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June 8, 2020

LATAM PULSE

BY Nicholas Watson, Mario Marconini

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( 5 mins)

This week, Covid-19 reporting in Brazil will remain the subject of controversy as concerns over President Jair Bolsonaro’s intentions persist. In Venezuela, political tensions surrounding the legislative elections that are supposed to take place in December are rising. Argentina is seeing rising political disagreement following a pandemic-induced period of relative calm, while in Mexico, a political dispute that mixes Covid-19 responses with policing problems has emerged. Finally, in Chile, a mini-cabinet reshuffle is unlikely to be an obstacle to a limited political agreement over economic support measures.

Brazil

Brazil may overtake the UK as the country with the second highest number of Covid-19 deaths this week. This comes at a time when an army general with no medical training was confirmed as the third Health Minister (albeit still acting) since the beginning of the pandemic. This week will see further debate regarding the government’s controversial decision to delay the daily release of official data on the outbreak until after prime-time TV news hours – seemingly yet another retaliatory action against those that report the reality of the pandemic. The government has also announced that it will no longer release the total number of deaths until a review is undertaken. The Health Ministry has been ordered by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office to explain its actions by 9 June. In addition, state governments that have started exits from quarantines have been criticized strongly by epidemiologists who consider them premature, given a still consistent climb in the infection curve and a national death toll of over 1,300 per day.

Politics this week will also be a function of an anti-Bolsonaro, pro-democracy movement which took to the streets yesterday, 7 June, in bigger numbers than last week despite the worsening of the pandemic. President Jair Bolsonaro had labeled protestors terrorists, raising fears that he may be pursuing a strategy that justifies the institution of a ‘defense state’ in the country – a step before a state of siege. The week should serve to allay or deepen such fears. The reactions of the Supreme Court and Congress will be revealing as well, particularly as investigations against the president, his family and entourage for interference in the federal police and fake news practices continue to evolve.

Venezuela

The political battle over the National Electoral Council (CNE) will continue over the coming days following the decision late last week by the Supreme Court (TSJ) to take over the CNE nomination process. On 5 June, the TSJ declared that the opposition-dominated National Assembly had failed to name new CNE board members and therefore was in contempt. The CNE, which is currently controlled by regime loyalists, will be in charge of legislative elections that are supposed to take place in December. The Court is likely to take over the nomination process and appoint a new slate of loyalists in order to ensure an election “victory” in December by manipulation and fraud; under the regime’s likely plan, a cosmetic, politically pliant opposition will be tolerated but most/all genuine opposition parties – and opposition leader Juan Guaido – will be voted out.

Argentina

A political truce of sorts between the government and opposition Together for Change (Juntos por el Cambio) coalition is looking increasingly frayed as Covid-19 restrictions approach the 80-day mark. Opposition figures have increased their criticism of the quarantine (now extended until 28 June) after a group of leading public figures warned of a danger to democracy and the onset of an “infectatorship” (“infectadura”) arising from the stringent restrictions. Cabinet chief Santiago Cafiero’s comments over the weekend that the situation would have been a “catastrophe” had former president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) been in office during the pandemic have further raised tensions. Cafiero’s comments are probably designed as a nod to President Alberto Fernandez’s left flank given that a new debt exchange offer due to be presented to bondholders this week will involve concessions that some Kirchneristas will find too accommodating. Political confrontation could also help mask the lack of a viable quarantine exit strategy.

Mexico

An increasingly acrimonious dispute between central government and Jalisco state Governor Enrique Alfaro – one of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s biggest critics – is likely to continue this week. The controversy centers on the death at the hands of police of a 30-year-old Jalisco resident, Giovanni Lopez, in early May; it has been claimed that municipal police initially challenged Lopez for failing to wear a face mask, as required under the state’s Covid-19 restrictions, which have diverged from AMLO’s more laissez faire approach. Inspired by recent demonstrations in the US, violent protests broke out in Jalisco last week, prompting Alfaro to accuse AMLO allies of fomenting violence to discredit him. An AMLO lieutenant, Marti Batres, has since accused Alfaro of creating a “climate of authoritarianism” in Jalisco. Apart from indicating how political polarization is increasing, the whole episode underlines chronic law enforcement deficiencies.

Chile

The government’s self-imposed deadline to reach a cross-party agreement on economic support and reactivation measures expires on 12 June. An agreement is likely given the delicate public health situation; the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases reached a new high of 6,405 yesterday, 7 June. Political discussions in the coming days will involve some new faces following a limited cabinet reshuffle late last week. The main changes were at the Secretary to the Presidency (Segpres) and Social Development Ministry; the former plays a critical role in relations between the executive and Congress. Health Minister Jaime Manalich remains in his post despite opposition criticism, as do Finance Minister Ignacio Briones and Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel, who are the key figures in the government’s outreach to the opposition.

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( 6 mins) Covid-19 caseloads have been dropping across Latin America and the Caribbean in recent weeks. During October, South America has accounted for under 6% of new global daily cases versus 35-40% in June. The improving picture

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( 5 mins) This week, Chile marks two years since the outbreak of protests just as the constituent assembly born out of that unrest starts to debate the content of a new constitution. In Peru, a new stage

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( 4 mins) This week, Chile‘s President Sebastian Pinera faces a bumpy ride as he seeks to defend himself from allegations arising from the “Pandora Papers” leak; at the same time, another presidential debate takes place later today.

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( 5 mins) This week, Mexico‘s electricity sector counter-reforms are in the legislature, where they could muffle recent speculation about the battle to eventually succeed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). Political tensions in Peru are rising. In

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PERU: Contradictions and confusion

( 3 mins) Prime Minister Guido Bellido’s threat to nationalize the consortium that operates the Camisea natural gas field unless it agrees to pay higher taxes is unsettling – though not for what might seem the most obvious

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