Mexico announced restrictions yesterday on nonessential travel across its southern border with Guatemala and Belize "to prevent the spread of Covid-19," the epidemiological timing of the measure wasn't explained, but the result could help the U.S. government a wave of Central American migrants reaching the U.S. border, notes the Associated Press. The closure of Mexico’s southern border appears in part to be an attempt to make migration from Central America more difficult, reports the Washington Post. Yesterday Reuters reported that Mexico is preparing to significantly reinforce efforts to detain U.S.-bound migrants who illegally cross its border with Guatemala.
The announcement came on the same day the U.S. confirmed it will send 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to Mexico. Andres Rozental, a former Mexican deputy foreign minister for North America, told Reuters it looked as though a trade-off was occurring, even if it was unlikely that any senior figures in either administration would admit that publicly. At a White House briefing yesterday press secretary Jen Psaki said that the discussions over vaccines and border security between the United States and Mexico were “unrelated” but also “overlapping.”
The case works into a broader trend of vaccine diplomacy in the region that is increasingly looking like a Covid-19 Cold War between superpowers, who are deploying stocks strategically to curry goodwill or stockpiling surpluses far beyond their national needs. There have been several recent reports on China deploying vaccine stocks in order to curry goodwill, with Paraguay on a diplomatic level and with Brazil, which will allow Huawei to participate in its 5G auction. The U.S. has voiced concern about geopolitical implications of Chinese and Russian vaccine shipments to the region. A U.S. government report appeared to show that the United States had tried to dissuade Brazil from buying the Russian produced Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. (See Wednesday's post.)
"It’s notable that China and Russia, two of Maduro’s allies, have been quite limited in their distribution of vaccines to Venezuela," writes Boz at the Latin America Risk Report. "The country has received fewer than one million vaccines total and has been very slow to distribute them."
Yesterday former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called on U.S. President Joe Biden to ensure vaccine equity, in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "One suggestion that I would like to make to President Biden through your program is: it's very important to call a G20 meeting urgently," da Silva told Amanpour. "It's important to call the main leaders of the world and put around the table just one thing, one issue. Vaccine, vaccine and vaccine!"
"The responsibility to international leaders is tremendous so I'm asking President Biden to do that because I can't ... I don't believe in my government. And so, I couldn't ask for that for Trump, but Biden is a breath for democracy in the world," said Lula.
- The Atlantic Council's Covid-19 tracker shows the percentage of the population of each Latin American and Caribbean country covered by current vaccine agreements; the total number of doses secured by each country and breakdown by supplier/vaccine; and, where each vaccine is being used across the region.
- New York Times has a graphic illustrating the arbitrarities of who can get vaccinated and who can't in the world right now.
- The U.S. Biden administration's more humane approach to migration has put Mexico in the difficult position of deflecting migrants who might previously have been deterred by the previous administration's harsh policies, reports the New York Times.
- Smugglers running fraudulent "travel agencies" are promising migrants everything from “documents to freely transit through Mexico” to “safe places to stay” while waiting to get into the U.S, reports the Daily Beast.
- A new WOLA report contextualizes the U.S.-Mexico "Border Crisis" narrative. The surge in migrant border crossings currently occurring (see Tuesday's post) was predictable, not because of Biden administration policies like winding down “Remain with Mexico,” but because of the dangers put in place by Trump’s cruel and illegal policies of deterrence. While border apprehensions have increased, most migrants are quickly expelled. Unaccompanied children are the only migrant population that the Biden administration is refusing to expel.
- The situation at the U.S.– Mexico border is urgent, but the true crisis is in Central America, "where years of failing governments, extreme poverty and widening inequality, and record violence have created a sense of hopelessness that have driven migration for decades," writes Eric Olson at Univisión.
- The Biden administration has prioritized addressing poor governance, a root cause of migration from the region, but the challenge is making anti-corruption efforts stick, writes Will Freeman at the Council of Foreign Relations. "Reformers need to prevent the kind of backlash that upended their previous efforts. That means loosening the grip of corrupt elites over the three institutions they used to quash anti-corruption efforts last time: the courts, private sector associations, and legislatures."
- Lula's interview and call for international action comes as Brazil’s healthcare system has been plunged into the most severe crisis in its history, reports the Guardian, with doctors overwhelmed and patients dying while they wait for intensive care beds. President Jair Bolsonaro continued to spurn calls for a lockdown that would save lives this week, even as daily death tolls hit new records.
- Brazilians’ disapproval of Bolsonaro’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis is at a record high and he may face a tough campaign for re-election next year, according to new polls out this week, reports Reuters.
- Lula's impact on Brazilian politics is already being felt: after a speech he gave last week emphasizing pandemic impact, Bolsonaro and his aides made a rare appearance wearing masks at an official event in Brasilia, reports Reuters. And yesterday, after the CNN speech, Bolsonaro's office released a February letter from Biden outlining opportunities to cooperate on the pandemic and climate change.
- The Biden administration is already actively working with the Brazilian government to protect Amazon biodiversity, "perhaps the first time that a major bilateral relationship has focused on trees," reports the Economist. "In both countries, wonks are trying to pull together a deal that the two presidents can claim as a win." Enforcement of an eventual deal would be a challenge, and the U.S. would have few tools to sanction Brazil for failing to meet targets. But the Biden administration could work with states in the Amazon instead if Bolsonaro proves intransigent.
- As Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak spirals out of control, the country is facing a dangerous new shortage, threatening to drive fatalities even higher: a lack of staff in intensive care units, reports Reuters.
- Brazil’s vast size and deficient infrastructure make getting coronavirus vaccines to far-flung Indigenous and Black communities particularly challenging, reports the Associated Press.
- A growing pile of accusations against President Juan Orlando Hernández, other Honduran officials and security forces, ranging from organized crime collusion to civil society repression, are strengthening pressure on the U.S. Biden administration to take action against Honduras' leader, reports NPR. U.S. prosecutors even accuse Hernández of taking bribes to help an alleged drug trafficker move tons of cocaine into the United States, which he denies.
- The accusations come at a politically sensitive time in Honduras, presidential and legislative elections will take place in November. Debates about corruption and drug money will dominate the campaign, reports the Economist.
- Even as allegations against Hernández pile up, leading political actors in Honduras -- from JOH's Partido Nacional and opposition parties -- have interest in preserving the current corrupt system of governance, writes Contracorriente's Jennifer Ávila Reyes in the Post Opinión. She warns of a potential "impunity pact," in which politicians could seek to avoid extraditing Hernández, and instead carry out more controlled investigations nationally.
- Tony Hernández, a brother of JOH, should be sentenced to life in prison for running a “state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy” with the nation’s current leader, according to U.S. federal prosecutors. Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, a former Honduran congressman, was convicted in October 2019 of participating in a conspiracy to traffic in cocaine to the United States and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for next week, reports the Associated Press.
- Haiti National Police officers marched through the streets of Port-au-Prince Wednesday, demanding the corpses of several fallen comrades killed in a botched raid in one of the city’s most dangerous slums, reports the Miami Herald. The protest turned violent as demonstrators trashed a local police station and released several people from jail, including a handful of officers marchers believe were illegally detained. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
- Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez survived an impeachment attempt led by opposition lawmakers over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, on Wednesday. The Chamber of Deputies, which is dominated by his governing Colorado Party, voted 42 to 36 to reject impeachment, while hundreds protested outside the legislature demanding his resignation. (Associated Press)
- Pedro Brieger defends the detention of Bolivia's former interim president Jeanine Áñez, who has been detained on charges of "terrorism" and accused of plotting a coup against former President Evo Morales. While critics of the move say the case lends itself to accusations of political retribution (see Wednesday's post), Brieger argues in Nodal that Áñez should be condemned as the head of a de facto government, an issue that transcends momentary political calculations.
- Bolivia told the United States and Brazil to “not interfere” in its internal affairs following criticism of the arrest and detention of former interim president Jeanine Áñez, reports AFP.
- Colombian political figures linked to the ruling Centro Democrático party attempted to influence Ecuador’s presidential election, against front-runner Andrés Arauz, according to CEPR. Senior Colombian government officials have promoted allegations linking Arauz to Colombian guerrillas ahead of the upcoming second-round vote.
- The mothers and relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings by the Colombian army, known as “false positive” killings, delivered a report titled “United for memory and truth” to the Truth Commission and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which recently raised the number of false positive victims in one of its macro-cases to 6,402, triple the figure provided so far by the Prosecutor’s Office. (EFE)
- Gunmen killed 13 law enforcement officers in a Mexican government convoy conducting a security patrol southwest of Mexico City. The attack appeared to be the deadliest assault on the Mexican police in well over a year, illustrating the severe security challenges facing the government, reports the New York Times.
- Mexico's criminal organizations have evolved considerably in the past decade, they now engage in diverse activities and are no longer exclusively involved in the trafficking of drugs. "The change in landscape demands reconsideration and reframing of U.S. - Mexico security cooperation in order to formulate appropriate policy solutions," writes Alejandro Hope for the Wilson Center.
- A Miami-based pilot who arranged chartered flights for Venezuelan government allies has been sentenced to more than four years in prison. Venezuelan-born Victor Mones pled guilty in Manhattan federal court to the charges of breaking U.S. sanctions against his two top clients: former Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami and his alleged front man, businessman Samark Lopez, both of whom were designated narcotics kingpins in 2017, reports the Associated Press.
- Peruvian right-wing presidential candidate Rafael López Aliaga, an ultra-conservative member of Opus Dei who practices celibacy and says he wears a sackcloth to keep his physical desires in check, jumped up in recent opinion polls, which give him a strong shot in April 11's election. He is within a cluster of contenders who could force a second round run-off with populist front-runner Yonhy Lescano, reports Reuters.
- Ecuador investigators raided the health ministry as part of a probe into influence peddling against former health minister Juan Carlos Zevallos. (AFP)
- Latin America and the Caribbean are at a crossroads as a result of the Covid-19 crisis and the only way forward is to pursue “a sustainable recovery,” according to the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Mauricio Claver-Carone. (EFE)
Happy Friday to all. Latin America Daily Briefing