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Human rights report details violence and abuse in Latin America

Drug fueled violence in Mexico and Honduras, mass detentions in Cuba and an executive power grab in Venezuela were highlighted in the U.S. State Department’s 2011 human rights report released Thursday.

The annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices often ruffles feathers in the region where the U.S. is accused of using the study as a foreign policy bludgeon even as it ignores its own problems at home.

In Cuba, the study found that the island continued its systemic repression of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of speech, assembly, and association. The report also accused the government of organizing mobs to intimidate opposition groups and resorting to arbitrary detentions to muzzle activists. Short-term detentions doubled from 2010 to 2011. In December, those detentions hit a 30-year high when almost 800 people were detained to keep them from marking Human Rights Day, the report found.

In Honduras, most of the human rights abuses were connected to the nation’s gang and drug-cartel violence, which have made it the most dangerous country on the planet. However, “deep-seated and unaddressed corruption” in the police force was also leading to rights abuses. On Dec. 7, gunmen killed Alfredo Landaverde, a former senior government advisor on security, after he accused police leadership of being linked to organized crime.

In Mexico, the most serious human rights challenges in 2011 emanated from the country’s fight against organized crime and the ongoing gang battles over drug trafficking routes. “They engaged in human trafficking and used brutal tactics against citizens, including inhumane treatment, murder, and widespread intimidation,” the report found. Gangs have also had a chilling effect on the media, executing bloggers who reported on their activities and threatening journalists who criticized them, the study said.

In Venezuela, the report found that the “concentration of power in the executive branch continued to increase significantly,” as President Hugo Chávez used special decree powers granted to him by the outgoing legislature. Using that authority, Chávez had passed 26 laws, “including a number of provisions restricting fundamental economic and property rights,” the report found. The government also failed to respect judicial independence and had turned a blind eye to “corruption at all levels of government,” the report found.

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices were started more than three decades ago to help guide U.S. lawmakers’ decisions, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in the preface to the study. “Today, governments, intergovernmental organizations, scholars, journalists, activists, and others around the world rely on these reports.”