From crack-downs to shake-ups, 2015 was a memorable year for Latin America. Here’s a look back at some of the biggest stories of the year, in the words of the newsmakers who made them happen:
“My thoughts at this moment go out to the numerous Cuban migrants who find themselves in difficulty in Central America, some of whom are victims of human trafficking.” —Pope Francis
During a Dec. 27 mass, the pope spoke out on behalf of the 8,000-plus Cubans who are stuck in Costa Rica after Nicaragua militarized its border in November to prevent them from migrating to the U.S. Nicaragua’s actions have created a growing humanitarian crisis in Central America. Costa Rica tried to broker a regional deal in November, as well as various bilateral solutions in December, but Nicaragua has blocked every effort, prompting Costa Rica to withdraw from the Central American Integration System before Christmas. However, at year’s end, Costa Rica and Guatemala made an unexpected announcement that an experimental solution had been brokered to airlift Cubans from Costa Rica to El Salvador, and put them on buses from San Salvador to Mexico. The program is expected to begin in January. Meanwhile, dozens more have turned to new smuggling networks that have popped up along the border with promises of sneaking people across Nicaragua into Honduras★
“We have lost a battle today, but the fight for a new socialism has barely begun.” —President Nicolas Maduro
Venezuela’s president uttered these words after his party got trounced in the Dec. 6 legislative elections, which gave a supermajority victory to the opposition—it’s most important electoral win after 17 years of revolutionary rule.🍌
“No matter how difficult the horizon appears, don’t doubt that we will live and overcome.” —President Daniel Ortega
The Nicaraguan president wrote these words in a Dec. 7 letter to his comrade Nicolas Maduro following the chavistas’ overwhelming electoral defeat. Nicaragua has received some $3.4 billion in Venezuelan aid over the past eight years. The 2000s will be remembered in Latin America as the decade of Venezuela oil largess, which helped embolden many smaller leftist governments across the region through initiatives such as Petrocaribe and ALBA. And 2015 could be the remembered as the year the party ended.⛽️
“I’m not about to to disappear, don’t worry. I will always be with you. Always, always.” –Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
The ex-president of Argentina offered these haunting words after her candidate was defeated in November’s presidential run-off, ending a 12-year political dynasty run by her and her late husband. It remains to be seen how much political muscle she still has, but Cristina will be around always, always on Twitter.
“Mr. Trump’s conduct is not worthy of a candidate to the Presidency of the United States, the most powerful country in the world.” – reasonable people everywhere
This was part of a joint statement released on Nov. 3 by group of 67 prominent intellectuals, scientists, artists and award-winning authors from Mexico and the rest of Ibero-America who signed a statement blasting Republican pre-candidate Donald Trump’s “hate speech,” which they said “recalls historical campaigns against other ethnic groups that led to millions of deaths.”
“This is your land…But it is my home.” -Miguel Layun
Layun, a footballer for Mexico’s National Team, tweeted this gem after Mexico beat the U.S. in an epic soccer match in October, amid a heated political environment fueled by Donald Trump’s xenophobic blather.🇺🇸
“The state cannot prohibit you from eating a bunch of tacos because it’s bad for your health.”-Andres Aguinaco
This from the Mexican lawyer, and presumed taco enthusiast, who helped a local cannabis club win a Supreme Court case that could set a precedent for nationwide marijuana legalization. The argument devised by the attorney and others focused on the notion that an individual is free to choose what to consume as long as he doesn’t affect third parties.
“Everything you read about Puerto Rico in the media is crisis, crisis, crisis. But there’s another reality to our island.” -Carmen Portela
Words of frustration and motivation from the young Boricua who helped start the Instagram hashtag campaign #CrisisIsland, which has prompted young Puerto Ricans to photograph the beautiful side of their island in an attempt to change the way people see their struggling homeland.🇵🇷
“I still don’t consider myself an activist. There was so much indignation among Guatemalans that the only thing that was missing was for someone to set a place and a time.” -Gabriel Wer
Humble words from the 33-year-old Guatemalan business administrator who started the Facebook page in April that helped launch a social protest movement that eventually led to the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina in September. Not bad for a dude who had no prior experience with social activism and had never been to a protest before. 💪
“The last time something like this happened was Nazi Germany, and yet people are like, shrugging about it.” -Junot Diaz
The Dominican-born Pulitzer Prize winning author said this about his home country’s efforts to deport some 500,000 Haitians this year. The human tragedy along the Haitian-D.R. border continues at year’s end.
“Disappointed. Not shocked.” -Chuck Rosenberg
Said the acting administrator of the DEA, with a shake of the head, when asked by 60 Minutes for his immediate reaction to the news that Mexican drug lord Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán had escaped a maximum security prison through a sophisticated tunnel in July. El Chapo remains at large. 🇲🇽
“The guy with the tallest hat in the room has the best chance of getting folks back into church.”
Pope Francis’ historic July visit to Latin America —including a stopover in leftist nations Cuba and Bolivia—helped to revive interest in the Catholic Church, which has been bleeding followers to evangelical churches for decades.
“What are they proposing? What are they saying? They want to build concentration camps and kill us and boil us and turn us into soap? No, man, you have to look for an AL-TER-NA-TIVE!”
‘Santiago’, a spokesman for Barrio 18 street gang, on the Salvadoran government’s declaration of war against gangs, which has led to the highest spike in murders since the end of El Salvador’s civil war in the late 1990s.🔫
“Today the immense majority of Venezuelans want change, but similar to us, the common citizen and Venezuela’s democracy are incarcerated by a corrupt elite who are only interested in remaining in power.”—Leopoldo Lopez
Said the jailed Venezuelan opposition leader who, looking much happier and younger in this archive photo, declared a hunger strike in May as part of his call for peaceful protest and elections that would ultimately hand Maduro’s party its biggest defeat in 17 years.
“The Cold War has been over for a long time. I’m not interested in having battles that, frankly, started before I was born.”– President Barack Obama
These were the words the U.S. president said at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City last April. Although the process is going too slowly for some, 2015 will be remembered as the year that relations between the U.S. and Cuba started the long path back to normalization.👋
“Let’s fight for Brazil!”
That was one of the slogans chanted at a 1 million strong protest against perceived government corruption in March. That got 2015 off to a rocky start for embattled President Dilma Rousseff. The year only got tougher as the country entered it’s worst economic recession in decades and the opposition attempted a short-lived impeachment process against Rousseff in December.🇧🇷
“If this project gets implemented, there is a strong possibility that the Rama language spoken in Bankukuk Taik will disappear as the last people who speak that tongue get forcibly displaced from their land.”-Becky McCray
As the first native-born lawyer for Nicaragua’s Rama indigenous tribe, McCray told the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in March that the Nicaraguan government’s $50 billion plan to built an inter-oceanic canal would be disastrous for her people and the environment. But she might not have to worry about it. One year after the December, 2014 groundbreaking, the project has yet to move forward.🌋
“We could never sell it. We would offend all those friends who pooled together to buy it for us.” -President Jose Mujica
The former President of Uruguay was talking about his car, a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, which became a symbol of his unpretentious style of government. Mujica left office in March as one of Latin America’s most popular leaders. He was jokingly called “the world’s poorest president.”
“The Venezuelan people deserve a government that lives up to its commitment to democracy.”– The White House
A March 9 statement from the White House during President Barack Obama’s odd declaration of national emergency to deal with the perceived threat that Venezuela poses to the “national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
“Those seven years were very long for me. God willing, the other women in jail will soon be free like me.” -‘Guadalupe’
She was one of so-called “17” women jailed in El Salvador for having a miscarriage or unsuccessful pregnancy that was deemed an abortion. Guadalupe was released from a Salvadoran prison on Feb. 19, but dozens of other women remain behind bars thanks to one of the world’s most Draconian anti-abortion laws, which has been decried by human rights organizations and even members of U.S. Congress.
“I knew they wouldn’t clap.” -Enrique Peña Nieto
The president of Mexico, who didn’t know the mic was still on, muttered these words after finishing a press conference where reporters clearly didn’t celebrate his speech. On Feb. 3 the president announced several anti-corruption initiatives and ordered a government investigation of himself, his wife and finance minister. But a day that was meant to restore credibility and decorum turned into an internet meme frenzy poking fun at the embattled Mexican leader.
“We have read with interest your desire to contribute to peace and reconciliation among Colombians. We acknowledge your willingness to travel to Havana and we invite you make that visit.” -FARC
In February, Colombia’s FARC guerrillas invited recently crowned Miss Universe, Paulina Vega, to help keep good on her stated interest in world peace by helping Colombia’s peace talks with the government. Vega didn’t end up brokering a peace deal, but the talks went on without her — they just weren’t as good looking as they could have been.💅
“It’s a disproportionate use of force. These are young kids who have no way to defend themselves, and their only means of expression is their personal Twitter account.” – Xavier Bonilla
The Ecuadorean cartoonist used these words to react to a government-backed online trolling campaign by supporters of President Rafael Correa, whose government has launched a methodical crackdown on freedom of expression.
“They told us we had to become civilized. They taught us … that we should forget our culture, our heritage, our roots. They couldn’t make us disappear and now here we are in power, governing.” -Evo Morales
The president of Bolivia said this as he was sworn in for a third consecutive term in January. In September, lawmakers from his party passed a bill to change Bolivia’s constitution to possibly allow Morales to run for another term in office. His reelection campaign has already started, with this Star Wars ripoff released last week. Is this part of the culture, heritage and roots Evo was talking about?