Covid-19 undermines transparency efforts (Jan. 29, 2021)
Covid-19 has slammed Latin America and the Caribbean, and exacerbated trends of deep inequalities. "A major challenge facing the region is ensuring that funds and programmes for COVID-19 relief are not lost to corruption and reach the intended recipients. Failure to deliver this aid risks increased social discontent, stokes harmful populism, and creates still greater poverty and inequality," warns Transparency International in its presentation of the latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
"An alarming concentration of power in the executive branches in countries like Colombia (39) and El Salvador (36) has contributed to an explosion in irregularities and corruption cases associated with COVID-19 related procurement. Across the region, citizens struggle to access reliable and up-to-date information on health statistics and emergency procurement."
In some cases the Covid-19 emergency augmented previous trends of corruption. El Salvador's government suspended an important law to provide access to information due to the pandemic, limiting civil society group's ability to monitor government funds for COVID-19-related purchases
With a score of 25, Guatemala is a significant decliner on the CPI, dropping 8 points since 2012. Congress threatened the right to information with reforms that pose a serious setback to citizen oversight and create a risk of politicization. And Honduras declined by two points to reach a new low on the CPI, a score of 24. "Reports reveal an alarming lack of planning in the country’s COVID-19 related purchases, overpricing of medical equipment and opaque contractual arrangements in the procurement process for field hospitals."
Covid-19 hit Latin America's schools particularly hard. The region lost the most days of schooling, and the virus exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in access to education. Experts warn that the lopsided damage to learning will reverse decades of progress and leave lasting social scars, reports Bloomberg. Just 46% of Latin American secondary schoolers are likely to graduate, compared with 61% pre-pandemic. For students whose parents had less formal education, the outlook is dire; their probability of earning a high school diploma drops 20 points, from 52% to 32%, in the post-pandemic.
Colombia's Special Jurisdiction for Peace accused eight former rebel commanders of war crimes and crimes against humanity for the guerrillas’ practice of kidnapping people during the country’s decades long civil conflict. The decision by a special tribunal system set up in Colombia to process war atrocities is a signal to critics, who assert that rebels benefited from the peace process without fear of punishment, that the justice system set up by the accord is functioning, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Response will point to the future of the country's fragile peace, writes Catherine Osbourne in a new Foreign Policy newsletter looking at Latin America.
When it comes to U.S. policy regarding organized crime and narcotics interdiction in the region, most experts predict U.S. President Joe Biden will largely continue with the status quo that has prevailed during most of his career — and failed to curb either U.S. drug consumption or violence in Latin America, writes Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly. The realities of a split U.S. Congress and a crowded domestic agenda will probably prevent the kind of bold experiments such as drug legalization that some progressives support, though some changes are possible.
Early hopes that the pandemic would weaken Latin America's criminal organizations proved wrong. "More than almost any other part of society or the economy, criminal activity picked up and continued as before," writes Falko Ernst in El Faro. "The name of the game is increasingly holding territory in order to secure multiple sources of illicit revenue, chiefly extracted through extortion. If one source runs dry, there will be others to turn to – at least as long as there is legal economic activity that lacks protection."
As the new administration works to reset U.S. regional policy in a more positive direction, it must also prepare for a worst-case scenario in which Latin America’s uneven economic recovery and slow vaccination efforts fuel a resumption of the large-scale political unrest that shook Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua prior to the pandemic, in 2019, writes Oliver Stuenkel in Foreign Affairs.
The Biden administration should work to identify areas of mutual interest with geopolitical adversaries such as Russia, China, and Cuba rather than letting Venezuela's crisis fall into a slow-burning proxy conflict, argue David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey in El País.
Latin Americans hoping to get into the U.S. had high hopes for the Biden administration, but just days into new term many of those same migrants have already grown impatient, their optimism souring to disappointment, reports the New York Times. The impatience is a reflection of the soaring demand for relief among migrants and an indication of the magnitude of the challenge facing the Biden administration.
Biden is expected to issue executive orders on asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, refugee resettlement and the reunification of migrant families, though the exact timeline is unclear, reports Reuters.
A Chilean police officer was sentenced to 11 years in jail over the 2018 killing of Camilo Catrillanca, a Mapuche farmer, during a vehicle chase. The case demonstrated the often harsh treatment by police of the country's largest indigenous group, and activists hailed the sentencing as a “historic day” for Mapuche rights, reports the Guardian.
A growing demand for wind power from the world’s largest economies has set off a socially and economically devastating scramble to harvest balsa wood in Ecuador, which provides more than 75% of the world’s balsa. The balsa boom, and the bust that has now followed, recall the rush to exploit rubber in the Amazon at the beginning of the 20th century, reports the Economist.
Water shortages affect a significant chunk of Honduras' population, and the situation is getting worst, reports Criterio.
Brazil's federal police is combating organized crime by targeting their finances, specifically money laundering activities. The approach is infrequent in Latin America, and could become a case study, reports Americas Quarterly.
Wine consumption in Argentina was 7 percent higher in 2020 than in 2019, as homebound Argentines sought ways to fight the coronavirus gloom. But the industry faces significant challenges, from currency controls to pandemic tourism restrictions, reports the Wilson Center's Weekly Asado.
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