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Category Archives: South America

Populists Inflame the Coronavirus Outbreak Across Latin America

In mid-May, Brazil secured a grisly world record: it had the fastest-growing coronavirus infection rate of any country on earth. Within a month, it surpassed a million confirmed cases. This milestone made it second only to the United States in everything related to the pandemic, including total fatalities, with around a thousand people dying every day. By some estimates, Brazil may eventually see as many as thirty-four million infected and three hundred thousand dead.

The country’s far-right President, Jair Bolsonaro, has made no effort to curb the pandemic. Instead, he has belittled the threat of the virus, calling it mere “sniffles,” and responded to reports of sufferers by declaring, “We all have to die someday.” When state governors encouraged social distancing, Bolsonaro joined rallies with supporters to demonstrate against them.

Oliver Stuenkel, an associate professor of international affairs at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, in São Paulo, believes that Bolsonaro’s pandemic response is the result of a brutal calculation. “I think he looked at this and thought, This will cause a profound crisis in the Brazilian economy,” he told me. “He knows it’s hard for a Latin-American leader to remain in office with an economy that gets as bad as it is now. So, in the states where governors imposed social-distancing strictures, he’ll say the coming economic slump wasn’t his fault but theirs. If the numbers level out, he’ll say, ‘Look, it wasn’t that bad after all.’ And even if they are bad, he can easily construe some narrative that actually they really weren’t.” For the moment, Bolsonaro’s P.R. tactics seem to be working; although recent polls show rising disapproval of his performance, about thirty per cent of the population still fervently supports him, as immovable as the fans of his role model Donald Trump.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/populists-inflame-the-coronavirus-outbreak-across-latin-america

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2020 in South America

 

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Volver a Venezuela en bicicleta

Ronaldo ya está de vuelta.

Tiene 30 años y hace dos abandonó el cuerpo de bomberos de Caracas porque “el sueldo no daba”. El casco rojo de su uniforme de gala se quedó colgado junto a otras reliquias de una década de vocación laboral que solo una madre puede guardar en su casa: medallas oxidadas de memoria, condecoraciones, recortes del periódico local alabando rescates imposibles o aquella chaqueta azul de uso diario ahora llena de polvo. 

“Rescate”, se lee en el bordado en rojo junto al bolsillo de la solapa. Una palabra irónica.

Ronaldo se dio cuenta de que no podía seguir salvando vidas y garantizar la suya al mismo tiempo cuando un paquete de detergente comenzó a costar más de lo que ganaba trabajando un mes entre llamas y hollín.

“Por el tipo de trabajo que hacía, me veía obligado a meterme en ríos de aguas sucias, incendios o situaciones que nos llevaban al límite. El uniforme se contaminaba y tenía que lavarlo y desinfectarlo bien, pero no podía comprar ni siquiera un buen detergente porque no me alcanzaba el salario”, explica desde su casa de los Valles del Tuy, una localidad a unos cuarenta minutos de Caracas que sirve de vertedero para la ciudad. Por aquel entonces, cuando Ronaldo todavía era bombero, el kilo del detergente que compraba habitualmente costaba unos 6 dólares y su sueldo no pasaba de los 3 dólares mensuales, según el cambio oficial.

https://www.revista5w.com/why/volver-venezuela-bicicleta

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2020 in Reportages, South America

 

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The Coronavirus Hits Brazil Hard, but Jair Bolsonaro Is Unrepentant

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a knack for stripping politics to their basics. While many leaders have been ill prepared for the crisis, and made errors of judgment about how best to protect their populations, a handful of leaders have shown an admirable degree of statesmanship: Jacinda Ardern, in New Zealand; Sanna Marin, in Finland; and Angela Merkel, in Germany, come to mind. Elsewhere, leaders with authoritarian streaks have felt unleashed; this group includes Rodrigo Duterte, of the Philippines; Alexander Lukashenko, of Belarus; and Viktor Orbán, of Hungary.

In this hemisphere, Donald Trump has alternated between public displays of foul temper and misinformation; this week he claimed that it is a “badge of honor” that the United States has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, because it means that the nation has done a lot of testing. The first couple of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, early on in the pandemic, organized rallies called “Love in the Time of COVID-19,” and the government appears to have underreported the number of cases—so far, they claim just twenty-five, with eight deaths—and to have orchestrated “express burials” of suspected victims of the coronavirus. Nayib Bukele, the young President of El Salvador, has asserted emergency powers in defiance of the Supreme Court, and deployed soldiers to enforce the strict quarantine measures he has imposed, which include thirty days’ confinement in “containment centers” for violators and for citizens and residents returning to El Salvador from abroad.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-coronavirus-hits-brazil-hard-but-jair-bolsonaro-is-unrepentant

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2020 in South America

 

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In Venezuela, Americans Attempt to Stage a “Bay of Piglets”

The Venezuelan military’s ambush last week of a small marine invasion force, consisting of several dozen Venezuelans and two American “freedom fighters” attempting to overthrow the government of President Nicolás Maduro, immediately had journalists and political observers drawing comparisons to the Bay of Pigs, the disastrous C.I.A.-backed maritime invasion of Cuba, in April, 1961. The invasion force on that occasion was fourteen hundred Cuban exiles and a handful of American operatives aiming to topple the regime of Fidel Castro. They were outgunned and defeated by Castro’s fledgling army after three days of fighting, which resulted in at least three hundred deaths and the surrender of the invasion force.

The fallout from the Bay of Pigs, which occurred just two years after the Cuban Revolution, was huge, and soon became a synonym for a bungled covert operation. Not only did Castro remain in power but the attack significantly strengthened his hold on it. He seized the moment to defiantly declare “the socialist nature” of his regime and to ally it more openly with the Soviet Union. He also managed to heap humiliation on the recently inaugurated American President, John F. Kennedy, first by crushing his proxy soldiers on the battlefield, then by taking them prisoner and parading them through a series of televised show trials, and, finally, by forcing the U.S. government to pay a ransom of fifty-three million dollars (equivalent to nearly half a billion dollars today) in food and medicine to secure their freedom. A few months after the debacle, at a regional conference in Punta del Este, Uruguay, Castro’s confidante Ernesto (Che) Guevara thanked J.F.K.’s envoy, Richard Goodwin, for the Bay of Pigs, telling him, “Before the invasion, the revolution was shaky. Now it’s stronger than ever.”

https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/in-venezuela-americans-attempt-to-stage-a-bay-of-piglets

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2020 in South America

 

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‘It Changed So Fast’: Oil Is Making Guyana Wealthy but Intensifying Tensions

On a sprawling abandoned sugar estate by the coast of Guyana, the scale of the changes sweeping across the country is immediately visible.

In just a few years, enormous warehouses and office buildings servicing international oil companies have sprung up amid the shrub land, irrigation canals and fields of wild cane.

People are “moving from cutting cane to businessmen,” said Mona Harisha, a local shop owner. “It changed so fast.”

Guyana is giving up its past as an agricultural economy and speeding toward its near-term future as an oil-producing giant. And so Ms. Harisha has renovated her general goods shop, redolent of Indian spices, which she runs from a side of her cottage in the Houston neighborhood of Georgetown, the county’s capital.

She said oil companies have brought jobs and better roads, and have raised home values — and brought new business to her shop.

Her daughter is thinking of returning from New York, an example of how the government is enticing Guyana’s huge diaspora home with promises of the oil bounty.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2020 in Reportages, South America

 

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In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, Trump’s Close Ally, Dangerously Downplays the Coronavirus Risk

Three years into the Presidency of Donald Trump, even those Americans who, in a state of bruised dismay, have become accustomed to his vanity, his mendacity, and his distemper have been astonished by his public performances during the coronavirus pandemic. But, while Trump’s behavior is egregious, that of his chief imitator, the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former military officer who has been in office for fifteen months, trespasses most identifiable moral boundaries.

Bolsonaro’s efforts to emulate Trump have included the appropriation of his campaign slogan, reconstituted as “Make Brazil Great Again,” and making routine accusations of “fake news” against the news media. He regards environmentalism as an invention of communists, and has introduced a bill to allow miners and loggers into protected indigenous reserves in the Amazonian wilderness. He frequently delivers remarks that express his misogyny, racism, and homophobia. Another trait is his habit for losing his temper, especially with reporters, and he has lately made a habit of giving them the Italian arm-and-elbow gesture that translates to “fuck you.” Except for Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines, it is difficult to think of another head of state as vulgar as Bolsonaro.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/in-brazil-jair-bolsonaro-trumps-close-ally-dangerously-downplays-the-coronavirus-risk

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2020 in South America, Uncategorized

 

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Escenas de memoria

Recuerdo que tras asumir la presidencia de la República en 2010 Sebastián Piñera habló de “desaparecidos” y de “nunca más” para referirse a las víctimas del terremoto que golpeó al territorio chileno. Empezaba así un ejercicio de reapropiación de palabras cargadas de un sentido político demasiado incómodo para una derecha que llegaba al poder por primera vez después de la dictadura de Pinochet.

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Recuerdo que en mayo de 2019 Sebastián Piñera decidió que el eslogan de su segundo mandato presidencial fuera “Chile en marcha.”

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Recuerdo las marchas de los años ochenta contra Pinochet, siempre con miedo pero seguros de que ese “¡Y va a caer!” era necesario y urgente. Recuerdo los años noventa como un tiempo adormilado, quieto, resignado a una transición política incompleta. Recuerdo las ataduras institucionales con la dictadura, los acuerdos tendientes a la impunidad, la profundización del sistema neoliberal. Recuerdo al ex presidente Patricio Aylwin cuando anunció que en Chile habría justicia “en la medida de lo posible”.

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Recuerdo las marchas de 2006, protagonizadas por estudiantes secundarios: uno de los primeros signos del despertar ciudadano en postdictadura. Recuerdo las marchas y la masividad del descontento en 2011, que desnaturalizaron la asociación democracia-neoliberalismo.

https://www.revistadelauniversidad.mx/articles/fcb49b7a-d1ca-4d76-aa76-31461303a1e0/escenas-de-memoria

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2020 in Reportages, South America

 

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The Fall of Evo Morales

Outside a sports stadium in Cochabamba, Bolivia, three men stood on a plinth, tearing down a statue of Evo Morales, who until a few weeks before had been the country’s President. One man diligently whacked away with a sledgehammer, while another shoved at the statue’s head—crowned, like the man it portrays, with a mushroom-shaped mullet that is distinctive among world leaders. Finally, the statue came loose, and with a contemptuous heave the men threw it to the ground. The sports minister of the new government, who had helped with the demolition, told reporters afterward that stadiums shouldn’t be named for delinquents.

Morales had fled Bolivia in November, after he was accused of trying to steal an election, and the country’s military chief publicly suggested that he resign. Since then, Bolivia had been fiercely, sometimes violently divided. Many people spoke of a coup, but there was enduring disagreement over whether it had been perpetrated by Morales or by his opponents. Whoever was to blame, his departure brought an abrupt end to one of Latin America’s most remarkable Presidencies. The son of impoverished llama herders, Morales was an ethnic Aymara, the first indigenous President in a majority-indigenous country. Although he left school before college and speaks in rough, heavily accented Spanish, he managed to hold power for almost fourteen years. He was a protégé of Fidel Castro, and perhaps the last surviving exponent of the Pink Tide—the leftist leaders who dominated Latin America’s politics for more than a decade. During his time in office, he transformed Bolivia, reducing poverty by almost half and tripling the G.D.P.

Evo, as everyone calls him, is a sturdy, youthful-looking man of sixty, who prides himself on outlasting opponents in soccer matches in Bolivia’s Andean high altitudes. (During one game, in 2010, he was captured on video deliberately kneeing a distracted opponent in the groin.) As recently as last year, he claimed to stay fit by doing more than a thousand sit-ups a day. In the Presidency, he was tireless, beginning his workday at 4:45 A.M. and continuing late into the evening. A charismatic populist, he could also be arrogant and divisive, given to crass and at times eccentric proclamations. On one occasion, he suggested that eating genetically modified chicken made people gay. On another, he had the Congress building equipped with a “Clock of the South,” with hands that spun to the left, to symbolize Bolivia’s efforts to “decolonize” itself. A longtime leader of the coca growers’ union, Morales used his office to expound the medicinal properties of the plant; behind the Presidential desk, he hung a portrait of Che Guevara, made out of coca leaves.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/03/23/the-fall-of-evo-morales

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2020 in Reportages, South America

 

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Latin America’s Radical Feminism Is Spreading

During the jury selection process for Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial this month, dozens of women gathered outside a Manhattan courthouse to perform a version of the dance/chant known as “Un violador en tu camino,” or “A Rapist in Your Path.” First in Spanish, then in English, they sang: “Patriarchy is our judge that imprisons us at birth/And our punishment is the violence you don’t see.”

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2020 in South America

 

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Dictatorial Dressings

The delirious spectacle of President Nayib Bukele—who this Sunday, while surrounded by heavily armed military and riot police carrying shotguns, usurped the seat of the National Assembly’s president and threatened to dissolve the National Assembly itself while delegitimizing the role of the Constitutional Chamber—is, perhaps, the lowest moment that Salvadoran democracy has lived in three decades.

Bukele had already, in the past few months, instrumentalized the Armed Forces and the National Police to the point of degradation. But the military occupation of the main chamber of Congress this Sunday hark back to dictatorial scenes and brings to mind an Army that we thought we had left behind. The images of uniformed soldiers in bulletproof vests, helmets, and carrying rifles inside the legislative hall are an embarrassment, and will not be easily forgotten.

If we add to this the messianic populism played to the extreme—during his usurpation, the president closed his eyes, covered his face, and later revealed to his followers that he had spoken with God, and that God told him not to go forward with the self-coup—the events of the day sow serious doubts about Nayib Bukele’s maturity and ability to govern.

https://elfaro.net/en/202002/el_salvador/24014/dictatorial-dressings.htm

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2020 in South America

 

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