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This week, Latin America will continue to bear the brunt of the global Covid-19 pandemic, while local infection dynamics continue to evolve. Meanwhile, in Chile, President Sebastian Pinera is aiming to turn the page on a difficult few weeks as speculation about a cabinet reshuffle continues. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro is back in action after his recovery from Covid-19, though Congress will be the focus of political activity this week. Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra makes his annual address to Congress. In Venezuela, the killing of an unarmed civilian in a fuel protest over the weekend is a reminder that social tensions persist – and remain unpredictable – amid the Covid-19 crisis.
Latin America has now reported well over 4mn Covid-19 cases, over half of them in Brazil. In addition to Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Chile are in the global top ten of confirmed cases. Colombia and Argentina also have fast-rising caseloads. Additionally, the pandemic continues to evolve within countries across the region. Chile is seeing cases decrease in the Covid-19 epicenter in and around Santiago and new focal points emerge elsewhere. In Ecuador, Quito has overtaken the original epicenter of Guayaquil in the number of its confirmed cases, while in Argentina, concerns have grown about new cases beyond the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA), where the capital city is undergoing a limited re-opening from this week.
President Sebastian Pinera will make his annual state-of-the-nation speech to Congress on 31 July; the speech was postponed from June because of the Covid-19 situation. The speech comes at a low point for Pinera, who last week suffered a resounding defeat in Congress when both chambers defied the government to approve a bill allowing people to withdraw up to 10% of their retirement savings. The pension withdrawal initiative has triggered a bout of in-fighting within the governing Chile Vamos (CV) coalition and weakened key cabinet members to the extent that a reshuffle is now seen as a question of when, not if. The speech itself is likely to focus on economic reactivation measures and on the implementation of the government’s new lockdown easing plan.
President Jair Bolsonaro is out of quarantine following his bout of Covid-19. He has continued to speak out in favor of hydroxychloroquine and against social distancing and continued business shutdowns. However, Congress will this week be the focus of activity, as the Senate should approve the constitutional amendment that turned a federal fund for basic education (Fundeb) permanent and increased its federal funding – contrary to the government’s wishes. The Senate should also vote on executive orders this week, including the one that sets out financial assistance to states and municipalities.
The vote on several presidential vetoes has been delayed in favor of negotiations between the government and Congress but there is still the risk of collapse in the negotiations and a massive overturn this week. There is also hurry on the part of Congress to resolve the veto on the extension of payroll tax cuts until 2021 as a support measure for companies struggling due to the pandemic; the government has offered to look into this in the context of the discussion on tax reform that will start this week but Congress is likely to prefer overturning the veto instead.
President Martin Vizcarra will make his annual address to Congress on 28 July. Newly installed prime minister (PCM) Pedro Cateriano has said the speech will focus on three main objectives: managing the Covid-19 pandemic; economic reactivation; and ensuring that next year’s elections are free and fair. The health situation in Arequipa, where central government has been forced to intervene amid regional authorities’ mismanagement, and a mining dispute in Cusco could overshadow Vizcarra’s speech. Congress is not expected to endorse the new cabinet led by Cateriano until 3 August.
One person was killed and another injured as the National Guard (GNB) repressed a fuel-related protest in Anzoategui state on 25 July. One report indicates that the violence broke out after GNB operatives allowed members of a criminal gang preferential access to fuel at a filling station where long lines had built up over several days. Fuel shortages are just the latest source of public frustration amid the collapse of domestic refining. The health situation has helped limit public order incidents, though protests remain a constant in Venezuela. According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS), there were 4,414 protests and demonstrations in H1/2020, most of them over problems such as electricity outages, water shortages, and scarcity of cooking gas.