Published On: Sat, May 23rd, 2020

Covid-19 in LatAm prisons (May 22, 2020)

News Briefs

  • If one were intent on spreading coronavirus, one would pack many people into tightly crowded, unhygienic spaces with poor ventilation, irregular access to water, deficient medical care, and little testing to know who is infected with the virus. One would, in other words, open a Latin American or Caribbean prison,” write José Miguel Vivanco y César Muñoz Acebes in a New York Times Español op-ed. They note issues of overcrowding and pre-trial detention. 
  • Nearly a dozen detainees in Haiti’s largest prison have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and authorities are concerned it could spread rapidly in the country’s overcrowded criminal system, reports AFP.
  • Guatemalan President Alejandro Giamattei said the U.S. is not acting like a true ally, in a sharp criticism of the U.S. immigration policy that has maintained deportations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Guatemala has confirmed 119 deportees arrived with COVID-19 from the United States. The country has suspended the deportation flights on several occasions after infected passengers were detected, but resumed them after assurances from U.S. authorities, reports the Associated Press.
  • Latin America was quick to impose quarantines two months ago, but the pandemic is still raging and the economic pain in a region where half the workers are informal is unsustainable, reports the Economist.
  • Economic pain has suddenly pushed Universal Basic Income into mainstream conversations, reports Americas Quarterly. Last week ECLAC recommended immediate cash transfers for the region’s most vulnerable populations, and that governments begin moving towards universal basic income policies in the long term. This may be time for a universal basic wage,” Pope Francis said in his Easter message this year.  Is it worth the investment? Too soon to tell, according to economist Eduardo Levy Yeyati in a discussion hosted by Americas Society yesterday. (Video) Nonetheless, UBI might be more effective in the context of limited state capacity, said Marcela Eslava. She noted that progressive tax reform alongside UBI could help ease concerns about sending checks to the rich.
  • Last month Brazil began implementing basic income payments aimed at addressing the economic impact of COVID-19 that will benefit 59 million low-income Brazilians, writes Pedro Telles (In Depth News) The policy is the result of a new law Congress passed in response to a country-wide grassroots campaign launched in March. The basic income payments will continue for at least three months, with a potential extension already foreseen in the approved law.
  • Americas Quarterly reports on how one Brazilian town has implemented a basic income guarantee program that already reaches a quarter of the population — “possibly the largest basic income guarantee project in the world.”
  • The pandemic has challenged lawmakers across the region to maintain their work — many have incorporated technology to ensure social distancing, and at a record pace, according to a new CIPPEC report in El País’ Agenda Publica. Seven countries have implemented virtual commission meetings and plenary sessions.
  • Criminal organizations in Latin America are scrambling just like everybody else, but have shown greater adaptability than governments, writes Carolina Sampó at the AULA blog. “While organized crime is diversifying its portfolio of activities, reinforcing its territorial control, building its prison base, and recruiting new members – exploiting the economic and social situation – governments have little choice but to beef up efforts any way they can domestically while paying special attention to cooperation with neighboring countries facing similar challenges, in hopes of hemming in the criminal organizations.
  • Ethiopia has become a transit hub for Latin American countries competing for ventilator shipments from China, reports the Financial Times.
  • Families have started hanging white flags of distress outside their homes, or waving them in the streets, in El Salvador and Guatemala, where strict lockdowns have left families without food, reports Reuters. Flag colors denote different needs in Guatemala: white means hunger; red is for medicine; black, yellow, or blue means that a woman, child or elderly person is in danger of violence, reports the Guardian.
El Salvador
  • The U.S. State Department certified that El Salvador meets conditions to receive U.S. foreign aid, but notes in a report to Congress that President Nayib Bukele has defied El Salvador’s highest court. The report, obtained by El Diario de Hoy, warns that Bukele’s actions “weaken, rather than strengthen, public institutions.” The strongly worded report also notes Bukele’s hostility towards critics from civil society and the media. “Journalists critical of government policy face threats, many of which are fueled by Bukele’s treatment of them on social media.”
  • Bukele defended his administration’s refusal to handover detailed emergency fund spending reports to the National Assembly as required by a special emergency law. The task of auditing belongs to accounts court, he argued. (El Faro)
  • Rival gang members suddenly thrust into shared jail cells in El Salvador have implemented a working truce, the first time this has happened within the prison system. Roberto Valencia reports in Noticias Telemundo on organization that includes appointed managers for each gang sharing an over-crowded cell. (See April 27’s post.)
  • More than 20,000 people have so far died from COVID-19 in Brazil so far, the health ministry announce 1,188 deaths over a 24 hour period yesterday. (Al Jazeera)
  • Brazil is facing a backlash from international businesses and activists over plans to pass a land reform that critics say could fuel a catastrophic increase in Amazon rainforest deforestation, reports the Financial Times. Provisional Measure 910, which has yet to be approved by Brazilian lawmakers, would legalize informal settlements on federal public lands and grants property titles to those occupying the land, reports AFP.
  • Brazil’s official indigenous affairs agency has been slow to act on Covid-19, and hasn’t carried out strong measure to prevent the spread of an epidemic that could wipe out ethnic groups, reports the Associated Press.
  • Efforts to isolate remote Amazon areas from the coronavirus failed, and now patients must be airlifted to receive medical attention, reports the Associated Press separately.
  • Nicaragua’s government admitted to a rise in Covid-19 infections for the first time this week, though experts say the numbers still do not reflect the country’s true coronavirus impact. (Deutsche Welle, Confidencial)
  • The Pan-American Health Organization said that Nicaragua’s government has denied its personnel access to the nation’s hospitals despite having offered access, a move adding to the widespread belief President Daniel Ortega is trying to underplay the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, reports the Associated Press.


  • Bolivian authorities arrested the country’s health minister, and opened an investigation into claims the government paid grossly inflated prices for ventilators to treat coronavirus patients, reports the Financial Times. Press reports on the steep premium paid for the ventilators, bought at $ 27,683 each, sparked social media backlash against the Bolivian government, which received Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) funds to buy the devices in May, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuela’s Maduro government sent the U.S. Congress a letter outlining its its case against the US and Colombian governments regarding the failed “Operation Gideon” invasion attempt. (AFP)
  • Illegal surveillance of journalists and government critics is rampant in Colombia, and warrants a reform of the country’s military intelligence, argues investigative journalist Daniel Coronell in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Colombia banned international passenger flights until Aug. 31, among the world’s toughest restrictions. Argentina took a similar step this month, reports Reuters.


  • Argentina will enter what is being characterized as a soft-default today — the country will not make interest payments due today, but has extended the deadline for negotiations with creditors and has expressed desire to reach an agreement by June 2. (La Nación, Reuters)
  • Cuba has asked the Paris Club of major creditors for a delay in repaying its debt until 2022, citing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its economy, reports AFP.
  • At least 500 Cuban health workers are helping tackle the new coronavirus in Mexico City, likely the largest contingent deployed by the island’s government in response to the pandemic, reports Reuters.
  • In rural Ecuador, communities face the novel coronavirus without health workers, tests or medicine, reports Reuters.
I hope you’re all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances … And in these times of coronavirus, when we’re all feeling a little isolated, feel especially free to reach out and share. 

Latin America Daily Briefing

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Covid-19 in LatAm prisons (May 22, 2020)