Although the borders continued to open to reactivate the local economy and encourage international tourism, market growth rates and recovery have been slow in the face of rising cost of living and inflation. In Trinidad and Tobago, government officials reiterated they will not shut down the economy again, despite health officials confirming a third wave of COVID-19 is underway. Belize’s GDP grew but remained below pre-pandemic levels.
Scarcity, frequent blackouts and high consumer prices persist in Cuba, and authorities are forecasting 2% growth in 2021 after the country’s main sources of income fell 11% in 2020.
In Nicaragua, 200,000 formal jobs have been reportedly lost and the cost of the staple food basket has exceeded $ 420 while the minimum wage only covers about 60% of essential staples.
In addition, around 40% of the nearly 96,000 officially registered businesses in Panama have had to close due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This complex economic context presents permanent restrictions on access to basic needs, including food, housing, health and medicines, for both displaced persons and members of the host community in vulnerable situations. These include indigenous Venezuelan Warao families in some countries like Guyana, where the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing challenges. Aruba has at least 400 people living with HIV / AIDS, but those with irregular status do not have access to health insurance to cover medical expenses (up to US $ 1,000) and are at increased risk of labor and sexual exploitation.
In view of protective risks, socio-political challenges and limited access to basic needs, people continue to undertake dangerous journeys – sometimes by sea – in search of protection, better opportunities, stability and family reunification outside their home country. According to media reports and official information, 63 Nicaraguans (including one unaccompanied child) have been identified in Mexico as attempting to enter the United States illegally. US authorities arrested over 50,000 Nicaraguans trying to cross the border irregularly in 2021, up from 2,291 in 2020. 61 Cubans were also intercepted attempting to enter the US illegally by sea. In 2021, 1,255 Cubans were repatriated, mainly from the United States (856), Mexico (214), and the Bahamas (184).
In CuraÃ§ao, the coast guard arrested 33 Venezuelans who tried to enter illegally by boat and referred them to the police authorities.
Return flights also started from Aruba, CuraÃ§ao and Trinidad and Tobago. On the flip side, Panamanian authorities reported that 380 Venezuelans have voluntarily returned to their country so far in 2021, 130 in October alone, which is the highest number in 2021. In addition, so far this year 121,737 people have crossed the Colombian border in mixed movements, through the Darien Gap and further north, including 26,000 children (more than half of whom are under 5 years old). The main nationalities are still Haitians (including children of Haitian parents in Chile and Brazil), Cubans, and Venezuelans.
On the other hand, the elections in Nicaragua have sparked controversy between human rights groups, global political leaders, the existing government and their opposition. The Supreme Electoral Council reported that President Ortega was re-elected with 75.87% of the vote and the turnout was 65%, while the local human rights organization Urnas Abiertas reported an abstention of 81.5%.
Following the announcement of a resolution declaring the parliamentary elections illegal and reiterating the OAS’s call for the detained opponents to be released, the Foreign Minister announced Nicaragua’s withdrawal from the regional mechanism. In Cuba, local organizations reported more than 300 repressive measures (including house arrest with police surveillance, summons to police stations, threats, arbitrary arrests and cuts in Internet services) in connection with the 15N protests between November 12 and 15.
MCO Panama remains underfunded as less than half of the funding needed is needed to address gaps in access to basic needs, promote inclusion and targeted assistance to address specific vulnerabilities, and support host communities.