Friday, August 28, 2020

Venezuela's Covid crackdown on dissent (Aug. 28, 2020)

Venezuelan authorities have cracked down on dissent and intensified their control over Venezuela's people under the guise of coronavirus control policies, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

Since declaring a state of emergency to combat Covid-19 in mid-March, 2020, Venezuelan authorities have arbitrarily detained and prosecuted dozens of journalists, healthcare workers, human rights lawyers, and political opponents who criticize the government of Nicolás Maduro, denounced HRW. Many detainees are charged under an overly broad hate crimes law, before a judiciary that lacks independence. In  many cases the victims had dissented on social media or even in private messages.

In addition, the government is covering up the true extent of the novel coronavirus' spread in Venezuela, and has retaliated against attempts to share information about the epidemic. The report points to the case of a bioanalyst interrogated by the Sebin intelligence agency after sharing information about a Covid-19 patient with colleagues, and a journalist charged with “using false information to destabilize the government," after tweeting publicly available information about the epidemic.

More Venezuela
  • The U.S. has undermined the Venezuelan opposition's capacity to negotiate, to detriment of Venezuelan democracy, argues Geoff Ramsey in the Washington Post. The Venezuelan government is pushing forward towards rigged legislative elections in December, but, if Nicolás Maduro can be pushed back to the negotiating table, pre-electoral "sanctions relief could be conditioned on compliance with verifiable, specific electoral conditions sought by the opposition, with the threat of re-application if these conditions are violated in the lead up to the vote," writes Ramsey.


Quarantine Fever

Actual lockdowns in the region vary from Honduras and El Salvador, where restrictions on movement were strictest and lasted the longest, to Uruguay, Brazil and Nicaragua, where they have been lax or non-existent. El País, in a review of quarantine measures in Latin America notes that everybody seems to think their own country's restrictions are the worst, but that a region-wide measure has been the suspension of classes.

Quarantine fatigue is widespread, and leaders will be unwilling (or unable) to maintain widespread restrictions, notes the Latin America Risk Report. Even as contagion remains high, several countries are under significant pressure to ease restrictions. (France 24)

That fact, however, butts up against another fact noted in El País's piece: the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected poorer sectors of the population not only because of living conditions, but also because they are more likely to have been excepted from restrictions due to the categories of work they carry out.

Another interesting detail from El País: the virus affects the economy far more than lockdowns. That is to say, restrictions themselves have only a slight correlation to GDP.

More Covid-19
  • The places hardest hit by the pandemic will need more than virus-control to fully recover: "Mental-health professionals say that no single event since the second world war has left so many people in so many places traumatised at once. How people fare in the months and years ahead will depend partly on how their countries -- and more importantly, their communities -- respond," argues the Economist.

News Briefs

  • United Nations human rights head, Michelle Bachelet, urged the Organization of American States (OAS) to resolve its dispute with its autonomous human rights organ, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). OAS head Luis Almagro has refused to renew the contract of IACHR head Paulo Abrão, a move the independent commission rejected categorically. (See Tuesday's post.) Bachelet called for dialogue and said the disagreement risks undermining the IACHR's "proven efficacy" as well as the OAS's reputation. (Associated Press)
  • Argentina's foreign ministry criticized Almagro's stance, as did El Salvador's Universidad Centroamericana. (Página 12, EFE)
  • Bolivia's interim-government criticized the IACHR and accused its leadership of differential treatment of cases. (Página 12)
  • Former Guatemalan cabinet member and political operator Alejandro Sinibaldi turned himself in to Guatemalan authorities on Monday to face charges of illicit association, money laundering, and bribery. He has been a fugitive for four years, and his testimony could provide details on an array of corruption schemes, reports InSight Crime.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's government threatens the country's long tradition of critical intellectuals, writes Rafael Rojas in the New York Times Español.
  • Latin America's terrible track record with gender violence is not just the fault of machista perspectives -- policy makers and social groups must look at the broader systems that perpetuate these problems, like social, racial, and economic inequalities, family relationships and social mores, argues Lynn Marie Stephen in the Conversation.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. Latin America Daily Briefing

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