Thursday, June 17, 2021

South America's Covid surge (June 17, 2021)

News Briefs

  • The World Health Organization is urging the wealthy nations that recently pledged to donate one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to give priority to Latin American nations with high levels of virus transmission and mortality, reports the New York Times. Health care professionals in the region are reporting a surge of younger patients requiring hospitalization, and in several cities, intensive care units are full or nearly so.
  • Countries that have struggled enormously with containing the virus for long periods of the pandemic have made considerable strides with vaccinating their citizens, notes the Latin America Risk Report. However, vaccine supply bottlenecks continue to limit countries’ ability to ramp up distribution.
  • China has provided the majority of coronavirus vaccines applied in Latin America -- a diplomatic triumph for Beijing. A year into the pandemic, it's hard to overstate how much China has improved its standing in the region, in terms of its reputation with the general public and leadership, writes Oliver Stuenkel in Foreign Policy.
  • U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland reversed Trump-era immigration rulings that had made it all but impossible for people to seek asylum in the United States over credible fears of domestic abuse or gang violence. It is one of the Justice Department’s most significant breaks with the previous administration, reports the New York Times.
  • Nicaraguan police arrested the executive president of Banco de Produccion SA, Luis Rivas Anduray, a prominent banker. The move is a sign the government’s pursuit of opponents is expanding beyond political leaders and potential challengers to President Daniel Ortega, reports the Associated Press. The charges are similar to those leveled at 13 leaders of the political opposition arrested in recent weeks. (See Monday's post.)
  • Many relatives of those being detained told the Washington Post that authorities haven’t told them where their loved ones are held and have refused visits from relatives or attorneys. Two other family members, meanwhile, said they have learned where their relatives are being held but are denied visits.
  • "The ferocity of Ortega’s crackdown is puzzling," writes Stephen Kinzer in Responsible Statecraft. The recent arrest of former Sandinista comrades is a sign of deeper descent into autocratic governance, he writes. (See Monday's post.) But "appalling as Nicaragua’s situation has become, the United States cannot do much about it.  Our long history of intervention there leaves us with little moral authority. ... Nicaraguans, with carefully designed outside support—not directed from Washington—will have to shape the next chapters in their history."
  • Adam Isacson counters Kinzer's assertion: "I still think the U.S. government and civil society, along with those of like-minded states, can give Nicaragua’s democrats a boost. Not the kind of boost that we’ve provided in the past, like lethal aid to murderous Contra fighters. Many peaceful options are on the menu."
  • Argentina is under fire for its decision to abstain from this week's OAS condemnation of Ortega's crackdown (see yesterday's post) -- a decision apparently related to antipathy towards OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, reports Infobae.
  • A car bomb explosion at a military base in the Colombian border city of Cúcuta injured 36 people on Tuesday. The defence minister cast blame for the attack on leftist rebels. The initial theory is that members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country's last recognized guerrilla group, were behind the attack. (El PaísReuters)
  • Although Colombian President Iván Duque still has 14 months left in his term, he's already achieving lame-duck status and policy circles seem ready to turn the page, argues Sergio Guzmán in Global Americans.
Regional Relations
  • "In El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the judiciary is under assault by a cabal of corrupt national leaders, human rights violators, drug dealers and influential economic sectors," writes Claudia Escobar Mejia in Americas Quarterly. "Unfortunately, renewed U.S. diplomacy alone is insufficient to address the rampant corruption in the Northern Triangle and beyond." The dire situation could best be targeted by supranational mechanisms to defend the rule of law, such as a proposed International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC), she argues.
  • Cracking down on corruption is key for Guatemala to attract foreign investment, USAID head Samantha Power said this week on a visit, in which she reinforced the Biden administration's focus on targeting root causes of migration, reports Reuters.
  • Power formally launched the Guatemala Entrepreneurship and Development Innovation initiative, an almost $39 million alliance with international and local private sector partners. (USAID)
  • A top Bolivian official in Jeanine Áñez's interim-government plotted to deploy hundreds of mercenaries from the United States to overturn the results of the country's October 2020 election, according to documents and audio recordings of telephone calls obtained by The Intercept.
  • Bolivia’s opposition leader, conservative former President Carlos Mesa, accused the country's current government of seeking to hobble rivals by trumping up charges that they mounted a coup in 2019 against then-leader Evo Morales. (Reuters)
  • Thousands of people marched in Lima in support of electoral victor Pedro Castillo. Demonstrators demanded authorities ratify him as the president-elect, reports Nodal.
  • Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori's refusal to concede, instead she is leveling unsubstantiated accusations of fraud, appear to follow former U.S. President Donald Trump's playbook. It could signal a new trend in the region, reports the Washington Post. “This epidemic of claims of electoral fraud is just the next chapter in the autocrat’s handbook,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
  • Construction errors led to the May collapse of an overpass in Mexico City’s subway system that killed 26 people and injured scores more, according to the preliminary results of an independent investigation carried out by the Norwegian risk management company DNV. The findings suggest that serious problems with the welding and placement of metal studs, linchpins of the entire structure, directly contributed to the collapse, reports the New York Times.
  • A vast network involving dozens of individuals and companies that illicitly sold crude and transferred the money through tax havens in a shady multi-million-dollar business permitted Venezuela to evade U.S. oil sanctions, according to a joint investigation by El País and The scheme first exchanged oil for food and water tankers, but then expanded to earn money from exports via financial networks beyond the reach of the United States. All those involved in the scheme are linked to one person: Alex Saab.
  • U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, which started under the Obama administration, have not succeeded in weakening Nicolás Maduro and his allies, as much as it has asphyxiated Venezuela's people, according to El País' editorial board.
  • Advocates for a more humane U.S. foreign policy are urging President Joe Biden to embrace Rep. Jim McGovern's call for an end to "all secondary and sectoral sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the Trump administration." (Common Dreams)
  • The Paris Club of wealthy creditor nations agreed last week to grant Cuba more time to make payments under a 2015 debt agreement. The postponement was based, according to Cuban officials, on the ‘unprecedented penuries’ caused by Covid-19 and its impact on tourism, former U.S. President Donald Trump’s strengthening of the U.S. embargo and 54 hurricanes since 2000. (Miami Herald)
  • But experts say Cuba's economy desperately needs the U.S. to relax its current sanctions regime in order to recover from the worst crisis it has suffered in decades. (Latin America Advisor)
El Salvador
  • The World Bank rejected a request from El Salvador to help with the implementation of Bitcoin as legal tender, reports the BBC.
  • Gabriel Funari’s recent article in the Bulletin of Latin American Research dives deep into the implications of Bolsonaro’s ties to organized crime, reviewing a wide swath of the recent literature on criminal governance and drawing connections to Bolsonaro’s political agenda. -- Brazil Research Initiative
  • A multimillion-pound project aims to describe and identify the web of life in major freshwater ecosystems around the world with “gamechanging” DNA technology, reports the Guardian. In the Peruvian Amazon, eDNA profiling of water samples has been used to survey the habitat of pink river dolphins and manatees as well as the web of life around them, including jaguars, monkeys, catfish and bats.
  • Peruvians from the Huinchiri community in Cusco region are rebuilding a 500-year-old Incan hanging bridge, made using traditional weaving techniques to string a crossing together spanning the Apurimac river. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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