Monday, March 16, 2020

Latin American countries ramp up social distancing (March 16, 2020)

Latin America's Covid-19 infection rate is still low, compared to other parts of the world, but growing steadily.  According to the Johns Hopkins map, as of this morning, Brazil is the most affected country in the region, with 200 confirmed cases, followed by Chile and Peru with just over 70 each. The Americas Society/Council of the Americas has a very helpful tracker of measures taken throughout the region, last updated on Saturday.

Last week, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) warned governments to get ready to cope with the pandemic. Analysts, like James Bosworth at the Latin America Risk Report, note that a spread on the level seen by China and European countries would be devastating to the region's far shakier health care systems.

Several Latin American countries -- Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Honduras, Venezuela, Bolivia, Haiti and Panama -- ramped up coronavirus prevention measures and closed off borders to non-residents. (France 24)  Guatemala banned flights from all of North America, and Colombia had previously sealed its border with Venezuela. (Forbes) Venezuela confirmed its first two cases of the coronavirus Friday. (Associated Press) Venezuela's government ordered a "social quarantine" in six states and Caracas. (Reuters)

Haiti, which has no recorded coronavirus cases, yet, announced a shutdown of its border with the Dominican Republic, yesterday, but will maintain flights to the U.S. for now. (Miami Herald) Jamaica has 10 cases and shut down schools for two weeks. The Dominican Republic suspended all flights from Europe and the arrival of all cruise ships for a month, a measure likely to have enormous negative impact on the country's economy, reports Reuters. (See also Dominican Today.)

Latin America's biggest airline, the Chilean-Brazilian carrier Latam, said it was canceling 30 percent of its international flights for a two-month period due to falling demand over the coronavirus crisis, last week.

Argentina shut down schools for 15 days, and President Alberto Fernández called on citizens to stay home as much as possible. (Reuters) Bolivia also shut down schools and universities.

Though Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was supposed to be in quarantine and awaiting a second coronavirus test -- the first was negative on Friday, but at least five senior officials have been confirmed to have coronavirus. But instead he mingled with supporters who turned out at protests against Brazil's democratic institutions. Bolsonaro, who also used his Twitter account to promote the controversial demonstration, exchanged fist bumps with supporters and used their phones to take selfies. (Guardian)

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador also infuriated critics by meeting with supporters -- hugging them, taking selfies, and even kissing a baby -- even as authorities announced school closures. (Guardian) Mexico has been slow to respond to a rising infection rate. Easter Break, which starts on March 20, will be extended for schools until April 20, but the Mexican football league continues and a massive music festival headlined by Guns N’ Roses attracted 40,000 fans on Saturday. AMLO has followed his habit of suggesting that criticisms of his policy approaches are politically motivated, notes the New York Times.

The lackadaisical response from Brazil and Mexico's populist leaders could backfire: "Populations are going to get frustrated by the failures of these governments," warns the Latin America Risk Report. "Political opponents are going to use the images above to remind voters how these presidents played politics while their countries’ faced a global health crisis."

More Coronavirus
  • Haiti's work to contain the 2010 cholera epidemic -- no new cases have been confirmed in more than 12 months -- is a credit to hundreds of Haitian rapid response workers and an example of how to deal with a public health crisis, reports the Guardian.
  • Epidemics offer us a chance to see what is good about humanity, writes journalist Agus Morales in a New York Times Español op-ed that references Albert Camus' "The Plague." "Viruses, so modern and so ancient, penetrate our organisms indiscriminately, without attending to gender, origin, or social class. They remind us that we are connected, that selfishness and prejudice are a sentence, and that solidarity is a necessary antidote."
News Briefs

  • Guyana's ruling party and the main opposition force agreed to a full recount of March 2's disputed election, on Saturday. A Caribbean Community (CARICOM) high-level mission will supervise the recount, which is set to begin later today. The country's ongoing electoral crisis intensified on Friday, when electoral authorities declared incumbent David Granger the winner. Granger agreed to a full recount after warnings that the international community might consider the election fraudulent. The announcement of results violated a judicial ruling establishing that results must be fully tabulated before proceeding. (Associated Press, Stabroek News, Kaieteur NewsNew York Times)
Dominican Republic
  • The Dominican Republic held municipal elections yesterday -- a redo after February elections were cancelled due to electronic voting machine malfunction in certain areas. Yesterday's election was held despite the coronavirus outbreak, and was completely manual. (Listin Diario) Citizens were electing 158 mayors and an equal number of vice mayors, 1,164 councilors and their substitutes, 235 directors and assistant directors and 735 members of assorted committees, all of whom will take office on April 24 for four-year terms. (EFE)
  • The opposition PRM party was poised for a landslide in several key districts, including the National District and Santo Domingo Este, the two main city councils of the capital, and in Santo Domingo Oeste, report Dominican Today and Noticias Telemundo. (Listin Diario, more details.)
  • The vote yesterday was a crucial step ahead of May 17's general election in the Dominican Republic -- in which the presidency and all 225 seats in the country’s bicameral Congress are up for grabs. (AS/COA)
  • Colombian President Iván Duque is under investigation by the country's supreme court for alleged vote-buying, in the midst of a scandal that ties him and his political mentor, former president and current senator Álvaro Uribe, to a murdered cattle rancher cum drug trafficker. On Saturday theColombian attorney general said prosecutors recovered police recordings in which José Guillermo Hernández mentions the politicians' alleged involvement in a vote-buying scheme in the 2018 presidential election campaign. (EFE, El País, Infobae)
El Salvador
  • The judge in the landmark El Mozote massacre trial is seeking a crucial piece of evidence: U.S. government records related to the 1981 killing. So far there has been no response from the Trump administration, reports the Washington Post.
  • Chilean President Sebastián Piñera lost legitimacy in light of the widespread social protests that started in the country last October, and should step down, argues a demonstrator who was blinded in the repression of protests. (Reuters
  • A rising number of targeted attacks against Uruguayan police suggest increasing impunity in the midst of a shocking increase in violence in the country, reports InSight Crime.
  • 140 same-sex couples participated in a mass wedding yesterday in Mexico City, in commemoration of the 10-year-anniversary of marriage equality in the city, reports EFE.
Climate Change
  • Record-breaking heavy rains, landslides and flooding could be the new normal in parts of Brazil, as climate change  is contributing to more “extreme rainfall” events, warn experts. (Guardian)
  • The police case against a volunteer Amazon firefighter in Alter do Chão shows how competing narratives about last year's fires and political disputes are playing out in real life -- Washington Post.
  • A Quechua indigenous leader from Peru's Amazon communities appealed to the OECD about an Amsterdam-based oil firm, demanding that the company clean up decades of pollution from his people’s lands, reports the Guardian.
  • The growing popularity of guinea pig dishes in Peru, where it is a traditional food, has given Andean governments and charities an opportunity to provide rural women with training on sustainable guinea pig farming and help with issues of poverty, malnutrition and equality, reports the Guardian.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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