Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Bolsonaro scoffs in the face of Covid-19 (March 25, 2020)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro scoffed at quarantine measures aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus, even as both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo were placed under partial lockdown by municipal and state authorities yesterday. In a speech last night, Bolsonaro maintained his dismissive stance towards the dangers of Covid-19, and accused Brazilian media of trying to stoke nationwide hysteria. He asked state and municipal governments to roll-back restrictions on movements, calling them "scorched earth policies." (Associated Press, AFP)

Bolsonaro also said he “wouldn’t feel anything” if infected. “In my particular case, with my history as an athlete, if I were infected by the virus, I wouldn’t need to worry,” he said in yesterday's speech. There was indeed, growing speculation yesterday that Bolsonaro was infected with coronavirus, reports the Guardian. A growing number of Brazil's political elite has been infected, particularly members of the delegation that travelled with Bolsonaro to Florida to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump, earlier this month, reports Reuters.

Many analysts believe Bolsonaro's bizarre coronavirus stance will take him out of the running in for reelection in 2022. Brazilians self-quarantined or in local lockdowns have been expressing anger against Bolsonaro by pot banging every evening for the past week. While the government's coronavirus response was the initial flashpoint, protesters are also expressing more widespread anger at the first year of the Bolsonaro administration, reports the Guardian.

Bolsonaro appears to be betting on a Covid-19 culture war, though it's not at all clear he will win, writes Vincent Bevins in the New York Review of Books. His frequent clashes with other branches of democratic governance seem part of a winner takes all strategy pushed by Bolsonaro himself, says analyst Oliver Stuenkel in the piece.

However, in an interesting Twitter thread focused on Covid-19 political fallout, Stuenkel argues that Bolsonaro (and Trump and AMLO) might well eventually recover from this episode.

The Washington Post likens Bolsonaro's stance to that of U.S. President Donald Trump, and notes how both leaders see the outbreak as "more of a political hassle than public health threat." Chief among their practical reasons for the stance are economic concerns, note analysts.

News Briefs

Mexico
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador insists on urging citizens not to let coronavirus contagion stop them from eating out at restaurants. He and supporters have said that fears over coronavirus are exaggerated, and have furthered conspiratorial theories about the illness. Mexicans have been critical of the stance, and many are taking precautions of their own, in the absence of official restrictions, reports the Guardian. (New York Times video)
  • But AMLO's stance is less crazy if you look at the poor Mexicans who form his key constituency: millions of people who live day-by-day, many in informal or precarious working conditions, and who are unable to simply stay at home for a week, writes Hernán Gómez Bruera in Americas Quarterly.
  • Mexicans who cross the U.S. border to donate blood are a critical part of the U.K. blood plasma supply -- the Guardian explores the health impact on frequent donors lured by cash, whose immune systems could be compromised, and coronavirus.
Migration
  • The new U.S. asylum infrastructure is dangerous -- and unevenly enforced -- for migrants with life threatening diseases, reports the Washington Post with particular emphasis on how asylum seekers with HIV/AIDS have been rebuffed by immigration agents.
Venezuela
  • Nearly a million children are living without their parents in Venezuela, after their mothers and fathers migrated in search of economic opportunities in the midst of a prolonged economic crisis. Many are with grandparents, friends, neighbors, or even just each other, and the coronavirus quarantine threatens to further isolate these children from the teachers and neighbors who support them, reports the New York Times.
Regional Relations
  • A growing chorus in the U.S. is calling on the Trump administration to ease up on economic sanctions against Venezuelan and Iran, which they say are contributing to the coronavirus pandemic death toll, reports the Associated Press.
  • Foreign Ministers of the European Union (EU) supported Iran and Venezuela’s requests for financial aid to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to fight the coronavirus pandemic, reports Telesur.
  • China could play a key role in shoring up Latin American economies that will be hard hit by the impact of coronavirus for years to come, and is already harnessing its vast resources to assist LAC countries with their immediate responses to local outbreaks, reports Americas Quarterly.
Guyana
  • Results from Guyana's March 2 remain in limbo. Members of the governing coalition have paralyzed a vote recount via litigation, and international observer missions, including Caricom's, have withdrawn as a result of ongoing irregularities. (Stabroek, Kaieteur News)
  • Is it the first sign of the resources curse, wonders Bloomberg, noting the potential impact of the legitimacy crisis on the country's nascent oil extraction sector."
  • The U.K. foreign secretary warned Guayana yesterday that "any government sworn in on the basis of non-credible results will face strong international condemnation."
  • The oil context raised many questions about whether oil companies would do business with a government that declares itself winner with no recount. Billions of oil dollars are at stake.
More Brazil
  • Evangelical Christians' missionary zeal, who are leveraging their influence with the Brazilian government, could put indigenous communities at risk for disease -- including, of course, Covid-19, reports the Guardian.
  • The city of Sobral in Brazil's north-east is poor, but it's the best place in the country to get a public education, reports the Guardian. The secret? Sustained educational improvement policies over the past 23 years.
I hope you're all staying safe and 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.

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