Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Brazil should integrate gov't responses to pandemic -- WHO (June 30, 2020)

News Briefs

  • Brazil registered 692 new coronavirus deaths yesterday, bringing the overall death toll in the country to 58,314. The country still faces a “big challenge” to curb the coronavirus pandemic and should do more to integrate its efforts at different levels of government, according to the head of the WHO emergencies program. (Reuters)
  • This weekend Brazil announced a deal with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to get up to 100 million doses of a promising coronavirus vaccine. The company clarified later that the deal is not actually closed yet, it's a letter of intent. The vaccine started testing in more than 5,000 Brazilians of the health care sector last week. (Associated Press)
  • Separately, Brazil's São Paulo state expects this week to receive federal regulator approval to trial a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by China's Sinovac, reports AFP.
  • Dozens of indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon’s Javari Valley have contracted Covid-19, a major threat to isolated and recently contacted indigenous groups in the area, reports Reuters.
  • The pandemic has pushed into remote rural areas in Brazil, which provide a challenge for health care workers to access patients, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Support for democracy among Brazilians rose to a record 75 percent this month, according to a new Datafolha poll. (Folha de S. Paulo)
  • Brazil’s unemployment rate rose to its highest in two years, 12.9 percent. (Reuters)
  • Brazil's return to profesional soccer is controversial: The Rio de Janeiro state championship restarted on Sunday, but the Botafogo team took the field with a banner protesting the decision, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil -- in the throws of a political, economic and health crisis -- is deciding who will build its 5G telecommunications network. China’s Huawei is pitted against American-backed rivals, led by Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia. The choice will have "a profound and long-term impact on the country’s geopolitical role in the 21st century," writes Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly.
Dominican Republic
  • Opposition candidate Luis Abinader is expected to win the Dominican Republic's presidential election on Sunday. Recent polls indicate he might win outright, if he obtains over 50 percent of the vote, or could head to a run-off election later in July. The ruling PLD party is split between two candidates, which has strengthened Abinader's hand, according to the Latin America Risk Report. Irregularities in municipal elections earlier this year led to widespread protests, and James Bosworth said there is a high likelihood of protests after this vote "especially if citizens detect attempts to delay or manipulate the vote counting process. If Abinader doesn’t win a plurality or if he falls just short of a majority after a lengthy and delayed vote count, citizens will take to the streets."
  • Honduras' new criminal code -- that reduces penalties for corruption -- is set to worsen the country's already crushing graft issues, reports InSight Crime. (See last Friday's post.)
Central America
  • Covid-19 has already seeped into Central American prisons -- already among the most overcrowded, dangerous and unhealthy in the world. "A massive outbreak of Covid-19 in prisons could have catastrophic humanitarian consequences," warns International Crisis Group analyst Tiziano Breda in today's Latin America Advisor.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's plan to visit Washington next week has made his quirk of flying commercial a public health concern, reports the Washington Post.
  • Venezuela's Maduro government ordered the European Union's ambassador to leave the country within 72 hours, reports the BBC.
  • Argentina's economy has plunged during the coronavirus quarantine. Data from April shows a 17.5 percent drop in economic activity from the prior month, and 26.4 percent decrease from a year ago, reports Bloomberg.
  • Argentina's debt restructuring talks with international creditors are stalled, reports Reuters.
  • Beyond specific country responses to the global pandemic, Brazil and Argentina are hobbled by their "subordinate place in the global financial system, a subordination that is threatening to turn today’s shock into a protracted crisis," writes Nicolás Aguila in Jacobin Magazine.
  • From Argentina to Mexico, nearly one in five of Latin America’s urban population lives in crowded slums, reports Reuters. The poor, densely-packed neighborhoods make following basic hygiene guidelines to prevent coronavirus impossible. And the combination of informal labor and insufficient government welfare means, many people cannot afford to quarantine - even when they are ill.
  • "Covid-19 may become another of those “poor-country diseases” that kills hundreds of thousands in a regular year. Think malaria or TB, but more infectious and thus requiring more rigorous social distancing," writes Adam Tooze in a Guardian comment piece.
  • "Quarantines have proven crucial and effective in countering the health threat posed by coronavirus, but they have left victims of gender violence trapped under the same roof with their abusers," writes Brenda Werth at the Aula Blog. "One unintended effect of quarantine is the reinforcement of the perception of domestic abuse as a private, family affair, separate from the public sphere, and excluded from the jurisdiction of the state."
Black Lives Matter
  • Latin America is ripe for a reckoning with the oft-overlooked systemic racism that goes hand in hand with police brutality, writes Bruno Carvalho in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Brazil's military dictatorship had a long-term impact on the country's police force, which "35 years later, is breaking records of police lethality, taking the lives of mostly young, black and poor Brazilians," writes Fernanda Mena in Folha de S. Paulo.
  • A research team is trying to turn millions of tons of floating Sargassum seaweed into fertilizer -- Guardian.

Monday, June 29, 2020

U.S. exports Covid-19 (June 29, 2020)

The U.S. migration policy in times of Covid-19 is essentially exporting the novel coronavirus through ongoing deportations. The U.S. fails to consistently test for Covid-19 infections among those it plans to deport and immigration detention centers are hotspots for contagion, reports The Intercept in an in-depth, damning piece. The situation is particularly dangerous for Central America's Northern Triangle, which received the vast majority of deportation flights during the pandemic. Guatemala was the top recipient with 100 flights, according to flight data analyzed by CEPR. Haitian officials are also particularly concerned.

U.S. immigration authorities initially lacked the ability to conduct widespread testing, and have failed to follow isolation guidelines for detainees, according to the report.

Guatemalan officials have complained since March about receiving deportees who later test positive, leading the country to suspend deportation flights several times. Even after the U.S. agreed to test people before deportation in May, and to implement safety measures such as fewer passengers on flights, Guatemalan officials say dozens of migrants have still tested positive upon arrival. Deportations have strained relations between Guatemala and the U.S. -- “Guatemala is an ally of the U.S. The U.S. is not an ally of Guatemala,” Guatemalan Alejandro Giammattei said in May. (See last Thursday's post.)

Haitian officials have also pleaded with the U.S. to stop deportations during this period.

Earlier in June Human Rights Watch called on the United States government to immediately suspend deportations during the Covid-19 pandemic to avoid contributing to the global spread of the virus.

The Intercept also notes concerns over testing procedures in ICE detention and the stigma that deportees face at home that are heightened by the pandemic context. 

Meanwhile, in the U.S. the cost of a broader deportation policy, that includes immigrants with no criminal record, are both emotional and financial, reported the Guardian, last week. Just under 6.1 million American citizen children live in households with at least one undocumented family member vulnerable to deportation. 

News Briefs

More Migration
  • The U.S. government announced an aid package of $252 million to boost job opportunities and increase public safety in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, on Friday. Of the new funding, $58 million would go to El Salvador, $107 million to Guatemala and another $58 million to Honduras. The rest of the money would be allocated to regional programs, reports the Miami Herald. The move comes as the Trump administration touted its success at reducing migration: “We have been able to reduce the flow of illegal immigration to the United States by 84 percent last month,” said Jon Piechowski, deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
  • One of Brazil's leading newspapers, Folha de São Paulo, said systematic attacks from extremists who support President Jair Bolsonaro were putting Brazilian democracy through its greatest “stress test” since the return of civilian rule in 1985. The paper urged its readers to wear yellow in support of democracy, yesterday, and to reject any return to the country's dark dictatorship history, reports the Guardian. The publication announced that until Brazil’s next elections it would change the motto on its masthead from “a newspaper at the service of Brazil” to “a newspaper at the service of democracy.”
  • The horrific death of a young black boy in Brazil, who had been entrusted to the white employer of his mother, has contributed to a nationwide reckoning with structural racism, reports the Washington Post.
  • A growing movement for sustainable agriculture in Brazil is pushing some organizations to seek farming within the rainforest opportunities, as opposed to the dominant slash-and-burn model. (Guardian)
  • Experts fear that the coronavirus epidemic, which is now spreading through Brazil's more sparsely populated interior, could return to major cities in what is being called a "boomerang effect." (Reuters)
  • Indigenous communities' susceptibility to the pandemic is not just an issue of unexposed immune systems: "centuries of exploitation, persecution and state abandonment have left them with some of the highest poverty rates and lowest access to quality health care in the Americas," writes Sarah Sax in the Washington Post.
  • A hearing due to be held at Guyana’s highest court, this week, has been called to finally settle the country's March 2 regional and general election, which has been mired in challenges ever since. A recount found the opposition party had won the most votes, but there are signs that President David Granger will not recognise the court’s jurisdiction, placing the international community in a dilemma, according to the Guardian.
  • Nicaraguan opposition movements formally united last week in a National Coalition that pledged to "fight for justice, democracy and against the dictatorship." Representatives from the broad spectrum of political parties and civic organizations that joined together suggested that the coalition would be an option in elections scheduled for 2021. (Associated Press)
  • An independent Nicaraguan group estimates that 1,749 people have died of Covid-19 in the country, and that there are 6,775 suspected cases. Nicaragua's government formally tallied 74 deaths and 2,170. (EFE)
  • Oxygen tanks are hard to obtain in Nicaragua and prices have skyrocketed, reports Confidencial.
  • Nicaragua's government temporarily blocked entry to its own nationals returning from Panama, this weekend. (EFE)
  • Covid-19 cases are increasing in Colombia, as the country feels its way to some economic aperture after 3 months of an ongoing quarantine. (El País)
  • Colombia's first confirmed death from COVID-19 occurred in late February, more than a week before the Andean country originally reported its first case of the coronavirus, according to the government's own revised information. (Reuters)
  • The World Bank approved a loan of $700 million to Colombia to assist the country in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, last week. (Reuters)
  • Criminal gangs, already linked to kidnappings for ransoms, rapes and multiple massacres, are becoming guns for hire for Haiti’s political forces, two Port-au-Prince-based human rights organizations conclude in two separate reports issued this week -- Miami Herald.
  • Mexico City's public security head, Omar Garcia Harfuch, narrowly survived an assassination attempt by 12 armed men who killed three people in the Friday attack in an elite neighborhood, reports the Washington Post. Over a dozen people were detained following the attack, which Garcia Harfuch said was perpetrated by the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG). The Mexican government's most likely response, according to the Latin America Risk Report, would be to detain and prosecute those who are immediately responsible for the attack while ignoring the broader strategic implications.
  • A Mexican court ordered the suspension of work on the “Maya Train,” last week, after an indigenous community filed an injunction. The $6.2 billion rail link is a pet project of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who said he would comply with the ruling, reports AFP.
  • AMLO's plan to visit U.S. President Donald Trump -- and flying to Washington commercial -- entails more risks than benefits, writes Jorge Ramos in a New York Times Español op-ed.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Honduras' new penal code soft on corruption (June 26, 2020)

Honduras' new penal code took effect yesterday despite a last-minute attempt by opposition lawmakers to repeal it. The legislation, which among other things will shorten sentences for some corruption-related crimes, has been heavily criticized by civic groups and international watchdogs. Among crimes receiving reduced sentences under the reforms are crimes involving the misuse of public funds, abuse of authority, influence trafficking, fraud and illicit enrichment, reports the Associated Press.

The change comes the same week that the Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) reported new cases of alleged corruption in the purchase of materials to supply public hospitals in the pandemic context. The group, which is the local branch of Transparency International, detected a lack of transparency in the purchase of 290 respirators, 2.3 million biosecurity products, and seven mobile hospitals, reports EFE. (See also Proceso Digital, El Heraldo, and La Prensa.)

Human Rights Watch also warned this year that the new penal code could "criminalize the lawful exercise of the rights to protest and assembly" with vaguely worded definitions of crimes like public disturbances.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also voiced concern over criminal penalties for insult and slander, that are better addressed by the civil code. The code as passed yesterday does not include the crime of defamation, but does include insult and slander, which remain punishable by fines or up to a year in prison. (See also ConexiHon.)

More Honduras
  • The United States would be prudent to avoid sharing counter narcotics intelligence with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), someone who could be tied to drug traffickers, argues Eric Olson in a Univisión opinion piece. At issue is a change to Honduras' aerial sovereignty law, which will permit renewed counter-narcotics cooperation between the U.S. and Honduran security forces. It's a bad idea though, given increasing evidence linking JOH to international drug traffickers. Beyond concerns over how the information might be misused, "in the process, the U.S. signals that it is not serious about upholding the rule of law and fighting corruption," argues Olson.
News Briefs

  • The death toll from the coronavirus in Latin America is expected to reach 388,300 by October, with Brazil and Mexico seen accounting for two-thirds of fatalities, according to a new forecast from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. (Reuters)
  • Covid-19 cases are on the rise across the region, but it's important to differentiate cases like Brazil and Mexico -- where leaders have "have acted stupidly and irresponsibly" -- from others like Peru and Chile where cases are rising now "due to some bad policy choices and bad luck," according to the Latin America Risk Report. Countries that have seen slow but steady growth of coronavirus - including Argentina and Colombia - remain at risk for a sharp spike in the coming weeks.
  • "Covid-19 struck Latin America as it was already suffering political strains because of several years of slow economic growth and popular discontent over corruption and poor public services. This discontent manifested itself in the defeat of incumbent parties in many recent elections, the rise to power of populist outsiders in Brazil and Mexico in 2018 and a wave of street protests last year, notably in Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia. ... When the pandemic ebbs but its economic consequences linger, anger is likely to resurface and may be directed at governments," according to the Economist. "After three mainly democratic decades, the risk is of a return to authoritarian rule."
  • The pandemic runs the risk of exacerbating social discontent in the region -- rethinking components of state legitimacy is crucial at this time, particularly if the citizenry is asked to share the sacrifices necessary to avoid contagion, writes María Victoria Murillo in Clarín.
  • Former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla will run to head the Inter-American Development Bank in September, challenging U.S. nominee Maurcio Claver-Carone. Claver-Carone's nomination bucks the institution's tradition of Latin American leadership, a move that demonstrates the U.S. Trump administration's "disdain for regional norms and sensitivities," Cynthia Arnson told the Latin America Advisor. Experts note that Claver-Carone's credentials are not in question, rather the issue is of diplomacy and balance of power in international financial institutions.
  • Latin America's challenge moving forward "is the generally weak level of tax revenue obtained by" countries in the region, argues José Antonio Ocampo in Americas Quarterly. The region relies heavily on regressive value added tax revenues, rather than income tax regimes with significant redistributive effects, he writes. But another major problem is, "as in the rest of the world, that the richest people and multinationals are champions of tax evasion and avoidance strategies that represent each year losses of at least $340 billion, the equivalent of 6.7% of Latin America’s gross domestic product (GDP). "
  • The U.S. Trump administration is improving relations with Bolivia -- currently governed by interim president Jeannine Áñez. But the U.S. is mischaracterizing the Bolivian government's anti-drug efforts and has been silent regarding official "persecution of coca growers, human rights abuses, and attacks on those opposed to the current administration," writes Parker Asmann in NACLA.
  • The association representing staff at the World Bank asked that Brazil's nomination of Abraham Weintraub to be executive director be reviewed over his past racial comments and other concerns, according to a letter seen by Reuters. (See Monday's post.)
  • The Guaidó era in Venezuela may be coming to a close -- his legitimacy stems from leading the National Assembly, and lawmakers' mandates end this year. With no plan for fair elections to replace them, the opposition will be severely constrained moving forward, notes the Economist. (See also yesterday's briefs.)
  • The political fight over Venezuela's $1 billion in gold savings held by the Bank of England has gone to court in the U.K. (Guardian)
  • "Under the guise of the pandemic, the Trump administration is turning back unaccompanied children at the border in violation of federal law," writes Maria Woltjen in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Seven Colombian soldiers have been charged in the rape of a 13-year-old indigenous girl. All seven pleaded guilty in an initial closed hearing, according to the attorney general's office. The attack occurred this week, after the girl disappeared temporarily. The case is raising alarm bells in a country with a long history of military human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions and allegations of sexual assault, reports the New York Times.
  • Police abuse against blacks in Brazil is receiving greater scrutiny in the wake of George Floyd's killing, reports EFE. There has been a sharp rise in law-enforcement-related violence in recent months and security forces are suspected of killing two black teenagers over the past five weeks.
  • Brazil's economic growth and fiscal outlook this year are shaping up to be worse than official government forecasts, reports Reuters.
  • Nicaraguan authorities have fired at least 10 health workers in apparent retaliation for voicing concern about the Daniel Ortega government’s management of the Covid-19 health crisis, Human Rights Watch reported this week.
  • Haitian death-squad leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant was convicted of murder and torture, but in absentia. His deportation to Haiti this week "affords Constant the right to a new trial, which now will take place under a government that consistently undermines prosecutions of notorious human-rights violators," write Mario Joseph and Brian Concannon in a Miami Herald opinion piece. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra threatened to temporarily take over the country’s private healthcare clinics if they failed to strike a deal with the government in 48 hours over fees for treating coronavirus patients, reports Reuters.
  • Despite rising Covid-19 cases, Peru is rolling back restrictions on movement -- this week many of the country's largest shopping malls opened, reports Associated Press.
  • New COVID-19 infections have surged in Panama since restrictions were loosened a few weeks ago, especially in the capital's poorer neighborhoods, reports the Associated Press.
  • Panama's government named a new health minister, Wednesday. (Reuters)
  • Mexico City's chief of police was shot and injured in an assassination attempt early this morning. Two of his bodyguards were killed in the attack in an upscale neighborhood of the capital, reports Reuters.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always, as are Netflix recommendations.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Deportees to Guatemala test positive (June 25, 2020)

At least six migrants deported to Guatemala from the United States on June 9 tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to Guatemalan authorities. In total, 28 deportees tested positive upon arrival since May 4, when the U.S. agreed to deport only migrants with medical certificates showing they tested negative for Covid-19. (Associated Press)

Guatemala is increasingly struggling with Covid-19 -- it has reported more than 11,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 449 deaths and images of hospitals overwhelmed by the sick have increasingly painted a grim picture of the situation, reports the Associated Press. Experts believe the real number of cases could be 10 times higher given Guatemala’s limited testing. Last week Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei fired the health minister and his top collaborators.

And Guatemalan officials see deportations from the U.S., which has been hit by the pandemic with more than two million Covid-19 cases, as one of the main potential sources of contagion in the country, reports the Wall Street Journal. Deportations have strained relations between Guatemala and the U.S. -- “Guatemala is an ally of the U.S. The U.S. is not an ally of Guatemala,” Giammattei said in May.

Migrant advocates are concerned that deportations have also spread Covid-19 to other recipient countries: Since March, the U.S. has sent a weekly average of 75 deportation flights to a dozen countries in Latin America.

Pre-pandemic vulnerabilities for deportees are compounded in times of Covid-19, documents a new report by Refugees International, that urges that Guatemalans seeking refuge be allowed to apply for asylum in the U.S., instead of being turned over to Mexican authorities or repatriated.

News Briefs

  • The current draft of a so-called “fake news” bill in Brazil's Senate contains vague and overbroad provisions that are open to abuse, warns Human Rights Watch, which recommends lawmakers reject the bill that would "unnecessarily restrict and penalize legally protected speech and freedom of association, including with prison terms, and undermine the privacy of communications."
  • The current bill is even worse than previous drafts, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation: "It will hinder users' access to social networks and applications, require the construction of massive databases of users' real identities, and oblige companies to keep track of our private communications online."
  • Brazil is testing an experimental coronavirus vaccine, but interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello acknowledged Tuesday that the government has yet to strike a deal to get it if it works, reports the Associated Press.
  • The latest moves by Venezuela's Maduro-loyal Supreme Court drastically limit the chances of free and fair legislative elections this year -- and are seen as a sign by many that talks between the government and opposition are useless. "But negotiations remain the only route to a stable outcome for the country’s protracted crisis," according to a new International Crisis Group report. The report warns that even "a relatively competitive parliamentary election would make only a modest contribution to resolution of Venezuela’s political conflict, now two decades long," that a broader negotiation is necessary. "The dismantling of Venezuelan democracy, which is now almost complete, was not a single event but a long, drawn-out process. Restoring institutions and the rule of law, likewise, is not going to occur overnight."
  • Tankers carrying nearly two months worth of Venezuelan oil output are stuck at sea due to global refiners wariness of U.S. sanctions, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said an incident in which a U.S. Navy ship navigated near the South American country’s coast was an “act of provocation.” (Reuters)
  • The U.S. said the ship engaged in what it called a "freedom of navigation operation," a day after a cargo ship from Iran docked at a Venezuelan port, reports Al Jazeera.
  • The Pan American Health Organization said yesterday that the number of COVID-19 cases in Latin America has tripled in less than a month, with about 690,000 cases having been detected as of May 23 but more than two million being registered now. (EFE)
  • The presidents of nine Latin American countries teleconferenced with senior executives of the IMF, the World Bank and the IDB over how to address the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic in their countries. AFP reports that the group wants to publish a non-binding statement, which will be “an appeal to international financial institutions” to articulate a “novel” mechanism with which to face the effects of the pandemic in the region, which has been severely impacted.
  • Uruguay and Paraguay have bucked the region's negative coronavirus trend -- to the point where they can claim near total victory over the virus, reports the Guardian. The success is only more notable as both share porous borders with Brazil.
  • Haitian prosecutors ordered ex-paramilitary leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant to be transferred to a jail in Gonaives where authorities will decide whether he will be freed. The former strongman, accusedof murder and torture, was deported from the U.S. this week, and arrested immediately upon arrival in Port-au-Prince, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced a trip to Washington to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump. The move generated strong criticism at home, reports the Associated Press.
  • At least seven people died and two dozen were injured in the magnitude-7.5 earthquake that shook Mexico on Tuesday, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Volkswagen AG’s Mexican unit said about 2 percent of its workers tested for coronavirus had contracted the disease at some point, underlining the challenge faced by automakers in reopening factories in the country, reports Reuters.
Culture Corner
  • Robert M. Laughlin, an anthropologist and linguist whose extensive work in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico documented and helped revitalize Mayan languages and culture, died at age 85 -- New York Times obituary.
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. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Pandemic in LatAm (June 24, 2020)

Latin America is the grim new center of the pandemic, with more than two million people infected and 100,000 deaths, reports the Wall Street Journal. Indeed, months into lockdowns and health emergencies, the virus is only gaining steam in the region, reports the New York Times. The region has eight percent of the world’s population, but accounted for 47 percent of coronavirus deaths recorded in the past two weeks. Deaths have more than doubled across Latin America in a month, according to the Pan American Health Organization, and the region now accounts for several of the world’s worst outbreaks -- Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Mexico.

Coronavirus was always expected to hit Latin America very hard -- with its dense cities, informal workers, underfunded public health systems, and striking economic inequality. Lack of trust in governments and institutions is another major complicating factor. As if the preexisting conditions weren't enough, many governments made the situation worse "by brushing off the dangers, fumbling the response, dismissing scientific or expert guidance, withholding data and simply denying the extent of the outbreak altogether."

News Briefs

  • Politicization of Brazil's coronavirus crisis has obscured the human cost of over 50,000 dead and thousands of families in mourning, reports the Guardian. Brazil’s virus caseload passed one-million mark over the weekend, and in recent days health officials have often reported more than 1,000 deaths a day, notes the New York Times.
  • A Brazilian judge ordered President Jair Bolsonaro to wear a face mask when circulating in Brasilia, where they have been legally required since April. Judge Renato Coelho Borelli called Bolsonaro's repeated flouting of public health measures "at best disrespectful," and warned the president that he was subject to a $400 fine for appearing in public without a mask. (Guardian, New York Times, Wall Street Journal)
  • Increasing Amazon deforestation and the Bolsonaro administration's ongoing efforts to dismantle Brazil's environmental regulations could affect the country's investment potential, reports the Guardian. A group of 29 international financial institutions urged Brazil's government "to demonstrate clear commitment to eliminating deforestation and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples." The move comes on the heels of a decision by seven European investment firms last week that they would divest from beef producers, grains traders and even government bonds in Brazil.
  • Chile's initial coronavirus success story has soured as infections and deaths spiked sharply in recent weeks, reports the Washington Post. Experts say the government relaxed lockdowns too quickly and failed to track contagion as it spread to the country's poorer communities. As in other countries, Covid-19 devastation lays bare underlying inequalities, the sort that had Chileans protesting in mass last year and into this one. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Former Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was deported from the United States yesterday and immediately arrested upon his arrival in Port-au-Prince after a 26 year absence. He faces murder and torture charges stemming from a paramilitary group he founded in the 1990s, accused of attacking thousands of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristides' supporters. (Reuters) Under Haitian law, Constant, who was tried and convicted in absentia in 2000 for the murder of political opponents in the rural Haitian village of Raboteau, is entitled to a new trial upon his return to the country, reports the Miami Herald
  • With Haiti ever deeper in a protracted political crisis, the head of the U.N. office in the country has called for constitutional reform -- a controversial move that some say fails to note the acute nature of the situation, reports the Miami Herald. A Security Council meeting last Friday noted: "Haiti’s lack of an electoral calendar, the ongoing political crisis, the proliferation of armed gangs and guns, persistent human rights violations, lack of government accountability, the prolonged detention of prisoners and the impact of COVID-19."
Regional Relations
  • The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States is pushing against U.S. efforts to punish countries that employ Cuba’s medical brigade. (Miami Herald)
  • Haitian criminal groups are exchanging guns for marijuna with their Jamaican counterparts, reports InSight Crime.
  • Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro has taken strong steps to further undermine Venezuela's political opposition ahead of parliamentary elections that will happen later this year -- that they have not caused significant backlash on the streets due in part to the coronavirus pandemic and in part to the opposition's failed strategies over the past 18 months, writes Félix Seijas Rodríguez in Americas Quarterly.
  • U.S. former security advisor John Bolton's new book has a 39-page chapter on Venezuela -- most press coverage has focused on allegations he makes that U.S. President Donald Trump was inconsistent in his policy towards the country. (See last Friday's briefs.) But there's much more. Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde sift through the many many allegations at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Ramsey is struck "how many basic facts Bolton gets wrong and how unreliable his narrative is. If you add his factual errors to his clear personal agenda here, I think it’s clear you have to take what he writes with a grain of salt." Smilde adds that "writing is motored by a highly emotional conviction of success, is completely lacking in reflection, and sees the world in binary terms."
  • Irregular armed groups in Colombia have ramped up their recruiting of poor young people, who find themselves even more vulnerable with schools shut down due to the coronavirus, reports InSight Crime
  • The OAS backed international anti-corruption mission in Honduras, known as “MACCIH,” enjoyed fleeting success before it was dismantled in January -- a victim of concerted efforts by Honduran political and economic elites, writes Charles Call in a CLAS Working Paper.
  • Among the things coronavirus has not affected in Latin America is eco-trafficking, which apparently continues apace, particularly smuggling of maritime species, according to InSight Crime.
  • At least five people in Mexico were killed by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake, yesterday. The quake, which was centered in the Pacific Ocean, about 14 miles off the coast in the southern state of Oaxaca, rattled large swaths of southern and central Mexico. Buildings swayed in Mexico City, but no extensive damage was reported. In Oaxaca, the quake damaged eight roads—including three federal highways—a bridge, some hospitals and schools as well as an estimated 500 houses. The earthquake caused a fire at a Pemex refinery in the Pacific coast city of Salina Cruz. (Guardian, New York Times, Wall Street Journal)
  • A 1901 private dance party in Mexico City -- attended by 41 men, about half dressed as women -- caused a scandal that stigmatized homosexuality in the country for decades, to the point where even the number 41 was avoided, reports Americas Quarterly. "More recent generations of LGBT Mexicans, however, have begun revisiting “the dance of the 41,” as the incident became known, as a foundational part of their history."
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. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Latin America Daily Briefing June 23, 2020

News Briefs

  • The coronavirus "new normal" in Latin America could well be an intense version of the region's pre-pandemic violence-ridden reality, write José Luis Pardo Veiras y Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza in a New York Times Español op-ed. There is a serious risk that criminal groups will expand to fill the vacuum of governments made even more fragile by the current crisis, they warn.
  • The massive anti-racism protests in the United States share a lot with pro-democracy movements from Latin America, argues Lilian Bobea in the Conversation. While U.S. protests are often focused on a single issue -- like gun rights or access to abortion -- "Latin America protests, on the other hand, are often sustained movements with ambitious goals. They seek regime change or an entirely new constitutional order."
  • Suriname's ruling party conceded defeat in the May 25 general election. In its statement, the NDP warned the opposition parties that they should remember that “the path of success is not one of roses," reports CMC.
  • "Brazil now faces three different crises due to a lack of regulatory excellence: a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a political crisis," write Mariana Urban and Eduardo Saad-Diniz in the Regulatory Review
  • Brazil reached more than a million confirmed coronavirus cases and 50,000 deaths over the weekend, which didn't stop people from thronging to Rio de Janeiro's beaches over the weekend, reports Reuters.
  • Allies of U.S. President Donald Trump including Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott gently took issue with the president's statements that he would meet with Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, and reiterated support for opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, reports Washington Post. Trump backtracked on the interview yesterday, clarifying that he would meet with Maduro, who has clung to power since a disputed 2018 election, only to discuss “a peaceful exit.” (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • An Iranian ship was approaching the Venezuelan port of La Guaira on Sunday with a cargo of food that will supply the country's first Iranian supermarket, reports Reuters.
  • Bolivia's interim president, Jeanine Áñez signed off on a plan to hold general elections by Sept. 6, despite public health concerns, reports AFP. "I have received pressure demanding elections on September 6, that is, in the midst of the pandemic. I have a country suffering and many politicians and authorities demanding elections as soon as possible," she said in a recorded message. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • Chile nearly doubled its reported coronavirus death toll Saturday to more than 7,000 under a new tallying method that includes probable Covid-19 fatalities. (AFP)
  • The pandemic has only deepened Chilean democracy's extreme crisis, writes Patricio Fernández in a New York Times Español op-ed. As contagions increase, Chilean authorities are resorting to military enforced quarantines, without providing adequate responses for Chileans whose poverty does not allow them to remain home.
  • Peruvian lawmakers could fast-track a bill that would limit access to a string of indigenous territories near the border with Ecuador and Brazil, pushed by growing concerns that the coronavirus pandemic could devastate remote communities. But indigenous advocates fear that opposition by the oil industry may undermine the opportunity to protect swathes of virgin Amazon rainforest, reports Reuters.
  • Covid-19 cases are spiking in Argentina as the government struggles to contain contagion in the Buenos Aires metropolitan region, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Argentina's government suggested the emergency cash-transfer program implemented as a response to the coronavirus pandemic could be turned into a basic income program for the country's informal workers. (BAE Negocios)
  • Gracelito Micolta, a member in the community council of Alto Guapi, was murdered in Colombia's Cauca department -- 138 social leaders have been assassinated so far this year according to the Institute for Development and Peace tally. (Telesur)
  • Surprisingly, tourism could play a central role in Colombia's post-pandemic economic recovery -- whenever that happens -- reports Americas Quarterly.
  • Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said that 151 of the people who work at his official residence have tested positive for COVID-19, and one has died. (Associated Press)
  • Foreign Policy has a Q and A with Nina Lakhani, author of "Who Killed Berta Cáceres? Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet."
  • Panamanian authorities exhumed the remains of 19 victims of the 1989 U.S. invasion of the country -- part of a push to identify the remains and give families closure, reports BBC.
  • A long-overdue national discussion about race and racism in Mexico is pushing aside traditional denial of the issue in the country -- though it has been overshadowed in recent days by politics, celebrity and a combustible debate over so-called cancel culture, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • At least 15 people were killed in a Oaxaca state village in Mexico, in a dispute over windpower, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexican archeologists fear budget cuts will decimate research into the country’s pre-Columbian past and leave thousands of ancient sites – including Aztec temples and Mayan cities – at the mercy of looters, reports the Guardian.
  • Two prominent British firms, Lloyd’s of London and Greene King, announced they would make amends for their involvement in the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. But an alliance of Caribbean countries is asking for more, and is pushing British financial institutions to pay reparations for their historic role in the slave trade. (New York Times, Daily Mail)
  • The Conversation analyzes the legal case with slavery reparations and where is corporate liability likely to go from here.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Weintraub's exit raises questions in Brazil (June 22, 2020)

Brazilian education minister Abraham Weintraub's exit from President Jair Bolsonaro's cabinet -- and then the country -- has thrown the Bolsonaro administration deeper into a political crisis involving numerous scandals implicating his family and closest allies, reports The Intercept.

Weintraub exited the government last Thursday, after he got caught on tape at a cabinet meeting screaming that Supreme Court justices should be arrested, and his mask-free attendance at an explicitly anti-democracy protest aimed at the Supreme Court, writes Glenn Greenwald. "His resignation comes as a result of prolonged political wear and tear with the Supreme Court Justices," reports Folha de S. Paulo.

Weintraub arrived in the U.S. on Friday, amid speculation that he would be the next target in an ongoing Supreme Court investigation into online defamation and disinformation campaigns. (See last Wednesday's briefs.) The arrival, despite the U.S.'s travel ban on arrivals from Brazil due to coronavirus concerns, raised questions over whether Weintraub had improperly used a diplomatic passport issued to cabinet members. (New York Times)

The government may have intentionally posponed publishing Weintrab's resignation until he safely reached U.S. soil, according to Greenwald. Bolsonaro announced he would appoint Weintraub to a senior World Bank position, a post that does not require Senate approval. Opposition lawmakers said they would demand information regarding Weintraub's exit and use of diplomatic passport, reports Globo. If he remained a government minister, then Bolsonaro would have had to approve his departure from Brazil, said lawmaker Marcelo Calero.

Critics of the Bolsonaro administration say the hasty departure amounts to obstruction of justice. 

More Brazil
  • "Bolsonaro’s playbook when it comes to uncomfortable evidence is to attack the facts and the people trying to unearth them," writes Brazilian journalist Bianca Santana in a Guardian opinion piece. She attracted Bolsonaro's ire after publishing a review of evidence linking the president and his family to suspects in the 2018 murder of Marielle Franco and Anderson Gomes. Bolsonaro never answered the questions she raised in articles, but he did falsely accuse her of fake news in a recent YouTube live address in which he brandished an article she never wrote. "Bolsonaro’s actions are part of a trend of frightening attacks against press freedom in Brazil, "often led by the so-called “Office of Hate”, an illicit network of bloggers, prominent businessmen and lawmakers close to Bolsonaro, who spread fake news and attack our democratic institutions." That is the group the Brazilian Supreme Court is currently investigating.
  • "That Marielle Franco was a black, bisexual woman with a history of speaking up for the poor and marginalized is central to her murder case," notes Santana. "Bolsonaro foments hatred against minorities. Racist comments against black and indigenous people, and the homophobic and misogynistic behavior he expresses, have become more explicit every day."
  • Covid-19 "is scything through the [Brazil's] indigenous communities, killing chiefs, elders and traditional healers – and raising fears that alongside the toll of human lives, the pandemic may inflict irreparable damage on tribal knowledge of history, culture and natural medicine," reports the Guardian.
  • A local move to lockdown several indigenous villages in Brazil's Pará state, also bans indigenous people from entering the town of Pau D’Arco. Critics note the decree makes no mention of non-indigenous people. Federal prosecutors on Friday called for the mayor to revoke the decree, reports the Guardian.
News Briefs

  • Latin America is home to eight percent of the global population, and is now suffering half the world's new coronavirus deaths. Three months of economically crippling lockdowns have been less effective than elsewhere in the world, and now countries in the region are struggling to respond to the twin human and economic catastrophes, reports the Financial Times.
  • Efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic in Latin America have been stymied by a litany of corruption scandals, reports the New York Times. The epidemic context amplified the region's pre-existing issues with corruption, and gave public officials new opportunities for graft. "Dozens of public officials and local entrepreneurs stand accused of exploiting the crisis for personal enrichment by peddling influence to price-gouge hospitals and governments for medical supplies, including masks, sanitizer and ventilators. Some of the gear was so flawed that it was rendered useless — and may have contributed to even more sickness and death." 
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said he'd be open to meeting with Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, who the U.S. does not recognize as Venezuela's president. "I'm never opposed to meetings — you know, rarely opposed to meetings," Trump told Axios on Friday. He also indicated flagging faith in National Assembly president Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. and dozens of other countries consider to be Venezuela's legal interim leader. A Trump-Maduro meeting would upend current U.S. policy towards Venezuela, notes Axios. Today Trump tweeted that he would meet with Maduro only to discuss "a peaceful exit from power." (CBS
  • Trumps comments came days after release of former security advisor John Bolton’s book describing Trump’s public toughness toward Maduro as an attempt to win Republican votes in South Florida, notes the Miami Herald. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • The U.S. Trump administration blacklisted more than a dozen individuals, their businesses and tankers alleged to have been involved in as much as 40 percent of Venezuela’s crude-oil exports in recent weeks, reported the Wall Street Journal last week.
  • The case of Mexico's Central de Abasto market, and how coronavirus spread among vendors made vulnerable by the problems of poverty, offers a glimpse into why the virus has hit the country so hard, reports the Washington Post.
  • Argentina needs to develop an effective form of contagion contact tracing that adequately adapts to Latin American realities and accounts for socio-economic differences as well, argues Daniel Feierstein in Cohete a la Luna. The article, which seems relevant to other countries in the region, asks a key question: why are contagions still increasing, 100 days since the country first implemented a strict lockdown that remains, in a more relaxed form, in the greater Buenos Aires area? The answer is related to lack of contact tracing, he writes.
  • An Argentine man sailed from Portugal to his hometown of Mar del Plata to visit his aging parents after flights were cancelled due to Covid-19. He arrived yesterday -- Fathers' Day -- after an 85-day journey, reports AFP.
The times of Covid-19 have made several new vocabulary words overly common -- "hydroxychloroquine" anybody? But today I was saddened by articles using an old verb that one rarely sees in news articles: scythe.