regards to Hondura’s choice, “the region is not buying the stale neo-Cold War framing. Tegucigalpa admits the move boiled down to debt and trade,” reports El Faro English.

  • “Although Beijing has made considerable gains in the region at Washington’s expense, claims about China’s influence there might be overstated.” writes Miquel Vila Moreno in World Politics Review.

  • The U.S. case against the alleged masterminds of the 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse raises questions of how much the FBI knew about the plan — partially put together in Florida, reports Univisión. “Does the FBI have a conflict of interest if it is investigating a case involving one of its informants?”

  • Commercially available devices known as directional loudspeakers or acoustic lasers could be behind the so-called Havana Syndrome, according to experts convened by U.S. intelligence agencies. (Miami Herald)

  • Paraguayan President Mario Abdo said he met with U.S. CIA Deputy Director David Cohen to discuss bolstering security ahead of April 30’s presidential elections, reports Reuters.

  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández emphasized the economic woes his country faces in a meeting with his U.S. counterpart, President Joe Biden, this week. Argentina is hoping for U.S. support in its effort to renegotiate the terms of a $44 billion debt with the IMF. (Associated Press)


  • Poverty increased to 39.2% of the Argentine population in the second half of 2022, a three percentage point increase from the first six months of the year, according to new government statistics. (Associated Press)


  • Militants in Colombia killed nine soldiers and wounded nine others in an attack in Norte de Santander state, Wednesday. Colombian officials said the ELN carried out the attack, another blow against President Gustavo Petro’s efforts to negotiate peace with the country’s largest remaining guerrilla group, reports the Associated Press.

  • Plunging coca prices are creating an economic crisis for growers in Colombia, as the illicit drug market shifts to synthetic products and other countries, reports Al Jazeera.


  • Mexican officials arrested five people in relation to the Ciudad Juárez migrant detention center fire that killed at least 39 people. (New York Times, see yesterday’s briefs.)

  • Mexico’s López Obrador administration proposed an overhaul of mining laws that would shorten concessions and tighten rules for permits — the industry said it would undermine growth. (Reuters)


  • Jamaican anti-racism activist Barbara Blake-Hannah argues for the UK to grant an alternative form of reparations for the enslavement of people in Jamaica: “the total relief of all Jamaica’s debt to the UK, plus the lifting of UK visa restrictions for Jamaican descendants of enslaved people, with unlimited access to the “empire’s” educational and economic opportunities, which were built on the labour of my enslaved ancestors.” (Guardian)

Culture Corner

  • Mexican Doña Angela is a YouTube cooking sensation — her channel has more than 437 million views — but she shies away from the spotlight in her remote Michoacán ranch, reports the New York Times.

Jordana Timerman/Latin America Daily Briefing

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