Friday, May 8, 2020

Bukele's authoritarian slide (May 8, 2020)

There is a growing consensus that Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele's Covid-19 response is part of a broader trend of weakening of democratic institutions in the country. (See Monday's post and Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Nayib Bukele won El Salvador's presidency with promises of change last year -- so far the change seems mainly aimed at wrecking the country's tenuous democracy, according to the Economist, which says "Bukele may be on course to become Latin America’s first millennial dictator." So far Bukele hasn't paid a price for his "brutishness," notes the piece. "Citizens believe he is trying to protect them. Nearly 80% approve of his handling of the pandemic. In an election due next February, his New Ideas party will probably gain control of the legislature." (See also this Economist piece.)
  • "Bukele, a savvy operator in this digital era of populist binary choices, is trying to convey the message that the only choices in this pandemic is between unquestioned loyalty to him or the deaths of Salvadorans," writes Mari Carmen Aponte is a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador in the Miami Herald.
  • “The fear that runs through the world today is justified by the severity of the pandemic and, like all fears, fueled by ignorance," writes El Faro's Carlos Dada. A policy of fear has become one of Bukele's key strategies against against the pandemic, a policy that paints those who’ve fallen victim to the virus as the victimizers, as a threat to the rest of the population. Dada writes that, by convincing Salvadorans that they must now live in fear, Bukele has turned containment centers into punishment facilities for those who violate the quarantine, letting everyone know that those who end up there deserve the plague because they stepped outside their homes.
  • Last week El Faro wrote about Carlos Henríquez Cortez, a 67-year-old engineer who died in a containment center: "the quarantine authorities served him a lethal dose of chaos, negligence, and misinformation."
News Briefs

  • Latin American countries are increasingly torn over how to exit coronavirus lockdowns. Economic desperation is already pushing many citizens in these countries to flout quarantine measures. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that generalized lockdowns can be maintained for no more than two months: " the bank worries that confinement will be loosened before health facilities have expanded enough to cope, and before governments can ensure that opening up does not lead to the uncontrolled spread of the virus," reports the Economist.
  • There is much to be learned about pandemic prevention from the case of cholera introduced by U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti in 2010 -- but it's not clear that the lessons have "translated into adequate action to protect peacekeeping host communities from the preventable transmission of disease," warn Adam R. Houston and Beatrice Lindstrom in the International Peace Institute.
  • The Mexican government is not reporting hundreds, possibly thousands, of deaths from the coronavirus in Mexico City, reports the New York Times, based on municipal data that tallies more than 2,500 deaths from the virus and serious respiratory illnesses that doctors suspect are related to Covid-19.
  • "Though Colombia has taken modest steps toward accountability over its military," revelations last week about military intelligence dossiers on human rights defenders, journalists and politicians "show us how fragile and reversible this progress is," writes Adam Isacson in a very thorough WOLA analysis on the revelations. (See Monday's post.)
  • The failed "Operation Gideon" aimed at forcibly ousting Nicolás Maduro has raised important questions about opposition leader Juan Guaidó's participation in the dubious plot, but also points to the fragility of democratic options moving forward in Venezuela. The options are few and the outlook negative, writes Luz Mely Reyes in the Post Opinión.
  • Pandemic has thrown demands for social change in Chile for a loop, and forced authorities to postpone a vote on whether to redraft the national constitution. Now "the plebiscite will be held under very different conditions than when the government and opposition first agreed on the roadmap to respond to social protests," warns Patricio Navia in today's Latin America Advisor. "If the pandemic is not under control by October, turnout will be much lower than needed to give legitimacy to the process."
  • Chilean feminists have rejected the government's newly named Minister of Women and Gender Equality -- Democracia Abierta.
  • Brazil’s bid to join the OECD has come under harsher scrutiny since allegations emerged that President Jair Bolsonaro sought to interfere with the federal police, reports Bloomberg.
  • Ecuador will take $1.45 billion in international loans to help combat the coronavirus pandemic after suffering one of the worst outbreaks in Latin America, reports AFP.
  • Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, notorious Haitian death squad leader and former CIA operative whose paramilitary organization raped, tortured and terrorized political opponents has won a stay of deportation from the United States after his planned deportation sparked controversy, reports the Miami Herald. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
What next?
  • Argentine intellectuals ponder the post Covid-19 world, with contributions by Silvio Waisbord ("The False Prophets of the Post Pandemic"); Juan Gabriel Tokatlian ("Conjectures for after the Pandemic"); María Esperanza Casullo ("To leave behind Neoliberalism"); Cristian Alarcón ("Our Future"); among others.


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