Friday, June 5, 2020

Bolivia's protracted political crisis (June 5, 2020)

News Briefs

Bolivia
  • This week Bolivia's electoral tribunal announced that elections would be held by Sept. 6 (see Wednesday's briefs). Pandemic has prolonged Bolivia's political crisis -- delaying a redo vote originally scheduled for march and throwing in an extra element of uncertainty, reports Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly. Key issues that could define the results include when the vote actually happens -- interim president Jeanne Áñez has questioned the electoral tribunal's announcement and critics say she is using the pandemic to extend her grip on power. Other factors to keep in mind are how bad the pandemic gets and whether anti-MAS voters can unify behind a single candidate, the only way they can effectively challenge former president Evo Morales' still-popular party.
  • Ánez's popularity has increased as a result of her pandemic response, meaning she might well get into a second round with MAS candidate Luis Arce. However, growing tension between Áñez and other anti-MAS candidates could complicate her victory and chances to beat MAS, notes Latin America Risk Report. "With the top two scenarios coming out of this election being an Añez or Arce victory, the chances for a polarized and difficult post-election environment are high."
Brazil
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's controversial governance style in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is fueling widespread pro-democracy movements calling for his impeachment, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's post and Monday's.)
  • Former justice minister Sergio Moro quit in April after accusing Bolsonaro of seeking to interfere in federal police investigations involving family members. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Moro said Bolsonaro abandoned his election promise to fight corruption.
  • Brazil has overtaken Italy as the country with the third-highest Covid-19 death toll after a daily record of 1,473 fatalities took its total tally to more than 34,000. (Guardian) As Folha de S. Paulo put it on its cover today, that is a death a minute, at exactly 100 days since the first case was diagnosed in Brazil on Feb. 25.
Mexico
  • Meanwhile, Mexico reported 816 deaths yesterday, the second consecutive daily record there, while total deaths surpassed 12,000, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Mexico is reopening gradually, even as medical experts fear it will lead to further Covid-19 infections, reports the New York Times.
  • Even as Mexico reopens, crematoriums and funeral homes are overwhelmed, and mortality data shows the death toll is far higher than official numbers, reports the New York Times.
  • Mexico seems unable to seize "a unique opportunity to entice greater regionalization of supply chains and investments away from China" in the pandemic context, said Arturo Sarukhan in today's Latin America Advisor.
Migration
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection has asked contractors for proposals to shore up the border wall that the Trump administration sold as "impenetrable," reports the Washington Post.
Venezuela
  • Iran's success in sending five oil tankers to Venezuela, despite U.S. sanctions and threats to desist, mark a shift towards an offensive approach, reports the Financial Times.
  • Javier Corrales explores 20 years of voting irregularities in Venezuela and how they contributed to democratic backsliding, in an article for the European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies. "Electoral irregularities served two goals: to provide double insurance for the ruling party, and to encourage abstentionism (and divisions) across the opposition. They also increased every time the ruling party felt more electorally threatened."
Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Voters in Saint Kitts and Nevis head to the polls today, in a general election. (St. Kitts Nevis Observer) Team Unity coalition led by Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris is seeking a second term in office, while the opposition St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) is led by former Prime Minister  Dr. Denzil Douglas. (St. Kitts Nevis Observer) A three member CARICOM observer mission arrived in the country this week and will stay through the weekend.
Nicaragua
  • Nicaraguan infectologist Carlos Quant said he was forced out of  his post in a public hospital due to his public criticism of the Nicaraguan government's handling of the Covid-19 crisis, reports Confidencial. A health system lawyer accused Quant of absenteeism, a charge the doctor said was false.
  • Nicaragua's Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) called for the government to take stronger measures to contain Covid-19 contagion, and urged Nicaraguans to stay home of their own volition, reports Confidencial.
Guyana
  • Guayana's vote recount is nearly done, and the opposition PPP/C has a lead over the incumbent APNU+AFC, reports Stabroek News. There is concern over whether President David Granger will accept the result of the March 2 general election, reports Stabroek News.
Peru
  • Peru's generally strong Covid-19 response has failed in the country's Amazon region, where indigenous groups are struggling to prevent what they call an ethnocide, reports Nacla.
Regional
  • Latin America's geographic contours make air travel especially relevant to connecting the region -- which makes the Covid-19 airline crisis particularly worrisome for governments, according to the Economist.
El Salvador
  • Remittances to El Salvador dropped 40 percent in April from the same month last year, due to job losses in the U.S. Experts think the drop could be about 20 percent year-over-year in May and will exacerbate already difficult economic times for millions—and fuel further waves of immigration in coming years, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Colombia
  • Medellín's mayor Daniel Quintero acted fast with coronavirus, and deployed a program that gathers vast amounts of data that helps the city predict outbreaks and help people stay home. The city's track record has been excellent: just three people have died and eight are in the hospital, reports the Economist.
Racism
  • Racial discrimination takes many forms in the region -- Morgan Miller explores how the Dominican Republic's anti-immigration laws related to racism. (Americas Quarterly)
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica's recent legalization of same-sex marriage "is the kind of civil rights victory that can be expected when a country adopts a goverment model that fuses social inclusion with liberal institutions and rejects populism in favor of rule of law," writes Javier Corrales in a New York Times Español.
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. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Bolsonaro v. Institutions (June 4, 2020)

A culture of digital smear campaigns against critics of President Jair Bolsonaro has become a fact of life in Brazil. But allegations that the misinformation -- "violent and bigoted imagery, the fabricated correspondence, the outright lies" -- is being generated by members of Bolsonaro's inner circle is pushing the country closer to a political crisis, reports the Washington Post. (See last Thursday's briefs.) 

The Supreme Court is increasingly positioning itself as the strongest check on Bolsonaro, who is, in turn, lashing out against the judges. Serious criminal investigations involving Bolsonaro's sons and close associates, including the fake news probe, have pushed them to prominently question the judiciary and democratic institutions. As tensions rise between Bolsonaro and the supreme court, focus is shifting to the military and how it will respond, reports the Financial Times. (See Monday's post.)

"Today Brazil is a democracy governed by an autocrat," write Jason Stanley and Federico Finchelstein in a New York Times Español op-ed. "The key question is if Bolsonaro has reached the phase of fascist movement, promoting disorder with the objective of imposing dictatorial order." Bolsonaro is undermining the democratic institutions he himself heads in a number of ways, but the aspect that most links him to fascism is his defense of violence as an end in itself, they write.

While this might seem overly alarmist, last week a Supreme Court justice voiced concern, in similar terms, over anti-democratic rallies supported by Bolsonaro. "We must resist the destruction of the democratic order to avoid what happened in the Weimar Republic when Hitler, after he was elected by popular vote, did not hesitate to annul the constitution and impose a totalitarian system in 1933," Justice Celso de Mello said in a WhatsApp message leaked to the media. (Financial Times, and see Monday's post.)

Bolsonaro's rise came in a context of a growing demand for political power by traditionally marginalized communities in Brazil, writes Eliane Brum in a Guardian opinion piece. "No one has better leveraged hatred, fear and frustration than Bolsonaro. He has done so especially among sections of the white middle-class, who have suffered the erosion of their buying power and watched as the black community refused to return to its historical subaltern position. And especially among men challenged by women who decried sexual harassment and misogynistic jokes," writes Brum. These groups face significant violence -- epitomized by the 2018 assassination of  Mariele Franco, a leftwing city councillor who was female, black, lesbian and from a favela.

Franco's death is much more than a symbol however, and has significant relevance for Brazil's current political crisis. Franco is believed to have been killed by a paramilitary group with alleged connections to members of the Bolsonaro family. Former justice minister Sergio Moro resigned in April alleging that Bolsonaro sought to interfere in the federal police, which is carrying out several sensitive investigations involving Bolsonaro's family. (See April 28's post.) This includes an investigation into Bolsonaro's son Flavio's alleged links to a key suspect in Franco's murder, reported Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept in April. (Also these other pieces in The Intercept, The Intercept, and this one from last year.)

Currently, the investigation into the murder of Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, is led by the Civil Police and the Rio de Janeiro MP. The councilwoman's family is against the change in those responsible for the investigation, and believe it would be a setback. Last week the judges rejected a request from the attorney general to "federalize" the case. (Globo)

This weekend, Bolsonaro accused Brazilian journalist Bianca Santana of propagating fake news, but she said he brandished a piece she never wrote, and suspects that the accusation is retaliation for her participation campaign to keep the Franco investigation from being elevated to the federal police. (UOL

All of this within a context of growing protests against police brutality that overwhelmingly kills black men and youths in Rio de Janeiro -- see yesterday's post. New audio recordings in which Bolsonaro's appointee to promote black culture describes the country’s black rights movement as “scum” are likely to add insult to injury. “The black movement, those bums from the black movement, bloody scum,” said Sérgio Camargo in a recording obtained by Brazilian media. (Guardian)

News Briefs

Venezuela
  • President Nicolás Maduro and Venezuela’s opposition, led by Juan Guaidó, have agreed to a measure for battling the new coronavirus to be overseen by the Pan-American Health Organization, reports the Associated Press. The one-page agreement signed June 1 says both sides will work in coordination to find funds for fighting the coronavirus. It may seem small, but the move is the first step towards cooperation in a long time. “It’s hard to overstate how important this is for Venezuela,” WOLA's Geoff Ramsey told AP. 
  • There was little immediate messaging about the agreement among the opposition, and "the muted response reveals once again the political tight-rope walked by Juan Guaidó as he tries to attend to civil society and moderates’ demands to attend to the population’s needs, while keeping on board radicals who think any relief only helps Maduro," write David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas in the Venezuela Weekly.
Regional
  • Epidemiologists say Latin American countries are reopening based on political rather than health recommendations, as countries like Brazil and Mexico begin relaxing restrictions even as infection rates rise, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
More Brazil
  • Brazil registered a record number of daily coronavirus deaths (1,350) for the second consecutive day and infections looked set to pass 600,000 today, reports the Guardian. Brazil is now poised to overtake Italy as the country with the world’s third-highest number of fatalities.
  • Death is "everybody's destiny" Bolsonaro said by way of comfort to those who are grieving. (Reuters)
  • Most of Brazil’s small businesses, which account for more than half of its jobs and 30% of gross domestic product, are not getting the cash Bolsonaro pledged to help them through the coronavirus crisis, reports Reuters.
Amazon
  • British-based banks and finance houses have provided more than $2 billion in financial backing in recent years to Brazilian beef companies which have been linked to Amazon deforestation, according to new research by the Guardian, Unearthed and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. 
Mexico
  • Mexican health authorities reported 1,092 coronavirus deaths yesterday – double the country’s previous highest one-day toll. Daily infections were also at an all-time high of just under 4,000. (Guardian) Due to delays in centralizing information, the daily toll does not reflect actual deaths in 24 hours, but nonetheless, "the figure was a startling sign of how the pandemic has suddenly intensified," reports the Washington Post
  • A Mexican congresswoman's body was found in a shallow grave in a month after she was abducted in Colima state. Anel Bueno was a member of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's Morena party. He said, yesterday, that a suspect had been detained over the killing. (Guardian)
Colombia
  • Colombia's Supreme Court announced it is opening an investigation into former president Álvaro Uribe in connection with illegal military spying on journalists and politicians, reports AFP.
Bolivia
  • Bolivian authorities are easing restrictions, even as experts warn it could lead to an explosion of Covid-19 cases, reports Reuters.
Migration
  • African, Cuban and Haitian migrants stranded in Honduras after borders were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic began trekking northward on Tuesday in an attempt to reach the United States, reports Reuters.
Chile
  • Chile's government said Wednesday it was prolonging a three-week shutdown of the country's capital Santiago as the COVID-19 death toll reached a new daily record, reports AFP.
Peru
  • Peruvian sex workers face an impossible choice between economy and health, reports EFE.
Panama
  • Panamanian trade unions protested against the lifting of the country's coronavirus quarantine, arguing that it will lead to a spike in cases. (AFP)
Critter corner
  • Sloths are the animal kingdom's rockstars, but the stress of fame and tourist selfies is taking a heavy toll, warn experts. (Guardian)
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

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Police brutality in Rio (June 3, 2020)

Frequent police killings in Rio de Janeiro -- where the victims are often black men and youths -- are an issue of increasing concern in Brazil, even as the issue of police brutality against people of color gets worldwide traction. In the first four months of 2020, Rio police, by their own count, killed 606 people, and police violence surged in April despite Covid-19 lockdowns, writes Human Rights Watch's César Muñoz Acebes in Americas Quarterly

A black 14-year-old killed in a Rio de Janeiro police raid last month, João Pedro Matos Pinto, has become a symbol of the violence meted out by security forces against black men and boys in Brazilian favelas, reports the Guardian. A protest on Sunday in Rio, under the slogan "Black Lives Matter" was broken up by security forces, and another is planned next Sunday. With police violence against black people an international topic, many are comparing Pinto's death to George Floyd's. (See Monday's post.)

News Briefs

More Brazil
  • A Folha de S. Paulo analysis of government data found that Covid-19 deaths might be 140 percent higher than what the Ministry of Health has reported.
  • Brazil's large, and often invisible, class of domestic workers are particularly vulnerable during the country's coronavirus pandemic -- both in terms of health and economy, writes Mauricio Sellmann Oliveira in The Conversation.
Amazon
  • Rainforest deforestation around the world increased last year to the equivalent of a football pitch disappearing every six seconds, according to new satellite-based analysis. The heaviest reduction was in Brazil, but the biggest surge in forest loss was in Bolivia, where fires led to an 80 percent greater reduction in tree cover than in any previous year on record, reports the Guardian.
Regional
  • U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden is critical of the Trump administration's lack of engagement with Latin America, but "even if he is elected, a return to some kind of Obama-era status quo seems unlikely," warns Russell Crandall in Americas Quarterly.
  • Latin America has become the global coronavirus epicenter, despite aggressive and early action by many governments in the region, reports the Washington Post. Old blights -- poverty, inequality, corruption, lack of faith in institutions -- became stumbling blocks for efforts to stall the disease, which has, in turn, exacerbated many pre-existing societal problems. "Countries that tried to enforce complete lockdowns haven’t been able to maintain them for long as hunger mounts, misinformation spreads and distrust grows."
  • How to exit confinement is a major challenge governments in the region face, and the lessons from the rest of the world don't always apply, warns Inter-American Development Bank official Carmen Pagés in the Post Opinión. Developing protocols to avoid human contact in public transportation, education and work, she warns.
Bolivia
  • Bolivia’s electoral tribunal reached an agreement with the country’s political parties to hold general elections by Sept. 6, reports Reuters. An election redo was scheduled for May but postponed due to Covid-19, prologuing Bolivia's irregular political situation in the wake of President Evo Morales' ouster in November of last year. (See Monday's briefs.)
Venezuela
  • Time is Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó's great enemy -- and the Chavista strategy of wearing down his political movement has been abetted by opposition bumbling, argues Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • The U.S. sanctioned four shipping firms for transporting Venezuelan oil, yesterday, reports Al Jazeera.
Colombia
  • A decision announced last week to send U.S. troops into Colombia to help against drug trafficking is controversial, reports InSight Crime. Areas of concern include fears that the Trump administration will pressure the Colombian government into resuming aerial eradication of coca plants, and that the deployment has, reportedly, not been approved by the Colombian congress.
  • More than 110 indigenous and social leaders, human rights defenders and former combatants have been murdered this year -- on Sunday Joel Villamizar became the latest leader to be murdered, in Norte de Santander, reports Telesur.
  • A group of 15 organizations of civil society asked the U.S. to take a stance on revelations that Colombia's military intelligence was profiling journalists, activists and political leaders, reports Caracol. (See May 4's post.)
  • An estimated 131.000 people are subjected to forced labor in Colombia, an issue of increasing relevance in a country approaching a 20 percent unemployment rate and in which 5.4 million jobs were lost in April, writes Sinar Alvarado in a New York Times Español op-ed
Honduras
  • The brutal 2016 assassination of environmental activist Berta Cáceres in Honduras was not without warning, documents Nina Lakhani in a new book that delves into the case and the long-shot for justice in a country where "impunity reigns supreme." (Guardian)
Mexico
  • A new film, Radio Silence, documents Mexican investigative journalist Carmen Aristegui's struggle with censorship after she was fired in 2015, over the 22 months it took her to get back on the air, reports the Guardian.
Argentina
  • IMF officials say Argentina can still improve its restructuring offer on $65 billion of debt with foreign creditors as it continues negotiations after slipping into default last month, reports the Financial Times.
Ecuador
  • The IMF is is discussing a loan of about $250 million for Ecuador, which faces a selloff in crude oil and one of Latin America’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks, reports Bloomberg.
  • Ecuador is starting talks with creditors, and officials aim to release an initial debt restructuring offer late this month, reports Bloomberg
Honduras
  • The IMF said it has increased overall financing access for Honduras to about $531 million, immediately releasing $233 million, more than five times the amount initially approved -- Reuters.
Ni Una Menos
  • Today is the fifth anniversary of the Ni Una Menos movement, which started in Argentina in 2015. Activists can't gather in the streets to protest gender violence, due to coronavirus restrictions, but are taking their demands for responses to femicide to social media, reports Página 12. Though the movement has had high impact in Argentina and regional echoes, activists note that there were 1450 femicides in the country since its launch.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Bukele's first year in office (June 2, 2020)

News Briefs

El Salvador
  • At least 17 people were killed in El Salvador by Tropical Storm Amanda, and 24,125 families have been affected by landslides and flooding. (Associated Press, Diario de Hoy)
  • President Nayib Bukele visited a community destroyed by the storm yesterday, and marked the anniversary of his first year in office with a tirade against the National Assembly and El Salvador's Supreme Court. Bukele threatened to not pay lawmaker's salaries, and predicted that they would soon lose their positions, a veiled reference to next year's legislative elections. (El Faro)
  • The speech caps a year in which Salvadorans' right have been rolled back. Even before the coronavirus lockdown, the Bukele administration was leaning more on security forces, violating prison inmates' rights, weakening protections for LGBT people, and undermining freedom of expression, according to El Diario de Hoy.
  • Nonetheless, the U.S. State Department certified that El Salvador's government has adequately guaranteed human rights and democratic institutions -- a requirement to obtain U.S. foreign aid -- though the report noted with concern Bukele's military takeover of the National Assembly chamber in February and efforts to silence critical journalists and media outlets. (El Faro)
  • Last week National Assembly lawmakers passed a law outlining a gradual economic reopening plan that would begin reopening El Salvador's economic activity on June 8. Bukele promised to veto the law -- the second attempt by the legislature to end the country's quarantine. (La Prensa Gráfica)
Migration
  • Four people deported to El Salvador in April from the U.S. tested positive for Covid-19 in a Salvadoran government quarantine facility. They said U.S. immigration authorities never tested them, reports El Faro. The United States has deported more than 1,700 Salvadorans during the pandemic, yet El Salvador’s immigration authorities have refused to divulge the number of Covid-19 cases among the deported population.
  • The U.S. promised to test people before deporting them, but the Department of Homeland Security is only testing a sample of the detainees it is removing from the United States, according to the Miami Herald. Furthermore it is using a potentially inaccurate 15-minute rapid test to determine if they have the coronavirus, raising the specter of false-negatives. Guatemala’s government has confirmed that some returning migrants are still testing positive for Covid-19, despite arriving with a clean bill of health from U.S. immigration authorities.
Brazil
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro urged supporters to put off their protests against the country’s Supreme Court next weekend after counter-demonstrations triggered violent clashes on Sunday, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Brazil registered 11,598 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 623 additional deaths in the last 24 hours, the nation’s Health Ministry said last night. (Reuters)
Mexico
  • Mexico might be at its coronavirus peak -- Mexico City is facing an onslaught of cases with an understaffed and undersupplied hospital system, reports the Washington Post. There is concern that official figure of nearly 10,000 dead vastly underestimates the death toll, and that the chronic illnesses that afflict many Mexicans -- including obesity and diabetes -- will contribute significantly to mortality rates.
  • Mexico lifted its 70-day lockdown yesterday, but replaced it with a contradictory patchwork of federal and local measures, reports the Washington Post.
Venezuela
  • Venezuela raised gasoline prices yesterday, a historic policy shift in a country where gas has been essentially free for citizens for decades. There were long lines and payment problems, reports Bloomberg. The move is a gamble aimed at improving major fuel shortages, but removing subsidies could backfire, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Iran has said it will continue fuel shipments to Venezuela if Caracas requests more supplies, despite U.S. criticism. (Al Jazeera)
  • Mexico-based company Libre Abordo said on Sunday it was bankrupt and that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had terminated an oil-for-food agreement with the firm, reports Reuters.
Colombia
  • Quarantine hasn't protected hundreds of families from an informal neighborhood in Bogotá from eviction, reports the Washington Post. Authorities say the houses in the Ciudad Bolivar shantytown were built unlawfully, reports the Guardian. Members of the Altos de la Estancia community show videos of heavily armored riot police firing tear gas and destroying houses. The government promised food and economic relief to 3 million impoverished families in early April, though residents in Ciudad Bolívar say little has been forthcoming.
  • The city of Soacha, near Bogotá has limited deaths with an extremely strict lockdown, but residents are chafing, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Peru
  • At least 20 journalists have died from Covid-19 in Peru, many who carry out their work without adequate protective equipment, reports the Guardian.
Ecuador
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concerns about the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths among Amazon's Indigenous people in Ecuador. (Telesur)
Argentina
  • Argentina extended its deadline to negotiate with its creditors to June 12, reports Al Jazeera.
Chile
  • Chile surpassed 100,000 cases of the coronavirus, yesterday, reports Reuters.
Regional
  • South American countries are relaxing coronavirus restrictions, even as contagions continue to rise in most of the region, reports the Associated Press. The executive director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, Mike Ryan, expressed concern over South America’s climbing contagion, telling reporters that the region had become an “intense zone of transmission for this virus,” which had not yet reached its peak.
  • Covid-19 will have a devastating effect on higher education in Latin America -- a survey by American University's Center for Latin American & Latino Studies found that online instruction is severely affected by socio-economic and territorial disparities; most respondents believe that on-site classes cannot resume for some time; and 84 percent of respondents predict a drop in undergraduate registration. "Our survey leaves little doubt that Latin American universities are facing their greatest crisis in decades. Continued expansion of higher education institutions – one-quarter of which have been created since the early 2000s – now appears implausible."
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. 

Monday, June 1, 2020

Brazilian united front against Bolsonaro (June 1, 2020)


Brazilian luminaries from the left and the right have called for a united front to protect Brazilian democracy and lives. The Movimento Estamos Juntos (We’re In This Together Movement) was launched on Saturday, inspired by  Diretas Já – a historic pro-democracy campaign that helped end two decades of military rule in the 1980s, reports the Guardian. A high-profile manifesto with more than 100,000 signatories -- politicians from the right and left as well as celebrities -- urges Brazilians to mobilize in defence of “life, freedom and democracy”

The move reflects increasing concern in Brazil over President Jair Bolsonaro's erratic pandemic response, shunning of social distancing, his support for anti-democracy protests, and a series of criminal investigations involving Bolsonaro family members that the president seems to have sought to thwart.

As investigations involving Bolsonaro, family members and close associates deepen, Bolsonaro has increasingly lashed out and even raised the specter of a constitutional crisis by suggesting that the federal police should not carry out “absurd orders” of the Supreme Court, reports the New York Times.  

Raids last week by federal police (see last Thursday's briefs), part of a Supreme Court probe into the spread of what it calls fake news and the orchestration of defamation campaigns against its justices, seems to have particularly enraged Bolsonaro's inner circle. The president’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal lawmaker, warned that the country was approaching what he called a “moment of rupture.”

Bolsonaro took part in a rally yesterday that called for the Supreme Court to be shut down in retaliation for its investigation into whether Bolsonaro sought to interfere in other police investigations into associates. His participation in protests, without observing social distancing protocols, has become something of a weekend classic. Yesterday he rode a police horse and mingled with supporters without wearing a face mask, reports Al Jazeera.

Pro-Bolsonaro and anti-Bolsonaro protesters clashed in São Paulo yesterday, and riot police fired tear gas in efforts to keep the groups apart, reports AFP.

Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello, said the president's supporters were seeking a military dictatorship and referenced Hitler's rise to power in a private message reported by Reuters.

The federal police are increasingly at the center of a potential institutional crisis, reports The Intercept, in a deep dive into raids last week carried out both against Bolsonaro's political rivals and his supporters. Bolsonaro reportedly sought to control the Rio de Janeiro division of the federal police, the same one that last week carried out a high-profile raid on Rio de Janeiro governor Wilson Witzel who has become a high profile conservative rival of Bolsonaro.

More Brazil
  • A separate demonstration in Rio de Janeiro protested crimes committed by the police against black people Brazilian favelas, and also referenced George Floyd's death. The protest in Rio de Janeiro called "Black Lives Matter," was interrupted when police used tear gas to disperse people, reports Voice of America.
News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • The United States has delivered two million doses of hydroxychloroquine to Brazil for use in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The two countries are embarking on a joint research effort tostudy whether the drug is safe and effective for the prevention and early treatment of Covid-19, according to a White House announcement yesterday. The drug's use as a treatment or prophylactic for coronavirus is controversial -- beyond scientific debate, hydroxychloroquine has become politically charged as U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro insist on its use. (New York Times)
  • Coronavirus isn't the only infectious disease afflicting Latin American countries, many of which, like Honduras, are also in pitched battles with dengue. And at least nine countries in the region have paused some of their immunization activities, threatening efforts to control diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and measles, reports the New York Times.
  • There is a trend for high-altitude places -- including parts of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia -- to avoid coronavirus contagion, but the cause of the phenomenon remains unclear, reports the Washington Post.
Nicaragua
  • Nicaragua's Ortega government insists Covid-19 is under control, but express burials held throughout the night in the country tell a different story, reports the New York Times. Families are told that their loved ones died of pneumonia and — because of fear of contagion — are urged to bury them as soon as possible. The Citizen Observatory, an anonymous group of 90 doctors, epidemiologists and other public health volunteers who formed an underground organization to track coronavirus cases in Nicaragua, puts the coronavirus death toll in Nicaragua at 805. They have counted 3,725 cases as of Saturday.
Mexico
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador brushed off government statistics showing record numbers of calls to a domestic violence hotline in March, comparing them to prank calls. His dismissal downplays the heightened danger women in Mexico -- and around the world -- face in the midst of coronavirus lockdowns, and continues a tone-deaf response to Mexico's tragic rates of gender violence. (New York Times)
  • AMLO said Covid-19 has been tamed in Mexico and is plotting a gradual reopening, but experts and grave diggers are bracing for an alarming rise in cases, reports the Guardian.
El Salvador
  • Tropical Storm Amanda has killed at least seven people in El Salvador, reports Reuters.
Colombia
  • Colombia will maintain quarantine measures for its three most coronavirus affected cities, including Bogotá, but will start lifting restrictions in the rest of the country. (Reuters)
Bolivia
  • Six months after Bolivian President Evo Morales' ouster, even his critics agree that his "interim" successor Jeannine Áñez has deepened the country's divisions and appears to be using the coronavirus pandemic to further her political ambitions, reports the Guardian.
Venezuela
  • She's not the only one. "It’s increasingly clear that Venezuela’s regime is using the pandemic to strengthen its hold on power," according to the New Yorker.
  • Distance learning is particularly challenging for poor households, where internet access is non-existent or spotty. Venezuela doesn't project returning to physical classrooms before the end of 2020, and connectivity is a major issue, that adds to what already amounted to an educational crisis before the pandemic, reports the Washington Post.
Honduras
  • A new Honduran law allows the country's security forces to intercept planes suspected of transporting drugs and to participate in more-comprehensive intelligence-sharing with the United States and countries in Latin America. The new legislation paves the way for greater cooperation with the United States to stop drug trafficking, focusing on deterring private jets that transport cocaine from Venezuela to Honduras, reports the Washington Post.
  • In "Who Killed Berta Cáceres? Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet," journalist Nina Lakhani recounts the events surrounding the murder of the Honduran environmental leader. (Jacobin)
Suriname
  • Four Surinamese opposition parties have formed an alliance that would allow them to end President Desi Bouterse's longtime grip on the country's government. But electoral authorities still haven't announced results of last week's legislative election, and Bouterse, who faces criminal convictions both at home and in the Netherlands — had not conceded defeat, reports the Associated Press.
Uruguay
  • Uruguay has turned into the regional quarantine exception, and has avoided both Covid-19 contagion and deaths. Advantages include a low poverty rate, lack of population density, and its relatively good healthcare system, reports Global Americans.
Chile
  • A clandestine network of abortion "doulas" is willing to break Chilean law and face prison to help women obtain abortions, as long as it's medically safe to do so. They are doing it because restrictive laws make legal abortions difficult to obtain. (NBC)
ACAB
  • Pussy Riot and the Chilean feminist collective Lastesis released a manifesto against police violence and state repression on Friday. It calls on civilians to set the institutions of the state on fire – "in a figurative sense," reports the Guardian.
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. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

Latin America 40 percent coronavirus deaths (May 29, 2020)


Latin America represents nearly 40 percent of daily coronavirus deaths globally now -- though it has just 8 percent of the world's population, reports Bloomberg. Latin American countries reported more than 1,900 deaths on yesterday, a record, accounting for 37 percent worldwide.

Earlier this week the Pan-American Health Organization said Latin America had become the world's coronavirus epicenter. 

Brazil currently has more cases than any country except the U.S. Mexico had its largest single increase in both cases and deaths this week. And Peru, Chile and Colombia have all set daily records in the past week. There is concern that Haiti could be headed for a Covid-19 humanitarian crisis.

Even as caseloads continue to explode, some normal activity is resuming across the region, warns Bloomberg. "Without more government aid and security forces, many countries may not be able to sustain quarantines until the worst of the storm has passed."

A study this week by the United Nations World Food Programme found the coronavirus pandemic has put nearly 14 million people in the Caribbean and Latin America at risk of missing meals. (NPR) The UN agency estimated that 10 million additional people could join the 3.4 million across the region who were already unable to meet their basic food needs. The WFP projections cover Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and small island developing states in the Caribbean.

News Briefs

Suriname
  • Suriname's main opposition party seems poised to win last Monday's legislative elections, but the ruling National Democratic Party has already called for a recount. At stake is the continuity of President Desi Bouterse, who has governed the country through dictatorship and democracy and was recently convicted of murder by a military court. He called for a nationally televised recount after preliminary results gave victory to the opposition Progressive Reform Party. (Deutsche Welle)
Chile
  • Chilean doctors said they are being forced to make tough decisions as hospital beds in Santiago run short, reports Reuters. The count of new cases in Chile has quadrupled since early May to about 4,000 daily, with total cases topping 80,000 on Wednesday. Critical care wards in Santiago now report 97% occupancy levels, according to a Tuesday poll by Chile´s Society of Intensive Care Medicine.
  • Some 15 percent of Chileans who have tested positive for COVID-19 are still going to work, according to a new study that also found that people presenting “suspicious” symptoms who have not been tested, the proportion of those still on the job rose to 43.6 percent. (EFE)
Brazil
  • Brazil entered the pandemic with strengths that include a federal system and a relatively strong public health system. But "Covid-19 exploits Brazil's weaknesses," reports the Economist. The virus has rooted into poor neighborhoods where density is high and most people have jobs without contracts or benefits -- making social distancing hard. Even more harmful is President Jair Bolsonaro's attitude. 
  • Sao Paulo, will begin reopening after two months of a loose quarantine, despite a record number of new coronavirus cases reported in Brazil. (Bloomberg)
Venezuela
  • Venezuela’s Crisis, Outside Powers, Politics, and the Search for a Solution -- David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey unpack what's going on in Venezuela with Covid-19, what it would take to reach a political solution, and the role of outside powers in the latest WOLA podcast.
  • The Venezuelan navy said it escorted a fourth fuel tanker from Iran through its waters, yesterday. The U.S. called the shipments to the gasoline-starved country a distraction from problems facing President Nicolas Maduro, reports Reuters.
  • A British court said it must decide which of Venezuela's political factions legitimately represent the country before ruling on president Nicolas Maduro’s request for the Bank of England to hand over gold the country has in its vaults. The gold would be used to fund Venezuela’s coronavirus response, and the Maduro administration said the money would be administered by the UN Development Program to administer the funds. But the Bank of England has refused to transfer the funds to Maduro’s government, which Britain does not recognize, since 2018. (Reuters)
  • Venezuela's National Assembly ratified opposition leader Juan Guaido as legislative speaker, yesterday, defying a Supreme Court ruling that recognized a Maduro-friendly lawmaker as the head of the assembly, reports AFP. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Coronavirus economic pain has been intense in Venezuela, which was already suffering from hyperinflation, high levels of unemployment and a seven-year recession. Re-opening certain sectors of the economy will be critical "to ensure that the quarantine doesn’t cost more lives than the coronavirus itself," but "will need to be carefully planned, and come alongside an agile public policy response," writes Asdrúbal Oliveros in Americas Quarterly.
Regional
  • "As governments consider how to respond to COVID-19, one potential solution has been flying under the radar: subnational development banks," argue Sergio Suchodolski and Adauto Modesto Junior in Americas Quarterly.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador has secured $250 million in emergency financing from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to fund Covid-19 efforts. (Latin Finance)
  • Cristosal notes a worrisome trend of Covid-19 cases among Salvadoran security forces, and reports that they are obliged to continue working, despite the diagnosis. The National Civil Police denied the allegation.
  • The group also denounced the collapse of health centers, lack of protective gear for health workers, and attempts to censor workers.
Ecuador
  • Coronavirus has deepened inequality in Ecuador's Guayaquil, reports Al Jazeera.
Guyana
  • The Center for International Environmental Law denounced that ExxonMobil has flared gas offshore in Guyana, far exceeding permitted levels. "The magnitude and duration of the flaring suggests more than a one-time, technical glitch. According to Guyana’s environmental agency, Exxon has flared an estimated 9 billion cubic feet of gas—not the 2 billion the company first claimed. That puts Guyana among the top ten gas flaring countries in the world—even though the first oil was lifted from Guyana’s waters just six months ago."
Colombia
  • Colombian Duque administration "achievements include absorbing 1.8m Venezuelan migrants, a law to get broadband to rural areas and, so far, coping with covid-19. But with more than half [of President Iván Duque's] four-year term still to go, they risk being wiped out by recession and, with it, a probable rebound in crime," warns the Economist.
Bolivia
  • Bolivia is a tough case to pigeonhole -- this post by Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky Former UN Independent Expert on debt and human rights analyzes some aspects of its heterodox development model under President Evo Morales.
Argentina
  • Argentina published a new debt offer that shortens its payment moratorium to two years and delays principal payments for half a decade -- Bloomberg.
Arts
  • Art can make visible the forgotten political violence victims that Colombia has tried to erase, writes Doris Salcedo, part of a New York Times "Big Ideas" series.
  • Also in the series, which focuses on "Why Does Art Matter," Mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio writes about how representation of indigenous women in the film Roma helped create momentum for a groundbreaking new law that granted two million Mexican domestic workers basic rights.
Lockdown lifestyle
  • To meet rising demand for animal companions in lockdown, Public Animal Shelter in Rio de Janeiro lets people choose a pet online and delivers it to their homes. (Guardian)
  • Waste not want not: Montevideo's closed down international airport is doubling as a drive-in movie theater for Uruguayans who miss entertainment venues. (Guardian)
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