A recent seminar (Regional Responses to the Crisis in Latin America) addressed the sustained increase in strategies to reduce civic spaces in various countries in the region and the growing pressure on citizens and their rights.
Civic space has shrunk in 22 of the region’s 32 countries, according to the Civicus 2020 report, after being suffocated and blocked in eight of them. Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela – whose situation is the most worrying – seem to be the most obvious cases, but other countries are not immune to this general trend.
In fact, in many cases, the pandemic and the quarantine rules enacted and imposed by governments as part of prevention policies have been used as a pretext to increase control, surveillance and reduction of civic spaces.
Especially since pre-pandemic trends – which are deepening and accelerating – are used by some governments, both left and right, to increase authoritarianism and control, often unconstitutional, over citizens.
If we assume a conception of civic space as a sphere in which citizens or civil society organize, debate and act – between States, businesses and families – to defend public goods and the rights of citizens, measures imposed in the context of the pandemic accelerated the reduction of these spaces at local and national level as well as regional and international. This situation has alarmed the international community in general and the international human rights community in particular.
The claims of their rights and the right to influence public policies, in order to be able to develop dialogue with decision-makers at governmental and intergovernmental levels, and the right to associate, to express themselves and to act freely within the framework of the law were severe. repressed by various legal, illegal or extralegal mechanisms, that is to say outside the law, possibly by the use of physical violence.
In addition to legal measures and illegal and extralegal mechanisms applied to destabilize civil society and reduce its capacity for expression and defense – in an Orwellian twist – new technologies have also served to accelerate the repression of civic spaces where citizens s ‘express, through various mechanisms of control, surveillance, distortion, censorship and intervention in social networks.
New technologies for citizen monitoring and surveillance are currently important export products to the region for some of the major players in the international system.
A recent report from the Igarapé Foundation in Brazil establishes a detailed typology of strategies applied to the reduction of civic spaces by governments which include co-optation, direct or indirect coercion, fake news and disinformation, open censorship, intimidation and harassment, violation of privacy (surveillance of the individual), violation of civil and political rights, restrictions (legal and illegal) on participation and civil involvement. Also restrictions on funding, physical violence, the use of unconstitutional procedures and the abuse of power.
These strategies are being implemented in the context of a complex global transition, which threatens the core values of the established international system, not only in the economic sphere, but particularly with regard to the values associated with the rule of law and democratic governance, to citizens’ freedoms and human rights in particular.
Any Orwellian resemblance to a reality, near or far, is not a coincidence.
www.latinoamerica21.com, a pluralist medium engaged in the diffusion of critical and true information on Latin America.
Translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima