Monday, June 8, 2020

New study challenges OAS's Bolivia election analysis (June 8, 2020)

A new study by independent researchers has found that the Organization of American States’ statistical analysis of Bolivian election data last year was flawed -- undermining conclusions that played a major role in fomenting protests in October and the subsequent ousting of then-president Evo Morales in November. The study, which used data obtained by the New York Times from the Bolivian electoral authorities, discredited the original claims of fraud based on statistical evidence.

Though the study focuses on statistical issues, and does not address other widespread issues of irregularities, it questions the OAS's initial claim which was extremely relevant in shaping the narrative around the questioned October election. Morales was pushed from power with military support weeks later, and the country has been governed by interim-leader Jeannine Áñez since. An election redo scheduled for May has been postponed due to the coronavirus, and critics are concerned about the country's prolonged political crisis. (See last Friday's briefs.)

"The Bolivian government has used the pandemic as a pretext to impose decrees that criminalize dissent and severely curtail press freedom. Though international pressure forced the government to rescind some of the decrees’ most egregious measures, this was not until after a short period of harsh repression," reports CEPR.

Brazil eliminated Covid-19 official data

Brazil's government suddenly expunged cumulative Covid-19 data from the Health Ministry website this weekend, a move critics say is aimed at covering up the pandemic's extensive impact in the country. As of Saturday, the official data indicated that more than 672,000 people were infected in Brazil and nearly 36,000 died of Covid-19. Now there is only a daily tally with numbers from the past 24 hours.
Health ministry insiders told local media the move was ordered by President Jair Bolsonaro, himself, reports the Guardian.

Bolsonaro tweeted Saturday that disease totals are “not representative” of the country’s current situation. Public prosecutors announced an investigation into the Health Ministry’s justification for the change.

“The manipulation of statistics is a manoeuvre of totalitarian regimes,” said Supreme Court justice Gilmar Mendes. “Attempts are made to hide the numbers in Covid-19 to reduce or control health policies. The trick will not remove responsibility for the eventual genocide.” (Financial Times)

Government officials said the official data was inflated by local and state officials seeking funding. The National Council of Health Secretaries retorted that the allegation betrayed a “profound ignorance.” State health secretaries promised to fight “the authoritarian, insensitive, inhumane and unethical attempt to make the Covid-19 deaths invisible."

In fact, until now, the main concern was that the country's official statistics undercounted the severity of the epidemic due to undertesting, notes the Washington Post. Though statistics are hard to tally around the world due to testing variations, Brazilian statistics have been signalled as particularly irregular by health researchers, reports the Associated Press.

Bolsonaro has a history of dismissing official evidence that clashes with his world-view, notes the Washington Post. Last year he dismissed government deforestation data and fired the official who produced it. (See below on how the coronavirus pandemic has made deforestation even worse.)

Bolsonaro threatened on Friday to pull Brazil out of the World Health Organization after the U.N. agency warned Latin American governments about the risk of lifting lockdowns before slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus throughout the region. (Reuters)

Brazil's public health response to the crisis has been hampered by politics, one of the country's most respected public health experts,  Drauzio Varella, told the Guardian.

More Brazil
  • Thousands of people gathered to protest against President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazilian cities, defying social distancing recommendations. Many also used the occasion to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement against racism and police killings inspired by protests in the United States. (Al Jazeera, Bloomberg)
  • In Recife protesters marched with the picture of a five-year-old black boy who died last week while in the care of his mother's white employer, reports AFP.
  • Anti-racism protests in the United States resonate in Brazil, where a legacy of racial hierarchy has effects that still persist, writes Thiago Amparo in Americas Quarterly. Violence against blacks, and impunity for such crimes, is at record level in both countries, writes Amparo, who also notes a shared history of street protest against racism. "Yet, protests against police violence are not only about police killings; protesters read those killings as part of a necropolitics which aims to destroy black bodies, either by killing them directly or letting them die."
  • A black 18- to 30-year-old man living in a favela is three times more likely to be killed in a police operation in Brazil, experts warn. Afro-Brazilians make up 55% of the population, but represent over 75% of fatalities in police custody. This reflects an “institutional and structural” racism, according to Brazilian Forum of Public Security coordinator David Marques. (EFE)
  • A Financial Times editorial joins a growing chorus of concern that Brazil is headed towards a significant institutional crisis as Bolsonaro increasingly pits himself against the country's judicial and legislative branches. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • Bolsonaro's actions may seem erratic from the outside, but he is actually savvily challenging his own country's institutions in order to fire up supporters, wrote Miguel Lago and Alessandra Orofino of Nossas in a New York Times op-ed last week. "Bolsonaro proves that authoritarianism can exist even when power is dispersed."
  • The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated Amazon rainforest destruction even more in Brazil, reports the New York Times. Illegal loggers, miners and land grabbers have cleared vast areas of the Amazon with impunity in recent months as law enforcement efforts were hobbled by the pandemic. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
News Briefs

  • Mexico is facing its own police brutality protests after a man was found beaten to death hours after he was arrested by police officers for not wearing a face mask in public. The hashtag #JusticiaParaGiovanni trended last week on Mexican social media. “Giovanni didn’t die, the police killed him,” tweeted actor Gael García Bernal. (Guardian)
  • This weekend some 80 protesters were seized by police officers and held incommunicado in Guadalajara. All but two have since reappeared, but the episode has revived unnerving memories of the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa teacher training college, reports the Guardian.
  • The governor of Jalisco, of which Guadalajara is the capital has apologized for police abuses amid continued protests.(EFE)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador staunchly opposes huge stimulus packages, even as official data indicates that millions of Mexicans might fall into poverty due to pandemic economic impact. (New York Times)
  • The former director of the Tijuana city police, Gustavo Huerta, was arrested Friday after a warrant was issued against him for the crime of torture, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Dozens of people protesting police violence against the public in Mexico and the United States vandalized the US Embassy in Mexico City on Friday, reports EFE.
  • Human rights and opposition leaders in Haiti accused Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro of overstepping his role and wrongly supporting an extension of President Jovenel Moïse’s presidential mandate. They responded to a recent statement by Almagro declaring that Moïse’s term as Haiti’s 58th president ends on Feb. 7, 2022, rather than a year earlier, as many experts contend. (Miami Herald)
  • Venezuelan authorities have jailed three local DirecTV executives under an arrest warrant issued after the Dallas-based company abruptly cut off services to the South American country last month. A lawyer for the three Venezuelan citizens said they have cooperated with authorities and that the detention is unjust, reports the Associated Press.
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele vetoed, for the second time, emergency legislation passed to regulate the country’s coronavirus quarantine and gradually reopen the economy, reports Reuters. Bukele's legal team said the law passed by the National Assembly on May 30 breached a number of constitutional guarantees including the rights and health of workers and cooperation between organs of government. (El Diario de Hoy)
  • Thirty years after a group of Jesuit priests were massacred in San Salvador's Universidad Centroamericana, two former security officials will go on trial in Spain today. (El País, Guardian)
  • At least 20 prominent Sandinistas in Nicaragua – including ministers, members of the national assembly, senior advisers and a police commander – have died after displaying symptoms typical of Covid-19, despite the government's official downplaying of the coronavirus threat, reports the Guardian.
  • The pandemic has illustrated the very real cost of leaders who reject scientific evidence, from Bolsonaro to the Ortegas and Trump, writes Alberto Vergara in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Covid-19 is not only spreading disease and economic pain, but also corruption scandals throughout Latin America, reports Americas Quarterly in the presentation of the new Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index. The index ranks 15 countries in the region -- it's topped by Uruguay, the country in which corrupt actors are most likely to be prosecuted and punished. Venezuela comes in last.
  • A group of 1,900 migrants tried to break out of a Panamanian detention center, where they were stranded by Covid-19 restrictions. (Reuters)
  • Cuba has deployed its unique door-to-door community health strategy with Covid-19, with relative success, reports the Guardian.
  • Peruvian hospitals are running out of oxygen to treat Covid-19 victims, reports the Associated Press. Regional health directors say the shortage has already cost lives and is so severe that even by turning industrial plants that typically produce oxygen for mining into medicinal production, Peru will fall short of what it needs.
  • Unknown assailants killed Camilo Sucerquia, son of Nidia Sucerquia, a former combatant of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a rural area of ​​the municipality of Ituango, in the northwestern part of Antioquia. (Telesur)
St. Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis' ruling party led by Prime Minister Timothy Harris declared victory Saturday for the June 5 general elections, winning nine out of the eleven seats for parliament for the 2020-2025 period. Harris was sworn in for his second term yesterday. (CMCTelesur)
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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