Published On: Thu, Jun 25th, 2020

Pandemic in LatAm (June 24, 2020)

Latin America is the grim new center of the pandemic, with more than two million people infected and 100,000 deaths, reports the Wall Street Journal. Indeed, months into lockdowns and health emergencies, the virus is only gaining steam in the region, reports the New York Times. The region has eight percent of the world’s population, but accounted for 47 percent of coronavirus deaths recorded in the past two weeks. Deaths have more than doubled across Latin America in a month, according to the Pan American Health Organization, and the region now accounts for several of the world’s worst outbreaks — Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Mexico.

Coronavirus was always expected to hit Latin America very hard — with its dense cities, informal workers, underfunded public health systems, and striking economic inequality. Lack of trust in governments and institutions is another major complicating factor. As if the preexisting conditions weren’t enough, many governments made the situation worse “by brushing off the dangers, fumbling the response, dismissing scientific or expert guidance, withholding data and simply denying the extent of the outbreak altogether.”

News Briefs

Brazil

  • Politicization of Brazil’s coronavirus crisis has obscured the human cost of over 50,000 dead and thousands of families in mourning, reports the Guardian. Brazil’s virus caseload passed one-million mark over the weekend, and in recent days health officials have often reported more than 1,000 deaths a day, notes the New York Times.
  • A Brazilian judge ordered President Jair Bolsonaro to wear a face mask when circulating in Brasilia, where they have been legally required since April. Judge Renato Coelho Borelli called Bolsonaro’s repeated flouting of public health measures “at best disrespectful,” and warned the president that he was subject to a $ 400 fine for appearing in public without a mask. (Guardian, New York Times, Wall Street Journal)
  • Increasing Amazon deforestation and the Bolsonaro administration’s ongoing efforts to dismantle Brazil’s environmental regulations could affect the country’s investment potential, reports the Guardian. A group of 29 international financial institutions urged Brazil’s government “to demonstrate clear commitment to eliminating deforestation and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.” The move comes on the heels of a decision by seven European investment firms last week that they would divest from beef producers, grains traders and even government bonds in Brazil.
Chile
  • Chile’s initial coronavirus success story has soured as infections and deaths spiked sharply in recent weeks, reports the Washington Post. Experts say the government relaxed lockdowns too quickly and failed to track contagion as it spread to the country’s poorer communities. As in other countries, Covid-19 devastation lays bare underlying inequalities, the sort that had Chileans protesting in mass last year and into this one. (See yesterday’s briefs.)
Haiti
  • Former Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was deported from the United States yesterday and immediately arrested upon his arrival in Port-au-Prince after a 26 year absence. He faces murder and torture charges stemming from a paramilitary group he founded in the 1990s, accused of attacking thousands of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristides’ supporters. (Reuters) Under Haitian law, Constant, who was tried and convicted in absentia in 2000 for the murder of political opponents in the rural Haitian village of Raboteau, is entitled to a new trial upon his return to the country, reports the Miami Herald
  • With Haiti ever deeper in a protracted political crisis, the head of the U.N. office in the country has called for constitutional reform — a controversial move that some say fails to note the acute nature of the situation, reports the Miami Herald. A Security Council meeting last Friday noted: “Haiti’s lack of an electoral calendar, the ongoing political crisis, the proliferation of armed gangs and guns, persistent human rights violations, lack of government accountability, the prolonged detention of prisoners and the impact of COVID-19.”

Regional Relations

  • The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States is pushing against U.S. efforts to punish countries that employ Cuba’s medical brigade. (Miami Herald)
  • Haitian criminal groups are exchanging guns for marijuna with their Jamaican counterparts, reports InSight Crime.
Venezuela
  • Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro has taken strong steps to further undermine Venezuela’s political opposition ahead of parliamentary elections that will happen later this year — that they have not caused significant backlash on the streets due in part to the coronavirus pandemic and in part to the opposition’s failed strategies over the past 18 months, writes Félix Seijas Rodríguez in Americas Quarterly.
  • U.S. former security advisor John Bolton’s new book has a 39-page chapter on Venezuela — most press coverage has focused on allegations he makes that U.S. President Donald Trump was inconsistent in his policy towards the country. (See last Friday’s briefs.) But there’s much more. Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde sift through the many many allegations at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Ramsey is struck “how many basic facts Bolton gets wrong and how unreliable his narrative is. If you add his factual errors to his clear personal agenda here, I think it’s clear you have to take what he writes with a grain of salt.” Smilde adds that “writing is motored by a highly emotional conviction of success, is completely lacking in reflection, and sees the world in binary terms.”
Colombia
  • Irregular armed groups in Colombia have ramped up their recruiting of poor young people, who find themselves even more vulnerable with schools shut down due to the coronavirus, reports InSight Crime
Honduras
  • The OAS backed international anti-corruption mission in Honduras, known as “MACCIH,” enjoyed fleeting success before it was dismantled in January — a victim of concerted efforts by Honduran political and economic elites, writes Charles Call in a CLAS Working Paper.
Wildlife
  • Among the things coronavirus has not affected in Latin America is eco-trafficking, which apparently continues apace, particularly smuggling of maritime species, according to InSight Crime.

Mexico

  • At least five people in Mexico were killed by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake, yesterday. The quake, which was centered in the Pacific Ocean, about 14 miles off the coast in the southern state of Oaxaca, rattled large swaths of southern and central Mexico. Buildings swayed in Mexico City, but no extensive damage was reported. In Oaxaca, the quake damaged eight roads—including three federal highways—a bridge, some hospitals and schools as well as an estimated 500 houses. The earthquake caused a fire at a Pemex refinery in the Pacific coast city of Salina Cruz. (Guardian, New York Times, Wall Street Journal)
  • A 1901 private dance party in Mexico City — attended by 41 men, about half dressed as women — caused a scandal that stigmatized homosexuality in the country for decades, to the point where even the number 41 was avoided, reports Americas Quarterly. “More recent generations of LGBT Mexicans, however, have begun revisiting “the dance of the 41,” as the incident became known, as a foundational part of their history.”
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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Pandemic in LatAm (June 24, 2020)