Friday, June 25, 2021

Brazil's pandemic impacts politics (June 25, 2021)

News Briefs

  • Brazil’s federal prosecutor’s office is investigating possible irregularities in a Health Ministry contract to purchase 20 million doses of the Covaxin vaccine manufactured by Indian laboratory Bharat Biotech, at a price 1,000% higher than market rate and from a representative with a dubious record. (Associated Press, Guardian)
  • Testimony this week at Brazil's Congressional inquiry commission into the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic alleges Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was aware of the irregularities. While he is still most likely to avoid impeachment due to political maneuvering in the Congress, public opinion has turned on the president and a majority or near majority favor impeachment in most recent polls, according to the Latin America Risk Report.
  • The inquiry has found mounting evidence that Bolsonaro’s administration committed “crimes against life”, the senior politician leading the investigation told the Guardian. The panel is expected to release its conclusions by August. It does not have the power to bring criminal charges, but the evidence it gathers could be used in future criminal investigations – and could also prompt congress to launch impeachment proceedings against Bolsonaro.
  • The world's second-deadliest coronavirus outbreak has aggravated deep political polarization ahead of next year's presidential election in Brazil, reports Reuters. Disagreements over restrictions recommended by scientific experts has led to threats and violence against those who support or enact containment measures.
  • Bolsonaro couched his refusal to implement restrictions on concern for the country's poorest, who he said could not afford to stay home. But critics say his approach has only prolonged the crisis — and driven more people into poverty, reports the Washington Post. Brazil has now been left with the worst of both worlds: A half-million dead — more than anywhere outside the United States — and millions more without work.
  • A Brazilian Supreme Court magistrate annulled two more cases against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva that had been brought by former judge Sergio Moro. The latest ruling invalidates all the evidence collected by Moro, meaning the trial process will have to start again from scratch, reports AFP.
  • Argentine senators approved a law reserving 1 percent of Argentina's public sector jobs for transgender people. The measure also offers tax incentives and soft loans for private businesses that hire trans people. Argentina is already in the vanguard of progressive trans rights legislation in the world, reports Reuters. (See also Página 12.)
  • A controversial constitutional referendum pushed by Haitian President Jovenel Moïse scheduled for this weekend was postponed due to Covid-19. But the delay only adds to the building political chaos in Haiti stemming from Moïse’s efforts to expand his power in the country, reports AS/COA in an explainer on the country's prolonged political crisis.
  • An estimated 95 armed gangs control about a third of Port-au-Prince in Haiti. These gangs are increasingly engaged in armed battles for territory control, affecting the lives of around 1.5 million people, warns UNICEF. The current situation of gangs’ violence and IDPs in the capital city’s metropolitan area is feared to go towards a further deterioration with elections later this year.
  • A combination of empty rhetoric, short attention spans, and expedient silence on the part of the international community allowed Nicaragua’s political degradation to fester and get here. And the here is worse than anybody imagined, writes Kevin Casas-Zamora in Americas Quarterly. Lessons to be gleaned from the case include that impunity has a signalling effect on autocrats and that we must adjust our mental maps when it comes to threats to democracy, he argues.
Regional Relations
  • Nicaragua's worsening human rights situation prompted a shift in several Caribbean countries' diplomatic stance -- 12 Caribbean Community countries voted in favor of last week's OAS resolution condemning President Daniel Ortega's government. (See June 16's post.) Five Caribbean nations —Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago— had never voted in favor of a resolution against Ortega's government, their position had been to abstain or be absent.
  • Caribbean countries have previously favored sovereignty concerns, but in an opinion article, Ronald Sanders, president of the Permanent Council of the OAS, pointed out that the Caricom countries “chose to send a clear signal to President Ortega that they want him to act democratically, to release the people who have been arbitrarily detained and to cease the aggressions against the media.” (Confidencial)
  • Argentina and Mexico abstained from the OAS vote -- though they later recalled their ambassadors from Managua in protest over Ortega's crackdown against opponents and critics. Of the two, Argentina's government faced a wave of criticism, both locally and internationally, for its stance, reports Confidencial.
  • An emerging crop of leftist politicians in Latin America is embracing regressive social values. "The left’s conservative turn leaves marginalized communities bereft of their traditional political allies and jeopardizes freedom and safety," warn Paul Angelo and Will Freeman in Americas Quarterly. If trends like Castillo in Peru hold, "regionwide poverty relief may ultimately come at the cost of individual rights."
  • The finance sector has reaped an unexpected pandemic windfall in the region: More than 100 million people (in a region of 650 million) have shifted from a dependence on cash to new or dormant bank accounts during the pandemic to store the emergency cash that governments handed out, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • For now, Latin America remains the most vivid example of a global failure at ramping up Covid-19 vaccine production, with all its social and economic consequences, writes Catherine Osborn in Foreign Policy's Latin America Brief.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's Bitcoin rollout is framed as a way of helping the country's poorest -- but critics fear the project is ultimately designed to help the rich get richer while average Salvadorans remain mired in poverty, reports Vice News.
The Bahamas
  • The Bahamas' Court of Appeal this week upheld a historic Supreme Court ruling that children born out of wedlock to foreign women and Bahamian men are entitled to citizenship at birth (EyeWitness NewsCaribbean Media Corporation)
  • Climate change is making Atlantic hurricanes far more intense -- the causes are far beyond the control of people on the islands, who suffer the worst consequences, writes Bahamian Bernard Ferguson in the New York Times Magazine that looks at the horrific damage wrought by Hurricane Dorian in 2019. "My Bahamas are facing effects of climate change that we could never have caused ourselves, and crises larger than we can survive alone."
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica prosecutors launched a far-reaching investigation into a bribery scheme between government officials and construction executives – an opportunity for the country's justice system to demonstrate it's capable of making high-level graft cases without outside help, reports InSight Crime.
  • Google automatically installed a Covid-19 tracker on phones in Costa Rica -- the move sparked fears and fueled conspiracy theories, reports Rest of World.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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