Monday, May 18, 2020

Bukele extends El Salvador's state of emergency (May 18, 2020)

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele unilaterally extended the country's coronavirus state of emergency on Saturday, bypassing lawmakers who were scheduled to discuss an extension today. The move was challenged, yesterday, by El Salvador's attorney general's office, which said the move was unconstitutional. Rights can only be suspended by a formal law passed by the Legislative Assembly, it said in a statement. (El Faro, Reuters)

The original state of emergency, which dictates the terms of a quarantine that has Salvadorans under lockdown, expired Saturday, it was originally declared in March, and extended again in April. El Faro emphasizes that the presidential decree was not necessary to continue quarantine rules, which would have continued under a National Assembly bill passed earlier this month.

Some opposition lawmakers said that they would draft their own measures for quarantine and to gradually reopen the economy -- a session on the subject was supposed to take place today, explains Tim Muth in El Salvador Perspectives. "Although there is acknowledgment that the country cannot afford a dramatic increase of COVID-19 cases and thus needs some form of quarantine, there is deep disagreement over who gets to participate in directing the country's response.  By all appearances, Bukele believes that he and his team should be the only persons managing this crisis.  He wants the Legislative Assembly to authorize and ratify his decisions, not to participate in them."

José Miguel Vivanco, executive director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, said Bukele was "looking for ways to use the coronavirus to grab as much power as he can,” reports the Financial Times.


Brazil's coronavirus Charlie Foxtrot

Brazil’s confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus rose on Saturday past those of Spain and Italy, which was once the epicenter of the pandemic, making Brazil’s outbreak the fourth largest in the world, according to official figures. (Reuters) Brazil's coronavirus death rate is second only to the U.S.'s -- with over 800 deaths a day. 

Nonetheless, President Jair Bolsonaro is sticking to views that lockdowns are misguided and provoke unnecessary harm to the economy. "Unemployment, hunger and misery will be the future of those who support the tyranny of total isolation," he tweeted on Saturday. (Guardian) Yesterday he greeted hundreds of coronavirus lockdown protesters in Brasilia, the latest in a series of such rallies he has supported. (Guardian, CNN)

The country's conflicted response to the pandemic was compounded on Friday, when health minister Nelson Teich resigned after less than a month on the job, reports the New York Times. Teich left, at least in part, due to disagreement with Bolsonaro who insists on touting hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19. (See Friday's briefs.)

The resignation adds to a growing political crisis in the Bolsonaro administration, after he fired another health minister a month ago and popular justice minister Sergio Moro resigned and accused the president of interfering in the federal police to protect his family from criminal investigation. A partial transcription of an April cabinet meeting in which Bolsonaro reportedly said "I’m not going to wait for [the federal police] to fuck my family and friends just for shits and giggles," gives insight into the paranoia and ideological obsessions of Brazil’s president, reports the Guardian.

Brazil's coronavirus response has been confusing and chaotic, fueling the spread of the disease. "Public health experts say the disorderly approach has further saturated intensive care units and morgues and contributed to the deaths of scores of medical professionals," reports the New York Times. The reaction is particularly striking in light of Brazil's past history of ingenious approaches to past medical crises like HIV and Zika, notes the piece.

São Paulo's mayor said the city's health system is near collapse, reports the BBC.

Indigenous advocates are increasingly concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on communities with a long history of devastation from disease: The coronavirus pandemic has already reached 38 Indigenous groups in Brazil, reports Al Jazeera.

More Brazil
  • Rio de Janeiro's lockdown hasn't stopped police from carrying out deadly favela raids, reports the Guardian. A raid on Friday in Complexo do Alemão killed 13 people, reports the Guardian.
  • Rio de Janeiro cops routinely gun down people without restraint, protected by their bosses and the knowledge that even if they are investigated for illegal killings, it will not keep them from going back out onto the beat, reports the New York Times based on an analysis of four dozen police killings. Police in Rio killed 1,814 people last year, a record number.
News Briefs

  • Many governments in the Americas are using arbitrary, punitive and repressive tactics in their Covid-19 responses, according to Amnesty International. Authorities "must avoid resorting to repressive and overreaching measures that unduly restrict human rights in the name of “protecting” people from COVID-19," warns a new report that points to use of detention as a first, rather than last, resort; excessive and unnecessary use of force in the enforcement of COVID-19 lockdowns; and the imposition of mandatory quarantines in inhumane conditions. 
  • Coronavirus has pushed jails Latin American jails into crisis, as inmates in the already grim institutions rebel against conditions that are the equivalent of a jail sentence in pandemic context, reports the Guardian. Human Rights Watch’s deputy director in the Americas Tamara Taraciuk told the Guardian that  regional governments should consider temporarily releasing prisoners with chronic health conditions or who had yet to be tried for non-violent crimes. Thirty-seven per cent of people behind bars in Latin America and the Caribbean have never been convicted.
  • But in several countries the fallout from such efforts has provoked controversy, as in Chile where right-wing lawmakers pushed to free former military officials convicted of human-rights crimes during the Pinochet dictatorship. In Argentina some violent offenders were released to house arrest under guidelines aimed at restricting the measures to non-violent offenders, causing outrage and pot-banging protests, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Authorities reported a Covid-19 outbreak in Bolivia's largest prison this weekend. (Nodal, Telesur)
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó was active in hiring a Florida security company to plan and carry out a mission aimed at removing Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro from power, reports the Miami Herald. Both the letter, obtained by el Nuevo Herald, and the seven-page contract, published by the Washington Post, contradict Guaidó’s assertions after the failed raid that he took no part in its planning.
  • The failed Operation Gideon incursion, derisively referred to as a "Bay of Piglets," is merely the epilogue of a long conspiracy that involves politicians, military officers, businessmen and contractors from Colombia, Venezuela and the U.S., reports El País.
  • Gasoline is traditionally absurdly cheap in Venezuela -- that it is now out-of-reach expensive is a reflection of "the irrational distortions in the country’s mismanaged and isolated economy," reports the New York Times.
  • The FBI is probing several Mexican and European companies allegedly involved in trading Venezuelan oil, reports Reuters.
  • Bolivia's interim government backtracked on a decree limiting freedom of expression during the coronavirus pandemic. The clause had been criticized by rights groups as a potential tool for authorities to prosecute critics. (La Razón, Nodal, see April 9's briefs.)
  • Ecuador's government is bracing for worsening coronavirus spread in Quito, even as Guayaquil stabilizes, reports Reuters.
  • The United States is considering returning Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, reported Reuters last week.
  • A deportation flight from the U.S. to Guatemala was cancelled Friday because the Central American country entered a full lockdown for the weekend that day. The announcement came after Guatemalan authorities said three Guatemalans deported last week tested positive for Covid-19. More than 100 Guatemalan deportees have tested positive after arriving from the U.S. (Associated Press)
  • Gunmen killed Mexican journalist Jorge Armenta on Saturday in Ciudad Obregon. One of the police officers assigned to protect the journalist after previous threats was also killed in the attack, reports the Associated Press. Armenta is at least the third Mexican journalist killed so far this year -- the National Human Rights Commission reports that he is the sixth. (La Jornada)
  • Mexican authorities say that mass testing is a waste of time, reports CNN.
Costa Rica
  • The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said on Friday its 37 members had approved Costa Rica’s application to join the group and that a formal membership agreement will be signed in the coming days. (Reuters)
  • Several governments in the region are helping private companies cover wages in the midst of pandemic hardship -- sparking some debate over what controls governments should exert over companies in exchange. (Ámbito, La Tercera)
  • As predicted from the beginning, poor populations are particularly susceptible to Covid-19. In Medellín the disease is a ticking time-bomb for the city's homeless population, reports the Bogotá Post.
  • And, in Buenos Aires, informal neighborhoods have become coronavirus contagion hotspots, a fact highlighted by the death of two community leaders in the city's emblematic Barrio Padre Mugica (Villa 31) this weekend. (Página 12)
  • Argentine authorities announced a new diagnostic Covid-19 test developed by a national research team, that mimics PCR tests but with faster results and simplified conditions (doesn't require a freezer). The kits were validated by regulatory authorities are already in production. A separate team in Argentina recently announced a locally created antibody test. (Infobae)
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.


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