Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Lockdowns reduce homicides (April 15, 2020)

Murder rates have fallen in several Latin American localities known for homicide -- El Salvador, Colombia, Honduras and Mexico's Guerrero state -- a sign of the complicated relationship between violent crime and the coronavirus pandemic. “The rule of thumb is: the stricter the lockdown, the bigger the effect on crimes committed against strangers on the street," security expert Alejandro Hope told the New York Times.

Lesser forms of crime -- muggings and robberies -- have decreased significantly in Brazil and Argentina, as decreased circulation of people and cash combine with increased police presence on the streets.

The long-term implications for crime are less clear, write Robert Muggah and Steven Pinker in Foreign Policy, but it's important to note the world has, for now, become a far less lethal place.

In many cases, there have been reports of street gangs and crime groups enforcing their own lockdowns in territories under their control. Around the region, criminal groups are enforcing quarantines and health recommendations -- highlighting the state void that these organizations have long filled in many places, reports InSight Crime. (See April 1's briefs.) 

Salvadoran gangs are backing up the government's coronavirus quarantine, by enforcing their own, violence-backed lockdown in territories under their control, reported El Faro. (See March 31's briefs.) In Rio de Janeiro favelas gangs reportedly declared curfews or limited movement well before the national government moved to do so. (See March 27's briefs.) In Mexico, at least two drug cartels have begun providing aid packages to residents in places partially controlled by armed groups, reports the Washington Post.

Coronavirus will likely have long term implications for organized crime in general, though it's a bit soon to predict how it will play out for the sector. "The pandemic is likely to lead to a massive restructuring of organized crime, impacting markets for illegal drugs, arms and other goods," wrote Adriana Erthal Abdenur and Carolina Sampó in Americas Quarterly last week. (See last Friday's briefs.)

Reductions in some kinds of violent crime, contrast with maintained or increased rates of others. In Colombia, social leaders remain targets of assassination, and have become sitting ducks in some cases due to lockdown measures. 

In Venezuela, the national lockdown has led to a reduction in homicides and other violent crime, but has also been accompanied by a surge in extrajudicial killings by government security forces, Roberto Briceno León, head of Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a nonprofit monitoring group, told the New York TimesIn Zulia state, for example, there were 18 homicides in the early days of quarantine, 17 of which were committed by police who say victims were resisting arrest, reported Efecto Cocuyo. (See April 6's briefs.)

In Argentina domestic violence has increased with the national lockdown -- in March there were the same number of fatal Covid-19 cases as femicides, 27, writes Agustina Paz Frontera in Cohete a la Luna. A government gender violence hotline has received double the usual calls, since the country entered obligatory quarantine. (See April 6's briefs.) 

The region is also susceptible to a wave of cybercrime that is flourishing in the midst of the epidemic, reports InSight Crime. Online scams, ransomware attacks and phishing email schemes have proliferated in this time.

News Briefs

  • Childbirth in Venezuela's shattered healthcare system is a roulette for women trying to find a hospital that can accommodate them. Too many pay with their lives or those of their infants, report Julie Turkewitz and Isayen Herrera in a heartbreaking New York Times piece.
  • Coronavirus and global oil market shifts could revert Nicolás Maduro's growing consolidation of power in recent months, and exposes the Venezuelan government's economic shortcomings and international weakness, reports the New York Times.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the already dire situation of the approximately 5 million Venezuelan migrants in the region. Quarantine measures and border shutdowns are affecting migrants' ability to survive economically and force them to use more dangerous routes to move, according a new report by Kristen Martinez-Gugerli and Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
  • In the face of increasing hardship in receiving countries, thousands of migrants are returning to Venezuela, where they are forced to stay in quarantine camps where conditions are, reportedly, dire as well. (Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights)
  • U.S. deportations are drastically increasing the Covid-19 caseload in Guatemala, according to the country's health minister, who said that on one flight some 75 percent of the deportees tested positive for the virus. Guatemala resumed receiving deportation flights on Monday, after a one week coronavirus related hiatus. The flights were full -- 76 passengers on one and 106 on another -- despite an earlier Guatemalan request that the U.S. not send more than 25 deportees per flight, reports the Associated Press.
  • The U.S. Trump administration said it would seek to renew aid to Central America's Northern Triangle countries, a year after abruptly terminating funding in response to migration from those countries to the U.S. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala had taken steps address U.S. concerns, and that funding will support joint efforts to deter "illegal immigration," security programs, and also economic development led by the private sector. (AFP)
  • While U.S. Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, welcomed the resumption of aid, he noted the "extended absence from the region will have severe long-term consequences."
  • Guayaquil's March death rate -- 1,500 more this year than the same month in 2019 -- indicates the devastation the coronavirus pandemic has wrought on the city's healthcare system. Though not all the deaths are due to Covid-19, mortality for other conditions -- such as diabetes and hypertension -- has increased because patients cannot obtain medical attention in saturated hospitals, reports the New York Times.
Indigenous People
  • Indigenous communities across the region are waging the same twin health and economic battles as everybody else -- but the stakes are far deadlier, reports the New York Times.
  • So far there have been 12 confirmed Covid-19 deaths affecting indigenous people in three Latin American countries -- but there are another couple dozen suspected cases in Brazil, reports El País.
  • Brazil's government banned non-indigenous people from entering tribal lands to stop the spread of coronavirus in their villages, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta criticized President Jair Bolsonaro's insistant defiance of social distancing guidelines in a national television interview on Sunday. Mandetta said the president's attitude was confusing for citizens, whose leader repeatedly flouts health ministry recommendations on social media. (Guardian)
  • Brazil likely has 12 times more cases of the new coronavirus than are being officially reported by the government, according to a new study by a consortium of Brazilian universities. (Reuters)
  • Two Brazilian state governors -- Rio de Janeiro governor Wilson Witzel and Pará governor Helder Barbalho -- tested positive for the new coronavirus yesterday. (Reuters)
  • Toxic masculinity defines Bolsonaro's response to the pandemic -- and U.S. President Donald Trump's, argue two separate op-eds. (Juan Tokatlian and Cristina Motta in Clarín and Robin Dembroff in the Guardian)
  • Gilberto “Fuminho” Aparecido dos Santos, believed to be the leader of First Capital Command (PCC) gang and one of Brazil's most wanted men, was arrested in Mozambique. (AFP)
Poverty and Coronavirus
  • In Brazil, favela organizations are covering wide gaps in state response to Covid-19 -- distributing food and creating hygiene programs, reports the Guardian.
  • Coronavirus will exact heavy tolls in the world's slums, where social distancing is structurally impossible. But even before that, the economic costs are dire for populations that heavily depend on informal economies, warns the Washington Post.
  • Emergency measures have granted governments extraordinary powers in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic -- necessary, but nonetheless cause for concern over how readily such powers will eventually be relinquished, reports the Washington Post.
  • Colombia's government decreed a mass release of non-violent offenders to house arrest yesterday. The measure particularly seeks to protect at-risk inmates, and comes amid mounting reports of coronavirus contagion in the country's penitentiary system and lack of sufficient protection gear. (El Espectador, El Tiempo)
  • Measures aimed at halting the coronavirus spread in Chilean prisons -- by releasing about 1,300 low-risk prisoners to serve out their sentences under house arrest -- should apply to Pinochet-dictatorship era human rights abusers housed in the infamous Punta Peuco prison, argues a group of Chilean lawmakers. Their proposal has divided the ruling Vamos coalition and provoked intense opposition backlash, reports the Guardian.
  • The plague has upended Chile's social upheaval, and granted embattled President Sebastián Piñera an unexpected reprieve, writes Patricio Fernández in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Chile published an updated climate action plan last week -- only the seventh country in the world to do so under the Paris Agreement to curb global warming. The new plan is centered around a commitment to become carbon-neutral by 2050, a goal it first announced last year, reports Reuters.
  • Peruvians have, by far, cut back the most on movement in the coronavirus pandemic, according to Google data. Peru, which has some of the region's strictest quarantine rules, has reduced movement by 89 percent, compared to half that in Mexico. (Bloomberg)
  • The Nicaraguan government's contrarian approach to Covid-19 includes maintaining the country's full sports schedule and urging citizens to visit festivals and beaches, reports the New York Times. "Rather than discouraging crowds, the Sandinista government is trying to manufacture them," an attitude that is of increasing concern to Nicaragua's neighbors, reports the Washington Post.
  • The World Bank predicts a regional economic contraction in relation to the coronavirus epidemic -- a 4.6% reduction in GDP for 2020. The hardest hit economies will be Mexico and Ecuador, followed by Argentina and Brazil, reports El País.
  • The IMF predicts the economy of Latin America and the Caribbean will contract 5.2% in 2020. (Associated Press)
  • The economic panorama means inflation is unlikely to be an immediate concern, but will likely become one rapidly in the aftermath of the pandemic, according to several experts in today's Latin America Advisor.
  • Argentina is set to make a debt restructuring proposal to international creditors this week amid delays caused by the coronavirus, reports Reuters.
  • Nurses at a Mexican public hospital hit hard by coronavirus say they were told by their managers not to wear protective masks at the start of the epidemic to avoid scaring patients. The IMSS General Hospital in Coahuila state became Mexico's first Covid-19 hot spot, reports Reuters.
  • U.S. job losses and lockdowns are affecting remittances to Mexico, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's obsessive austerity disproportionately affects the poor he claims to be defending, argues Viri Rios in the New York Times Español.
  • Adán Vez Lira was killed last week, the third prominent environmental activist assassinated in Mexico so far this year, reports the Associated Press. He was a longtime supporter and organizer at the La Mancha ecological reserve in Veracruz state.
  • With humans locked in, animals are taking back territories around the world, or, at least, circulating more freely. In Brazil that means baby sea turtles hatched and crawled to the ocean unimpeded on a beach that would have been crowded by people under normal circumstances, reports the Washington Post.
Back after a two day hiatus -- hope you are all well and staying safe at home. -- Latin America Daily Briefing

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