“Even democratically elected leaders attacked independent civil society, the free press, and judicial independence,” Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Americas acting director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
The 32nd edition of Human Rights Watch's world report reviewed human rights practices in nearly 100 countries.
According to the report, the Cuban government "continues to repress and punish virtually all forms of dissent and public criticism." It mentioned the massive arrests following the historic protests over the summer and singled out the case of a 17-year-old female who said she was subjected to abuse and threats while she was detained.
Independent journalists and artists are “systematically detained,” and intelligence officers appear at critics’ homes, ordering them to stay there for extended periods of time, according to the report.
In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega “has dismantled nearly all institutional checks on presidential power,” the report said. Ortega was elected to a fourth consecutive term in November after a wave of arrests that included seven presidential candidates and 32 prominent government critics, as well as journalists, lawyers and community leaders.
People in Nicaragua are still reeling from massive anti-government protests in 2018 that left 328 dead, about 2,000 injured and hundreds detained, according to the report.
In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro’s government and security forces “are responsible for extrajudicial executions and short-term forced disappearances and have jailed opponents, prosecuted civilians in military courts, tortured detainees, and cracked down on protesters,” according to the findings.
The International Criminal Court is investigating “allegations of possible crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela under Nicolás Maduro’s watch,” Human Rights Watch said. Additionally, a United Nations fact-finding mission “found that judicial authorities had been complicit in egregious abuses,” it said.
In countries where leaders were democratically elected, some continue to show authoritarian tendencies. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro "tried to intimidate the Supreme Court with insults and threats," Human Rights Watch said.
In Mexico, the government under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has greatly expanded the scope of the military for civilian purposes, and "the criminal justice system routinely fails to provide justice to victims of violent crimes and human rights violations," according to the report.
The report stated that authorities still use torture to extract information and confessions, and thousands still disappear in Mexico every year, though the government has taken steps to address finding the missing people.
In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele replaced Supreme Court justices, and the newly appointed judges ruled that he could run for consecutive re-election, even though it’s prohibited by the constitution, Human Rights Watch said.
During protests in Colombia police, “repeatedly and arbitrarily dispersed peaceful demonstrations and used excessive, often brutal, force, including live ammunition and gender-based violence,” the report said.
In Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru, the report found “serious abuses against protesters” committed in recent years and a lack of meaningful steps to reform police forces.
Human Rights Watch found that millions of people have fled their homes in recent years, including over 6 million Venezuelans, over 110,000 Nicaraguans and hundreds of thousands of people from Central America’s Northern Triangle.