Friday, March 20, 2020

Quarantines in LatAm (March 20, 2020)

  • Latin America's health systems are not prepared for Covid-19 -- though most countries in the region guarantee access to health as a human right, in practise funding falls drastically short, explains Miguel Lago in a grim New York Times Español op-ed. Authorities will be forced to choose whether to attend Covid-19 patients at the cost of ignoring other pathologies, he writes.
  • The pandemic comes at a grim economic time for the region, and ,any countries in Latin America will struggle to implement countercyclical fiscal policies to support the economy during the downturn due to their debt, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • Separately, Council on Foreign Relations' Shannon O'Neil discusses economic impact on the region in the Americas Quarterly Podcast.
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández announced a national quarantine, effective today, until the end of the month. There are officially 128 cases of Covid-19 in the country. (Página 12) "The goal is that the pandemic be governable, that the increase in contagion be compatible with our health system," explained Fernández in an open letter to citizens. (Perfil)
  • Haiti has closed its two international airports in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien to all commercial flights, reversing an earlier decision that allowed flights from Cuba and the United States, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Washing hands is a luxury in Venezuelan hospitals, where there are no disinfection supplies either -- coronavirus has pushed President Nicolás Maduro to order strict quarantines, but the national response will also be hampered by the ongoing legitimacy crisis, reports the Washington Post. It could also be a possible way out of the political deadlock, according to the WaPo editorial board, which argues Maduro could seek opposition leader Juan Guaidó's cooperation to seek international aid.
  • "If Latin America is hard hit by the coronavirus epidemic, as it now appears it will be, two of its political leaders will bear outsize responsibility," denounces the Washington Post editorial board, pointing at presidents Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico. "Both have minimized the risk of the novel coronavirus and resisted — or even flouted — measures to prevent its spread."

Restrictions aimed at reducing coronavirus contagion are increasingly in place across the region -- but the middle-class quarantines most portrayed in media exhortations (and memes) have little to do with reality for vast swathes of Latin Americans whose living and economic conditions don't permit for that kind of isolation. Several articles focused on local situations show how coronavirus is impacting specific populations:
  • The U.N. is concerned that emergency measures implemented in Latin America will increase female poverty and gender violence, reports EFE. Shut-downs immediately affect informal workers, 126 million in Latin America and the Caribbean are female, according to U.N. Women
  • Gênero e Número is launching new Covid-19 coverage from a gender and race perspective. The first article focus on how nurses in Brazil -- the vast majority are women -- are struggling to face the pandemic without basic supplies like face masks, and without protocols for their use.
  • Sanitary conditions in Brazilian favelas put residents at serious risk, reports Favela em Pauta (translation, Rio on Watch). And favela tourism means foreigners could easily import the virus directly. Rio de Janeiro favela Rocinha sought to ban entry by foreigners last week, in an attempt to keep out coronavirus. (Associated Press)
  • In Argentina government efforts are focused on keeping people within poorer neighborhoods where infrastructure makes individual household isolation impossible, reports Página 12. One aspect of the policy is to finance neighborhood improvements, to be carried out by residents, in order to make up for lost jobs and to prevent people from circulating more broadly in search of income.
  • Argentine human rights groups, including CELS, say there have not been policies aimed at Buenos Aires' homeless population. (Ámbito)
  • Prison populations are proving a difficult case around the world. In Argentina, CELS notes the extreme danger of overcrowding in jails and calls for coordinated measures to promote release or home detentions, where warranted, to reduce risk.
  • "Like any crisis, the spread of Covid19 is revealing underlying fault lines and prejudices," notes El Faro. In El Salvador, around 1,500 people were being held in 31 different government quarantine shelters, where Salvadorans and foreigners have called out the lack of food, water, availability of bathrooms, and medical assistance. (El Faro)
  • Long lines in public hospitals and conditions in shelters for people returning from trips, and supermarket hoarding excesses aren't a problem for the majority of Central Americans, who are too poor to confront these coronavirus difficulties, writes Oscar Martínez in El Faro. Hand washing in places without potable water? Stay home for people living hand to mouth?
News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • The Organization of American States' credibility is at a low point, and reverting that is crucial, argues María Fernanda Espinoza, a candidate in today's OAS secretary general election. "Most members states and other international organisms don't see the organization as a serious and impartial space for dialogue, debate and action, but rather a place that feeds confrontation and inefficiency," she writes in the Post Opinión.
  • U.S. aid to Central America should not be a reward "but a way for the United States to help Northern Triangle countries address the violence and poverty that drive desperate families north," said U.S. politician Joe Biden, who is running to be the Democratic Party's presidential candidate. "Assistance to these countries is in our national interest, but I will also require that governments make concrete commitments to combat corruption, invest their own resources, and demonstrate political will to undertake important reforms." (More on his views about Lat Am foreign policy at Americas Quarterly)
  • Chilean lawmakers voted to postpone the April referendum in which citizens would have voted on whether to rewrite the country's constitution. The move is due to coronavirus concerns, and, in theory, the referendum would instead be held on Oct. 26, reports the Guardian. (Also Bio Bio)
  • A new report details the deadly danger of environmental activism in Mexico: 83 Mexican land and environment defenders were murdered between 2012 and 2019, while hundreds more were threatened, beaten and criminalized. (Guardian)
  • The continuity of a giant U.S. brewery under construction in Mexicali will be put to direct vote this weekend, though previous such plebiscites, have garnered low participation and widespread criticism, reports the Guardian.
  • Afro-Mexicans have struggled for recognition -- this year they will be officially counted as part of Mexico's national census. (Guardian)
  • It's nice to find a villain to hate on in times like these. In Uruguay, that would be Carmela Hontou, a socialite who singlehandedly infected dozens of of people after attending a 500-guest wedding on March 7, just hours after arriving from Spain. (Guardian)

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