SOUTHERN CONE: Cases of COVID-19 are rising across the region despite the advance of vaccination programs. On March 24, Brazil became the second country to surpass more than 300,000 deaths from COVID-19, after a record-breaking 3,251 deaths in one day on Tuesday. Brazil has become the global epicenter of the pandemic, with a virulent new strain, overwhelmed hospital system and a president who refuses to take serious action and attacks other politicians for enforcing lockdowns.
In Chile, a second wave is pushing officials to impose the strictest lockdown measures so far in the pandemic. On Friday, the country recorded almost 8,000 new cases, the highest daily number of new cases so far. Meanwhile, the healthcare system is under strain as intensive care unit beds are at 95% occupancy; only 169 beds are available in the entire country. On Saturday, authorities announced a total lockdown in most of the country for the rest of the weekend which prohibits residents from leaving their homes even to buy food or go to the pharmacy. Restrictive measures will continue through the week.
On Sunday, President Sebastián Piñera announced that elections scheduled for April 10 and 11 will be delayed until May 15 and 16 to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.
The discouraging numbers come despite the fact that Chile has the highest rate of vaccination in the hemisphere, and the third-highest in the world, behind only Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Almost half of the country’s population has received at least one shot.
Authorities in Argentina announced the suspension of flights from Chile, Brazil and Mexico last week, a measure aimed at discouraging travel during the Holy Week holidays. The announcement came after dozens of Argentine students tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from a vacation in Cancún, Mexico.
HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
PARAGUAY: Paraguayan officials said they were offered the Chinese-produced COVID-19 vaccine by “unofficial brokers” allegedly representing the Chinese government in exchange for cutting diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The Chinese government denies having offered Paraguay the vaccine, saying that the brokers had no connection to Beijing. Paraguay is one of 15 countries that recognize Taiwan, including five in Latin America.
Over 200,000 people have gotten sick with COVID-19 in Paraguay since the pandemic started. Anger over the shortage of intensive care beds, medicines, and vaccines has provoked protests and an attempt last week to impeach President Mario Abdo Benítez. In response to the situation with China, Taiwan has put conditions on their offer to help Paraguay purchase vaccines, saying that the funds may not be used to buy vaccines made in China.
BOLIVIA: The United States government expressed concern about the recent arrests of Bolivian ex-officials in a press statement on Saturday. The statement questioned the legality of the arrests and the “politicization of the legal system,” calling them “anti-democratic.” Earlier this month, a judge ruled that former interim President Jeanine Áñez and two other ex-officials be jailed for six months as they await trial on charges of sedition, terrorism and conspiracy for their role in the events surrounding the resignation of former President Evo Morales in November 2019. Prosecutors say they will recommend Áñez be locked up for as long as 30 years.
President Morales resigned in November of 2019 and fled the country after being asked to step down by Bolivia’s armed forces, and Áñez assumed the presidency. The current administration which won the elections in October 2020 and supports Morales has called the actions of Áñez and her associates a coup, a characterization Áñez disputes.
COLOMBIA/VENEZUELA: Thousands of Venezuelans fled to Colombia last week after violent clashes between the Venezuelan military and a Colombian armed group in the Venezuelan state of Apure. Last weekend, two Venezuelan soldiers were killed in a gunfight with the group. Venezuela has not named the armed group, but Venezuelan analyst Rocío San Miguel suggested to El País that it was a dissident group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and that the Venezuelan Army seems to be supporting the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in a conflict with the FARC dissidents.
Over the last week, nearly 4,000 Venezuelans crossed into Colombia and took refuge in the town of Arauquita, where they are being housed in eight temporary shelters. The Venezuelan humanitarian crisis has forced millions to flee the country. Nearly 2 million of them have taken residence in Colombia, and President Iván Duque has offered temporary legal protection to Venezuelans without legal status earlier this year, despite having broken off diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 2019.
CUBA: Hundreds of people protested in Havana on Sunday demanding the United States end its trade embargo against Cuba. The protesters drove and rode bikes and motorcycles along the city’s Malecón, a seafront esplanade where the U.S. embassy is located, waving Cuban flags. The embargo has been in place for over six decades, and was tightened during the Trump presidency. President Joe Biden, who has criticized Trump’s Cuba policy, said that he plans to review U.S. policy towards the island republic, but has not specifically stated his intention to end the embargo.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Downtown Santo Domingo was the site of protests both supporting and opposing the legalization of abortion over the weekend. Since March 11, feminist groups have been occupying the area around the National Palace demanding that legislators pass a proposal that would allow abortion in certain exceptional cases. Currently, the Dominican Republic prohibits abortion in all cases, and a person who receives an abortion faces between two and five years in prison, while a medical professional who provides one faces between five and 20 years.
President Luis Abinader has expressed his support for the proposed loosening of the abortion ban.
On Saturday, hundreds of people drove in a caravan protest organized by Catholic and evangelical groups through downtown Santo Domingo opposing the bill.
HONDURAS: An environmental activist who opposed the construction of a hydro-electric dam in Honduras was shot dead last week in front of a church in the Caribbean coastal department of Cortés. Juan Carlos Cerra Escalante, an indigenous Lenca activist who was president of the United Communities group, had been leading a campaign against the El Tornillito hydroelectric dam in the Ulúa River. One person has been detained for the killing of the 41-year-old activist, andauthorities are investigating several others.
Honduras is a deadly place for environmental and land activists, with 14 being killed in 2019 alone. In 2016, the assassination of Berta Cáceres, a Lenca activist who was leading a campaign against a hydroelectric dam, brought international attention to the issue.
EL SALVADOR: President Nayib Bukele has said that he will veto an anti-human trafficking bill passed by the Legislative Assembly on Thursday. The bill would make the “promotion” of irregular migration over social networks a crime punishable by up to 12 years in prison. The legislation drew praise from the Salvadoran attorney general, as well as from the United States government. But Bukele said in a tweet that the law would target migrants instead of human traffickers.
Soy la última persona que quiere que nuestra gente se vaya.
Pero no podemos seguir criminalizando la migración.
Alguien que secuestra y trafica a su víctima es MUY DIFERENTE de alguien que ayuda a un grupo de gente desesperada a cruzar una frontera.
Esta ley será VETADA. https://t.co/Fy5zKwWbop
— Nayib Bukele 🇸🇻 (@nayibbukele) March 26, 2021
The Salvadoran legislature, currently controlled by opposition parties, is in a lame-duck session after an election in February gave Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party a large majority. Bukele said that the new legislature, which will take office on April 30, will pass a human trafficking law that “targets criminals but does not criminalize migrants.
MEXICO: Mexico’s National Election Institute (INE) has withdrawn ballot registration for Félix Salgado, a candidate for the governorship of the state of Guerrero who is facing accusations of rape, after detecting he failed to report campaign expenditures.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called the disqualification of Salgado, a member of the president’s Morena party, as “an attack on democracy” and blamed “high powered, mafia interests.”
Before his nomination, Salgado had received backlash from women’s rights activists because he faces accusations of rape by two women. The statute of limitations has run out on one of those cases while the investigation for the other is ongoing.
Salgado has pledged to contest the INE’s decision.
MEXICO/UNITED STATES: U.S. immigration authorities are using emergency pandemic authority to deport migrants to Mexico during nighttime hours. Under normal circumstances, bilateral agreements require deportations to take place during daytime hours and at one of 10 major border crossings. But Border Patrol officials say that the pandemic, along with the high number of migrant apprehensions near the border, make it necessary to remove migrants as quickly as possible, preventing them from fulfilling their obligations under the agreements.
Last week, a U.S delegation met with Mexican officials to discuss development plans for northern Central America as part of a strategy to reduce migration. Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who met with the delegation, said that inclusive development in southern Mexico and the Northern Triangle could prevent people being forced to emigrate due to poverty and insecurity.
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