Friday, April 17, 2020

Mandetta sacked, for real (April 17, 2020)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro fired health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta yesterday. The denouement of an ongoing battle between the president, who has scoffed at social distancing measures, and the popular health minister who has publicly chided him for that stance sparked pot-banging protests in cities across the country, reports the Guardian

The move has been rumored for days, and comes as confirmed cases in the country are soaring and weeks before experts predict the virus' peak. And predictions for the final toll in Brazil, where residents are not social distancing massively, are getting dire, notes the AFP. Recent modelling by researchers from Imperial College London suggested Brazil could have more than 1.1 million Covid-19 deaths if no action were taken to control the pandemic; 529,000 if only elderly people were forced to isolate; and 44,200 if drastic measures were implemented.

S. Paulo has at least five hospitals with more than 70 percent of intensive care beds occupied by coronavirus patients -- a percentage that is rising rapidly. Emergency rooms in Amazonas state are running at capacity, with 95 percent of intensive care beds and ventilators occupied. Rio de Janeiro’s famed Maracana soccer stadium has been converted to a makeshift hospital to accommodate coronavirus patients, notes the Washington Post.

A study found the municipal health system faced collapse by April 19 if social distancing measures were not intensified.

“I know … life is priceless. But the economy and jobs must return to normal,” Bolsonaro said yesterday, presenting the new health minister who promised to work towards reopening Brazilian businesses. In an interview with CNN, Bolsonaro asked the country's the governors to rethink their quarantine restrictions to allow the economy to breathe, warning that Brazil risked going broke and ending up “the same as Venezuela.”

Bolsonaro yesterday accused the speaker of the lower house of Congress Rodrigo Maia of turning state governors against him in the coronavirus crisis and seeking to remove him from the presidency, reports Reuters.

Some analysts have said Mandetta's sacking will have a high health cost, but could favor those who hope for Bolsonaro's political downfall. Bolsonaro is leading Brazilians “to the slaughterhouse” with his criminally irresponsible handling of coronavirus, the country’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told the Guardian.

News Briefs

  • Venezuela's divided leadership will need to negotiate some sort of an agreement in order to mount a coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Vatican is well positioned to aid mediation efforts, but is disinclined to squander its moral authority given the Maduro government's past failure to follow through on church-brokered agreements, write David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz in the Conversation.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's lawmakers extended a national state of emergency for another 15 days, after failing to reach an accord on a bill that would create fines for citizens violating quarantine measures, instead of the arrests currently carried out by security forces and condemned by the country's top court, reports el Diario de Hoy. (See yesterday's post.)
Central America
  • The tendency towards centralized pandemic responses in Central America could further normalize the region's political strongmen and their use of "patriotism as a cudgel against dissent and criticism," writes José Luis Sanz in El Faro/El País. He notes that "none of the four heads of state in northern Central America are currently facing unified, viable opposition parties.
  • Sanz unequivocally responds to calls for the media to be a calming voice in these times: "To ask the press to put off damage assessments as the panorama unfolds is to suggest that entire countries stick their heads in the sand for months to wait out the crisis." And an observation that seems pertinent for readers of this briefing: "One often tires of writing—just as readers tire of consuming—news of neglect, corruption and death. The weight of informing Central American societies, time and time again, that the worst is perhaps yet to come can be overwhelming."
  • The impossible choices coronavirus imposes on many people are particularly acute for Central American migrants: violence and poverty versus Covid-19. Migrants aiming for the U.S. have been trapped in Mexico, where camps offer no possibility for isolation and constant disinfection to stem contagion, report Catesby Holmes and Megan Clement in CityLab. (See yesterday's briefs, on how camps on the Mexican side of the border with the U.S. are on the brink of humanitarian disaster.
  • "There is no better argument for the need of asylum than, when you are not granted it, you are killed. That sort of post-mortem evidence, however, is evidence that comes too late," writes John Washington in El Faro. "The point of asylum protections is that you shouldn’t need to prove your fears by seeing them realized. And yet it’s exactly what happened to at least 138 Salvadorans who, since 2013, applied for asylum from the United States, were denied, deported, and then killed."
  • Guatemala again suspended deportation flights from the U.S., yesterday. The Associated Press reports that 44 Guatemalans deported on one flight from the United States this week have tested positive for COVID-19.
Regional Relations
  • It is time for the U.N. Security Council, currently presided over by the Dominican Republic, to step up its response to the pandemic, write Carrie Booth Walling and Kathryn Sikkink in the New York Times Español.
  • Statistics are shaky for the entire region because of the testing variables. Officially Ecuador's coronavirus death toll is 403, but figures from Guayas point to a far grimmer reality. The government said 6,700 people died in the province in the first two weeks of April, far more than the usual 1,000 deaths there in the same period, reports the BBC.
  • The need for epidemiological data has rarely been clearer -- and applies to the other pandemic afflicting Latin America now, femicides, writes Silvana Fumega in Americas Quarterly. While crime has gone down in Latin America with Covid-19 lockdowns, domestic violence is on the rise as women are essentially locked in with abusers. In Argentina, calls to domestic violence hotlines grew 40% after the government instituted a mandatory quarantine. In Mexico, they jumped 60% in the weeks after the government first called for social distancing. In Colombia, calls are up over 90%.
  • The gender violence pandemic within the Covid-19 pandemic lays bare the Mexican government's failure to protect women, writes Laura Castellanos in the Post Opinión.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's toxic love-hate relationship with the country's major media consortiums is skewed towards favoring them, evidenced by his move to "return" airtime the companies are required legally to cede to the government, writes Ignacio Rodríguez Reyna in the Post Opinión.
  • AMLO said Mexico is aiming to return to normal beginning June 1, with schools and businesses reopening provided people comply with anti-coronavirus health measures until then, reports Reuters.
  • Peru's stringent and early lockdown measures have bumped up against cultural customs in the country, where personal space is far smaller than elsewhere, reports the Washington Post.
  • Argentina's economy minister called for a three-year moratorium on foreign-debt payments—followed by a sharp reduction in interest payments—as part of a plan to restructure the nation’s sovereign debt, reports the Wall Street Journal. The formal offer will be made today and bondholders will have 20 days to review it.
  • Colombian President Ivan Duque said he would not pursue a tax reform to shore up government finances in the near-term while the country battles the spread of coronavirus, reports Reuters.
  • Colombia's lockdown exposes a paradox: the government punishes those who go outside, but has failed to provide the conditions for those people to stay home without starving to death, writes Sinar Alvarado in the New York Times Español.
  • Covid-19 is a perfect storm for Cuba -- but is unlikely to present the island's government with a terminal challenge, writes Ricardo Torres at the AULA blog.
  • A 200-year-old colonial church burned earlier this week -- critics say the destruction was part of an avoidable tragedy, reports the Guardian.
  • Chilean writer Luis Sepúlveda died of Covid-19, in Spain. (Guardian)
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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