Maduro extends olive branch, accused of "narco-terrorism" by U.S. (March 26, 2020)
Covid-19 will be a humanitarian disaster for Venezuela, but it might also be a breaking point for the country's long-running political stalemate. President Nicolás Maduro said yesterday he'd be open to talking to the opposition in order to reach agreements in the face of coronavirus. Strikingly, Maduro said he would meet even without the other side recognizing his presidential status, and called on opposition leaders by name to meet under the auspices of the Nunciature (the Vatican diplomatic representative). Maduro said he would seek to "implement agreements that favor and protect our people beyond sectarianism, politics and pride." (Efecto Cocuyo)
The international community must mobilize quickly to help Venezuela face the coronavirus epidemic, and a negotiated humanitarian agreement between Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó will be key in order for assistance to be possible, argues WOLA. The organization further calls on the U.S. to the broad economic sanctions against Venezuela so that more resources can be dedicated to treating the pandemic.
The U.S. essentially headed in the opposite direction today: top officials charged Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro with federal drug trafficking crimes. The U.S. accused Maduro and other top officials of collaborating with the Colombian FARC guerrilla group so that Venezuela could be used for narcotics shipments to finance a long-running civil war against the Colombian government. The charges included narco-terrorism conspiracy and conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. Nearly a dozen others, including the Venezuelan government and intelligence officials and members of the FARC, were also charged. (Miami Herald, New York Times)
Around the world countries are deploying their armed forces to enforce obligatory lockdowns. In Latin America the list includes El Salvador, Peru, Chile and Ecuador, reports the Washington Post. While it is natural, in some ways, to lean on the military for an emergency situation such as this, experts warn that putting the genie back in the bottle won't necessarily be easy.
Argentina is refusing to follow that path, and is using the military for logistics and security support activities, but not actual internal security actions on streets, in keeping with its strict law limiting the armed forces from public safety roles. (La Nación) President Alberto Fernández has also refused to declare a state of emergency (which would suspend constitutional guarantees), last used in the 2001 crisis, saying the normal criminal code suffices to enforce the obligatory quarantine he declared last week. (Página 12)
Suriname shut down yesterday, in the midst of a tussle between the country's private sector that is protesting stringent currency controls imposed by the government, which is struggling to face commodity price slides. President Dési Bouterse, a former military dictator convicted of homicide and drug trafficking, is running for reelection in May. (New York Times)
Latin America presents unique coronavirus challenges, particularly for the vast portions of the region's population that live in informal housing, with overcrowding and without access to proper sanitation or health care. Most of the region's countries have reacted with stringent measures.
Every country in Central America except Nicaragua has implemented some form of serious travel ban, border shutdown and curfew/quarantine, according to the latest Latin America Risk Report, which looks at coronavirus in Central America. However, lack of testing is likely contributing to lower reported infection rates.
But Brazil and Mexico -- which together have half of Latin America's population -- remain dismissive outliers, with potentially catastrophic effects, reports the New York Times.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's coronavirus inaction is pushing discontent in the country. (See yesterday's post.) To the point where he runs the risk of impeachment, in the midst of a confrontation with the country's legislative, judicial and (in many cases) state leadership, writes Gaspard Estrada in a New York Times Español op-ed.
Mexico has huge potential for severe coronavirus damage -- but also assets such as solidarity and strong family networks, writes Ioan Grillo in a New York Times op-ed.
Prisons around the world present a unique coronavirus challenge, particularly in the developing world where overcrowding and lack of supplies make quarantines and disinfection a risible proposition. There have been cases of outbreaks and mutinies in prisons around the world, reports the Washington Post. In Latin America there have been escapes and riots in Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru and Chile. The piece quotes Robert Muggah, research director at the Rio de Janeiro-based Igarapé Institute, who said the coronavirus “is a ticking time bomb for Latin America’s prisons.”
Argentina joined the list this week, with five deaths in protests in several penitentiaries. (Infobae)
I hope you're all staying safe and sane as possible, given the circumstances ... And in these times of coronavirus, when we're all feeling a little isolated, feel especially free to reach out and share.