- Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele's strong response to the coronavirus pandemic -- with military enforced lockdowns, detentions and now a crackdown on gangs in prisons -- exemplifies concerns that the virus will push authoritarian tendencies in some countries, reports the Washington Post. "My general concern is the fact that the coronavirus is used by leaders in this region and other regions of the world to concentrate power," Americas Director for Human Rights Watch José Miguel Vivanco said.
- In fact, Bukele's new tough on crime measures contradict his public health concerns, notes Human Rights Watch. The organization also voiced concern over Bukele's blanket authorization of "lethal force" by security forces against alleged gang members. (See Monday's post.)
- In addition to human rights issues regarding prisoner treatment, experts warn that the mano dura moves could backfire and unite the country's powerful gangs against the government, reports the Associated Press.
- Bukele's strongman actions in recent months -- including flouting several Supreme Court orders to stop arresting people who violate quarantines and a brief military occupation of the National Assembly -- contrast "with the picture of the young, energizing change agent many in the international community saw" before he took office, writes Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly.
- "Bukele and his supporters insist that harsh measures to combat Covid-19 will put his administration on the right side of history. We worry, however, that we are witnessing a testing ground for how far executive power can be stretched—now, and possibly in the near future," argues Leonor Arteaga, senior program officer at the Due Process of Law Foundation in today's Latin America Advisor. "Allowing the president’s ongoing extraordinary powers is more dangerous than it is potentially beneficial. It is also unnecessary: emergency public health legislation would be enough to address this crisis."
- The U.S. deported 129 migrants to Haiti yesterday, the second such flight this month, despite growing concerns that deportations are fueling contagion in Central America and the Caribbean (see yesterday's briefs). Three of the migrants who arrived in early April have tested positive for COVID-19, though none of the new group have symptoms yet, reports the Associated Press.
- One of the 46 people who arrived in Jamaica on a deportation flight from the United States a week ago has tested positive for the new coronavirus, reports Reuters.
- About two dozen migrants deported from the United States on a flight to Colombia last month have since tested positive for the coronavirus, reports Reuters.
- The pandemic has allowed the U.S. Trump administration to implement its ideal immigration policy: total border shutdown. Asylum seekers, who over the last year had already been forced to wait in Mexico, are now either deported by Mexico or abandoned without resources, writes Alberto Pradilla in the Post Opinión.
- A sudden stop in tourism caused by border closures and lockdowns aimed at containing the coronavirus pandemic will cause a 6.2 percent contraction of the Caribbean economy in 2020, the deepest recession in over half a century, according to the IMF. (Reuters)
- The differences between how countries in the region have responded to the pandemic go beyond the individual temperaments of their leaders, and also relate to each country's deeper institutional dynamics, argue Agustina Giraudy, Sara Niedzwiecki and Jennifer Pribble at Americas Quarterly. They argue that Argentina's strong federal response, compared to Mexico and Brazil, is related to the governing Peronist party's strong "rootedness," weaker gubernatorial fiscal power in Argentina, and a strong welfare state.
- On a regional level the coronavirus conventional wisdom has been that politicians who responded to coronavirus responsibly reaped political gains -- but there is evidence that this is changing, warns the Latin America Risk Report. "Politically, the early winners in the coronavirus crisis are not guaranteed to end up winning the next election. The same public that rallied around quick action and quarantine may turn on leaders who fail to pivot and deliver economic gains in the coming months."
- U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned of "excessive use of force" against people seeking access to basic human rights in some Latin American countries amid the coronavirus pandemic. (US News and World Report)
- Silver lining: The pandemic is raising awareness of the catastrophic state of the region's public health systems and the need to boost investment in them, said the regional director of the UNDP for Latin America, Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva. (EFE)
- Peruvian cities, particularly Lima, are undergoing an exodus as poor workers who have lost work due to the coronavirus attempt to return to rural areas where their families live. The trend is a reversal of decades in which rural families traveled from the countryside to Lima in search of work, reports the New York Times. Nearly a third of all Peruvians have lost their jobs in recent weeks, according to a poll. Peru has become one of the Latin American countries hardest hit by coronavirus, despite an early and strict lockdown.
- Venezuela’s government is considering a massive energy industry overhaul that would downsize the state role in oil production and hand over greater control to private companies, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- The health crisis is an opportunity to desegregate Colombia's access to health care, in which exclusion has closely followed racial lines, writes Juan Delgado in the New York Times Español.
- Cuba's government is cracking down on people who share information about Covid-19 impact on the island on social media, writes Abraham Jiménez Enoa in the Post Opinión.
- Officially Nicaragua has about a dozen Covid-19 cases, but unofficial statistics are more troubling: officials have spoken of an increase in "atypical pneumonias" in hospitals around the country, with symptoms similar to those of Covid-19, writes Dánae Vílchez in the Post Opinión.
- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro withdrew the name of a family friend he had picked to run the federal police. He did so only after a Supreme Court justice blocked Alexandre Ramagem's appointment because there were relevant signs that his work might be compromised by his close relationship with Bolsonaro’s family, report Reuters. (See Tuesday's post and yesterday's briefs)
- The exit of Bolsonaro's popular justice minister Sergio Moro last week is a significant blow to the president's standing with moderate voters, writes the Economist.
- Bolsonaro could fall victim to his lack of political savvy, write Francisco Toro and James Bosworth in the Washington Post. In the midst of growing scandals (see Tuesday's post and yesterday's briefs), Bolsonaro could feasibly be impeached they write. "To undermine a country’s institutions and take greater individual control, you need to chip away at democratic rules over time. It takes more than fire-breathing rhetoric to do that; it takes political skills, alliance-building chops and a bit of luck, too. To Brazil’s great fortune, Bolsonaro seems to have run out of all three."
- Manaus, capital of Brazil's Amazonas state, is in a race against time to avoid becoming the next Guayaquil. Burial service capacity is already close to being overwhelmed, there have been mass graves and nigh-time burials, reports the Guardian. Social distancing rules are flouted, even as burials reach record numbers, but experts point to underlying difficulties, given that 43 percent of the population doesn't have access to water for hand washing.
- The Brazilian Valley of the Dawn religion may seem like an esoteric cult, but an academic researcher argues "that some of the group’s rituals speak directly to the harsh realities of the modern world." (Conversation)
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.