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Weekly Report - 14 May 2020 (WR-20-19)

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LEADER

Colombia’s President Iván Duque celebrated the capture of a member of the high command of the dissident Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc) on 8 May. This successful operation was overshadowed, however, not just by another illegal spying scandal to engulf the army but also by the murder a day earlier of a demobilised member of the Farc. This brings the total number of former guerrillas slain since the signing of the 2016 peace accord to the verge of a grim milestone of 200. The latest killing prompted the Farc political party to call for international human rights bodies to send a mission to investigate, while Colombia’s transitional justice system (JEP), established under the terms of the peace accord, announced that it was evaluating the introduction of collective precautionary measures.

A joint operation, codenamed ‘Aniela’, by the police, military and attorney general’s office culminated in the arrest of Audiel Pinto Calderón (‘Korea’) in Puerto Carreño, the capital of the eastern department of Vichada. Pinto is a chief lieutenant of Luciano Marín Arango (‘Iván Márquez’), the Farc’s former chief peace negotiator who reappeared in a video issuing a fresh call to arms last August accusing the government of having betrayed the peace accord. 

Pinto, who had a reward of Col$3bn (US$766,000) on his head, is the first one of the 21 guerrillas flanking Márquez in the video message recorded that day to be captured. The director of the police, General Óscar Atehortúa Duque, said his arrest had put paid to 32 years of criminality. President Duque celebrated his arrest as a major breakthrough in the battle against the ‘Segunda Marquetalia’ dissident Farc. He said Pinto played a key role in drug-trafficking operations, especially smuggling cocaine into Venezuela, and had been behind the murder of social leaders in Colombia.

The Duque administration is facing domestic and international pressure over the murder of not just social leaders but also demobilised Farc members. On 7 May, the day before Pinto was seized, Wilmer Daniel Marín Alarcón became the 197th former Farc guerrilla to be murdered since the signing of the peace accord. There have also been a further 14 forced disappearances of demobilised Farc guerrillas and 39 attempted murders in that time.  

A total of 117 of the murders have taken place under Duque, who took office in August 2018. The killings have continued unabated even after a lockdown and curfew was imposed to reduce transmission of the coronavirus (Covid-19) on 24 March: five in total. Marín Alarcón was one of two in the northern department of Antioquia, and there were a further three in the departments of Meta, Caquetá, and Tolima, south of Bogotá.

The number of murdered former guerrillas is a long way short of the 2,000-3,000 demobilised guerrillas and other left-wingers butchered after establishing the Unión Patriótica (UP) party during the peace process with the Farc under the government led by Belisario Betancur (1982-1986). But it is inexorably climbing. The Farc political party insisted this week that the government implement the protection policies contained within the peace accord. The Farc’s lawyer, Diego Martínez, said it was weighing up making a formal request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to send a mission to verify “the systematic extermination of former combatants”.

The presidential counsellor for stabilisation and consolidation, Emilio Archila, rejected the call for external intervention arguing that this “would imply…that the state is not doing what it should be doing”, which, he maintained, was not the case. Archila said that last year the government had invested more, for instance, in the violence-ravaged region of Catatumbo, in the north-eastern department of Norte de Santander, than at any point during the last 16 years.

It is not just the Farc, however, calling for action as the number of murdered demobilised guerrillas continues to increase. The JEP is also considering taking action in the form of collective precautionary measures in order to try and protect former guerrillas, not least because many of those murdered or threatened had or have important information that could satisfy victims’ rights if it were shared with magistrates sitting on the tribunal.

One particular concern of the JEP is that many of the murders have taken place in municipalities where territorially focused development programmes (PDETs in the Spanish acronym) were established 20 months ago. The PDETs were set up in 170 municipalities most affected by the violence and poverty, covering a third of national territory and 5% of the national population. They were created with the express purpose of building peace to transform areas scarred by the armed conflict. Criminal groups, however, have not been disbanded in these areas and are in fact expanding their influence.

No fewer than 12 former guerrillas have been killed in Santa Lucía PDET in the municipality of Ituango, Antioquia, which is now a ghost town, with over 100 people displaced after receiving threats from illegal armed groups. It is a similar story in the municipality of Dabeiba, Antioquia; four municipalities (Argelia, Caldono, Buenos Aires, Miranda) in the south-western department of Cauca; two (Ricaurte and Barbacoas) in the contiguous department of Nariño; and two (Riosucio and Jiguamiandó) in the north-westernmost department of Chocó. 

A key problem is that drug-trafficking routes often pass through PDETs. The deputy attorney general, Martha Mancera, said this week that 75% of the murders of ex-Farc guerrillas occurred in areas where illegal armed groups are vying for control of these drug corridors. Mancera is well-versed in the situation on the ground, having served for three years as director of the Unidad Especial de Investigación, in charge of investigating attacks against social leaders and ex- Farc guerrillas, before being appointed to her current position in February.

The political opposition argues that the Duque administration is set on undermining rather than implementing the peace accord and that army intelligence is more intent on spying on journalists and social leaders [WR-20-18] than using its resources to seize back control of national territory from illegal armed groups. The defence minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, insisted in an interview with the national daily El Tiempo on 10 May that the government would get to the bottom of the latest spying scandal to afflict the army. He put great store by a USB stick the army handed to the attorney general’s office on 11 May containing information pertinent to the investigation, as a sign of its readiness to “cooperate fully in the interest of transparency and legality”.

Coronavirus in the Amazon

On 12 May President Duque announced the militarisation of Colombia’s frontier with Brazil by the port city of Leticia, the capital of the border department of Amazonas, in an effort to contain a severe outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) in the area, where there are already 743 confirmed cases and 26 fatalities. There were 191 confirmed cases on 11 May alone, with nearly half of them inmates in the Leticia prison. The aim of the military deployment is to try and stop more imported cases from Brazil’s Amazon region which has been particularly hard hit by Covid-19. The health minister, Fernando Ruiz, announced that a medical team was on its way, as well as assigning Col$14bn (US$3.6m) to the only regional hospital. The border departments of Amazonas (114), Guaviare (92), Guainía (31) and Vaupés (10) have only 247 beds between them and no intensive care units.

ANDEAN COUNTRIES

Juan Guaidó has endured some uncomfortable weeks since he assumed the presidency of the opposition-controlled national assembly and decided to take on the de facto government led by Nicolás Maduro over 16 months ago, but nothing compares with the last one. Widely recognised as Venezuela’s interim president, Guaidó has tried to duck allegations of involvement in the contracting of mercenaries to carry out an armed operation, ‘Gideon’, to “extract” Maduro and close allies [WR-20-18], claiming it was all “a show staged by the dictatorship”. But his remonstrations have failed to convince even his principal allies within the opposition coalition, throwing his leadership into question.

Maduro is revelling in Guaidó’s discomfiture. “Never before in history has a politician signed a contract to assassinate [it was actually to abduct] a president of the Republic, but this is what Juan Guaidó, [and two of his advisers] JJ Rendón and [Sergio] Vergara did,” Maduro said on 7 May. Maduro said that the 41-page contract with the US-based security company Silvercorp bears the signature of Guaidó and serves as proof of “the moral and political degradation of the opposition”.

Maduro’s censure is one thing but more disquieting for Guaidó is the criticism levelled at him by some of his key allies. “For years we have been rejecting Cuban interference in our country unequivocally and now we equally emphatically reject the contracting of illegal groups,” Primero Justicia (PJ), the closest political ally of Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular (VP) party, said in a statement published on 8 May.

PJ directly criticised Guaidó, insisting that “it is not enough to say that the operation by an illegal group was infiltrated by the intelligence services of the Maduro regime”. It called on Guaidó to dismiss any official linked with the operation, and for an independent investigation to be carried out by the national assembly to try and assign responsibility.

The PJ also condemned the episode for “frustrating our people and destroying confidence between those fighting for political change”. It called for “re-establishing decision-making mechanisms” within the opposition, which looks like an effort to circumscribe Guaidó’s power, and a tacit criticism of the strategic committee he formed (on which political strategist Rendón and former deputy Vergara sat) to explore ways to remove Maduro from power. It was this committee that signed the contract with Silvercorp on the opposition’s behalf last October.

The PJ statement forced Guaidó to act. Rendón and Vergara resigned on 11 May. Rendón admitted to paying US$50,000 to Silvercorp to cover initial “expenses”, arguing in his letter of resignation that he had “put the cause above all other considerations”. Both men insisted that the strategic committee had notified Silvercorp on 8 November last year that they would not be proceeding with the exploratory agreement they had signed; that they were unaware of Operation Gideon, still less sanctioned it; and that Guaidó knew nothing about any of it.

It is difficult to imagine that, whatever the precise nature of the agreement with Silvercorp, Rendón and Vergara would have taken a unilateral decision to sign a contract with the security company without consulting Guaidó. This would suggest that they fell on their swords to protect him. Guaidó thanked both men for their “dedication and commitment” to try and restore democracy in Venezuela. He defended the creation of the strategic committee, which answered directly to him, saying it was only meant to “evaluate possible scenarios” to remove “a narco-dictatorship”. Guaidó stressed that this was “very different to [approving] the regrettable action” that took place on 3 and 4 May. He maintained that the botched operation suited the Maduro government’s propaganda purposes. This is true but evades the issue of responsibility for it.

Guaidó called for the creation of a government of national emergency to combat the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) in Venezuela, contending that Maduro is using the operation to distract attention from the country’s real problems. “The end is inevitable,” Guaidó maintained. But for whom? The failed operation underscored the continued support of the military for Maduro and the effectiveness of counter-intelligence measures to prop up his government, while causing renewed friction within the disparate opposition coalition. As long as Guaidó continues to enjoy the backing of the US government, the opposition is likely to be reluctant to pull its support for him, but the operation has exposed a crisis of confidence in his leadership. Opposition parties share the common goal of restoring the rule of law in Venezuela, but they do not all agree on using methods which are outside the law to achieve this.

Maduro and Guaidó

Nicolás Maduro branded Juan Guaidó “a fugitive from justice” on 10 May; Guaidó responded by tweeting a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) poster with Maduro’s face and the reward of US$15m for information leading to his arrest on charges of narco-terrorism [WR-20-13].

‘Terrorist mercenaries’

Eight more “terrorist mercenaries” were arrested in relation to ‘Operation Gideon’ on 10 May, the commander of strategic operations in the Bolivarian armed forces (FANB), Remigio Ceballos, said. This brings the number of those arrested to more than 50, including a nephew of retired former Venezuelan army general Clíver Alcalá, who worked in coordination with the head of Silvercorp, Jordan Goudreau. The attorney general, Tarek Saab, requested that Interpol issue a Red alert for Goudreau, and Juan Guaidó’s advisers, Sergio Vergara and J J Rendón, based in the US.

When Peru first went into lockdown on 15 March, before a single coronavirus (Covid-19) death had been recorded in the country, President Martín Vizcarra was widely praised for his swift and decisive response. Almost two months later, the pressure is starting to show, as the quarantine has paralysed the country’s economy, but delivered only limited success in terms of public health.

President Vizcarra’s early call on quarantine undoubtedly minimised the effects of the health emergency, but even he admitted last week that the results “were not exactly what we expected” – the death toll continued to rise sharply until late April, and has subsequently plateaued rather than declined, doubling since the start of May to total 2,169 as of 13 May. The continued spread of the disease has been attributed by many in Peru to the continued activity of the country’s sizeable informal economy, largely overlooked by the government’s otherwise comprehensive economic stimulus strategy.

The cost of these measures – most recently placed by the economy minister, María Antonieta Alva, at 16% of GDP – has ensured that the pressures of Peru’s lengthy quarantine are not just medical. Vizcarra’s 8 May announcement that the state of emergency and quarantine had been extended until 24 May was contradicted somewhat by the start of the first phase of ‘economic reactivation’ earlier that day. While most Peruvians remain isolated, economic activities in certain sectors - mining & industry, construction, services & tourism, and retail - have begun to resume gradually.

Among these economic activities are the marketplaces identified by Vizcarra as a major source of infection – he has responded by seeking to improve regulation, limiting capacity to 50% of what would normally be allowed. Some indications of success are urgently needed; Vizcarra remains popular with the public, but his government’s relationship with congress has further deteriorated [WR-20-17]. Health Minister Víctor Zamora, only appointed on 20 March, is the latest member of the cabinet facing calls to resign. Prime Minister Vicente Zeballos refused to speculate on Zamora’s future, arguing that greater unity and co-operation are needed to bolster the country’s response to the pandemic.

Mercedes Aráoz

Peru’s congress formally accepted Mercedes Aráoz’s resignation as vice president on 7 May, submitted on 1 October 2019 during the constitutional crisis that led to the dissolution of congress. After President Vizcarra had ordered this dissolution on 30 September, Aráoz had been appointed interim president by congress – an appointment she accepted, only to resign the next day, under threat of facing judicial proceedings.

Interior Minister Arturo Murillo condemned the “stupidity” of those protesting against Bolivia’s interim government in the midst of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, referring to the crowds that gathered in various parts of the country on 10 and 11 May. Murillo accused protesters of “playing politics” at a time of national emergency. Cries of “elections now” were indeed heard during the demonstrations, but these were in the context of broader criticisms of the interim government’s handling of the pandemic, decrying job losses and food shortages.

The interim government had previously announced that it intended to implement an economic reactivation plan from 11 May, but offered few concrete details. The revelation that restrictions would be lifted only in areas not deemed ‘high risk’ by the ministry of health prompted anger in cities across the country, especially in poorer areas, where the disease has been spread by people unable to bear the financial burden of quarantine. The military was deployed to suppress the larger protests, most notably in the K’ara K’ara area of the city of Cochabamba in central Bolivia, where the use of tear gas and rubber bullets was condemned by the left-wing opposition Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) in the senate.

Murillo once again held the MAS responsible for this outbreak of opposition to the interim government’s pandemic response, attributing the protests to the party’s efforts to “create political violence in Bolivia” [WR-20-16]. Interim president Jeanine Áñez’s administration has itself faced criticism for taking advantage of the health emergency to take action against its political rivals, most recently from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), whose special rapporteur for freedom of expression, Edison Lanza, voiced concern on 12 May about the latest efforts to crack down on ‘misinformation’ during the pandemic.

  • Decree 4231

As well as the IACHR, criticisms of Bolivia’s interim government’s misinformation crackdown were levelled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who claimed that the measures sought to “threaten journalists or silence criticism”; by Bolivia’s national press association (ANP), which warned that the decree “penalises the human and fundamental right to freedom of expression”; and by human rights ombudsman Nadia Cruz, who pledged to take action against these “unconstitutional” actions.

The controversial ‘decree 4231’, issued on 7 May, threatened criminal charges against those who “disseminate information of any kind…that puts at risk or affects public health, or generates uncertainty in the population”. This was an extension of an earlier decree targeting misinformation specifically in the context of quarantine restrictions.

Both provisions drew criticism for relying on a subjective, loosely defined vision of ‘misinformation’. The assertion by the minister of the presidency, Yerko Núñez, that action will be taken only against “small groups and sectors that try to distort information, to create uncertainty and fear in the population”, will do little to reassure political opponents fearing persecution.

Corruption claims

A challenge that the interim government has been less able to deflect onto the MAS – though not for want of trying – is of the growing difficulties faced by various state-owned companies. The workers of oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) declared a state of emergency within the oil sector on 11 May, after a corruption scandal saw its presidency change hands for the second time since the interim government came to power, with Herland Soliz replaced by Richard Botello on 8 May.

Soliz was removed after irregularities were identified in various contracts signed by YPFB. This followed several days of confusion and speculation, as Soliz offered and then subsequently withdrew his resignation on 6 May, highlighting a tense relationship with the hydrocarbons minister, Víctor Hugo Zamora.

Likely influenced by these developments, Áñez also made two ministerial changes on 8 May, as part of an ongoing effort to bring more trusted allies into her cabinet, compared to the conciliatory initial offering in November 2019. Fernando Vásquez picked up the mining portfolio from Carlos Fernando Huallpa, while Senator Óscar Ortiz, who was the presidential candidate for the opposition party ‘Bolivia Dice No’ in last October’s elections, took over as minister of productive development. Ortiz, who replaced Wilfredo Rojo, will also head the newly created Consejo Nacional de Reactivación, comprising the energy, hydrocarbons, public works, mining, rural development, labour, and environment and water ministries.

The MAS’s Sergio Choque, the president of the chamber of deputies, attributed this “cabinet crisis” to economic mismanagement and corruption, “leading to an economic crisis”. Interim government officials, including Soliz and Zamora, had accused their MAS predecessors of bankrupting state-owned companies, but the YPFB workers sided against the new management, with their statement, accusing officials of embezzlement and mismanagement, as part of a strategy to privatise public sector companies.

Opponents of the interim government have argued that its economic agenda goes far beyond its remit to simply organise new elections. This was demonstrated once again through Vásquez’s inaugural speech as mining minister, in which he pledged to promote “intensive exploration” to strengthen Bolivia’s extractive industries.

Similar concerns were raised following Áñez’s 9 May presidential decree authorising the use of genetically modified seeds in the country’s agricultural sector, which was resolutely opposed by the previous MAS government. This decree was justified by the need to bolster food supplies in Bolivia, with problems of hunger currently felt more strongly than ever. But critics claim this measure could put genetic diversity and human health at risk.

COLOMBIA | Avianca files for bankruptcy. On 10 May Avianca Holdings, the parent company of Colombia’s flag carrier Avianca, filed for bankruptcy proceedings in the US courts under Chapter 11 of the US bankruptcy code.

Established in 1919, Avianca is the world’s second oldest airline and Latin America’s second largest, carrying over 30m passenger per year. But in a statement Avianca Holdings said that it had to file for bankruptcy due to the “dramatic” impact that the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has had on its global operations.

The firm notes that, as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a 90% decline in international air travel and that its passenger fleet has been grounded since mid-March after Latin American governments suspended all flights as part of efforts to contain the pandemic. According to the statement, all of this has resulted in the loss of over 80% of the firm’s consolidated revenue placing “significant pressure on its cash reserves”.

Avianca’s CEO, Anko van der Werff, said that the firm aims to use the bankruptcy process to sort out its debts and reorganise its businesses under the auspices of the US judicial system. Van der Werff added that the firm is also seeking financial assistance from the governments of the countries in which it “provides essential services” (Avianca’s subsidiaries are the flag carriers in various Latin American countries); and that it hopes that, after a successful restructuring process, Avianca will continue operating and preserving jobs in all the countries in which it operates (many of Avianca’s 21,000 employees in Latin America have been furloughed). However, the firm has already announced that as part of the restructuring process it will liquidate its Peruvian subsidiary, Avianca Perú.  

BRAZIL & SOUTHERN CONE

The 700km porous border that Paraguay shares with Brazil has historically been a source of concern for the Brazilian government as it has long been exploited by criminals to smuggle counterfeit goods, illegal drugs, and people from Paraguay. But with the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak expanding at an alarming rate in Brazil, now it is the Paraguayan government that is worried about the permeability of the border and the threat that the arrival of infected individuals from Brazil poses to Paraguay. The response by the Paraguayan government led by President Mario Abdo Benítez to the pandemic has so far succeeded in limiting the number of infections and deaths in the country but all this could be in vain unless it can tighten controls at the border with Brazil.

The Abdo Benítez government was quick to impose drastic measures to contain Covid-19. This included the closure of all the country’s borders in early March (except to essential trade). The Brazilian government led by President Jair Bolsonaro, which has been more erratic in its response to the pandemic, only followed suit a few weeks later. However, the arrival of infected individuals from Brazil, which has less stringent containment measures in place that vary from state to state, became a major concern after the Abdo Benítez administration started allowing Paraguayan nationals stranded in Brazil following the closure of the border to return to Paraguay from 1 May.

All the returnees are tested for Covid-19 and placed in quarantine centres immediately after crossing the border. Many of them have tested positive, leading to a jump in the number of cases registered in Paraguay. On 1 May alone, 67 returnees from Brazil tested positive for Covid-19 taking the total number of cases in Paraguay to 333. Since then, more people repatriated from Brazil have tested positive, with another 124 cases reported on 9 May.

Paraguay’s health minister, Julio Mazzoleni, warned that these individuals appear to have a “very high viral load” even though many are asymptomatic. Mazzoleni added that “we are extremely worried by the high circulation of the virus in Brazil”, which currently has over 180,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and over 13,000 deaths, the highest figures in Latin America. Paraguay has just over 700 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 11 deaths.

In response to the risk represented by the arrival of large groups of infected individuals from Brazil, the Paraguayan government has adopted stricter sanitary and security protocols at the shared border. This involved the deployment of additional army units to reinforce controls at border crossings and even the digging of a trench along dry border areas to make illegal crossings harder. But despite this there are still reports of people getting around military checkpoints and freely crossing the border.

The most eye-catching case involved José Carlos Acevedo, the mayor of the capital of Amambay department, Pedro Juan Caballero (PJC), which lies on the border. On 10 May Acevedo defied soldiers at a checkpoint and crossed into the Brazilian city of Ponta Porã that lies opposite PJC.

Video footage of Acevedo ignoring orders for him not to cross the border, and threatening to get the soldiers dismissed for trying to stop him, fuelled indignation and was widely condemned. Acevedo was detained and placed in quarantine upon returning to PJC. He has also been formally charged with breaking quarantine rules.

President Abdo Benítez reacted to the incident by replacing the head of the army’s internal defence operations. The Paraguayan government is currently in the process of phasing out its quarantine to alleviate the economic damage it has caused and slowly return to normality. But Abdo Benítez has said that “Brazil is probably the one place where the coronavirus is expanding the most in the world and that is a big threat for our country”. He insisted that controls at the shared border would need to remain strict until the threat is neutralised.

Sending a message

President Abdo Benítez designated Colonel Félix Ignacio Díaz as the new interim commander of the army’s internal defence operations in replacement of General Leonardo Ibarrola on 11 May. General Ibarrola had only been in the post since September 2019. But Abdo Benítez seemingly felt the need to send a clear message to the army that they are expected to apply the quarantine rules to everyone without exception. This after the local press reported that during his confrontation with the soldiers at the checkpoint, Acevedo phoned an unidentified army commander and demanded that he order the soldiers to stand down or face disciplinary action.  

The decision by Chilean retail giant Cencosud SA to pay dividends to its stakeholders while at the same time benefiting from a government employee furlough scheme has been heavily criticised by the administration led by President Sebastián Piñera. With the government threatening to take Cencosud to court over the matter, the case has raised concerns that big business could be exploiting the emergency measures that the government has rolled out to safeguard jobs as it tries to overcome the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and its economic fallout.

Under the recently approved ‘Ley de protección al empleo’, employees from firms that have been forced to suspend their operations due to the quarantine measures imposed to contain the Covid-19 outbreak are eligible to receive part of their salary from the national unemployment fund rather than from their employer. Employers are expected to continue paying employee’s social security, health insurance, and pension contributions, although firms are given the option of delaying paying these contributions if necessary. The initiative was designed to alleviate the financial pressure on firms obliged to suspend operations and ensure that they are not forced to close, leaving their employees without a job.

Some local Cencosud subsidiaries signed up to the furlough scheme and their employees’ salaries have been partly paid by the government since last month. But this incited controversy after it transpired that, in late April, Cencosud decided to pay US$109.7m in dividends (80% of the net profits it obtained in financial year 2019) to its stakeholders. Local trade unions and politicians from across the political spectrum slammed the decision, saying Cencosud should have used these funds to pay employee salaries and had abused the furlough scheme.

Cencosud defended its actions by pointing out that only 7,731 employees of the over 120,000 that the conglomerate employs have been enrolled in the furlough scheme, and that under Chilean legislation (Ley 18,046 on limited liability companies) firms that post profits must distribute at least 30% of these to their shareholders. However, the government took a dim view of this with Labour Minister María José Zaldívar censuring Cencosud’s actions during an appearance before the national congress on 5 May and threatening to file a suit against the firm.

  • Cencosud

“We find it completely incomprehensible that a firm that pays out dividends can take advantage of a law that seeks to provide relief for firms that are having financial problems,” Chile’s labour minister, María José Zaldívar, said. “It is at the very least a contradiction and the courts would have to resolve it,” Zaldívar said.

Faced with such a threat, Cencosud announced on 7 May that it would no longer subscribe to the furlough scheme and would return all the funds that it had received from it. Nevertheless, Chile’s congress has passed a bill amending the Ley de protección al empleo that bans beneficiary firms from paying out dividends. While this may resolve the issue in Chile, it is worthwhile noting that Cencosud has operations in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, and it is not clear if its subsidiaries have signed up to the similar furlough schemes implemented in those countries.

For two months now, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has maintained that containing the coronavirus (Covid-19) cannot come at the cost of Brazilians’ jobs. He has accompanied this false dichotomy between saving lives and protecting livelihoods with the consistent downplaying of the disease’s health risks and disrespect for those whose lives it has claimed. Coronavirus infections have continued to rise rapidly in recent days, and Brazil overtook first Germany, and then France, to become the country with the sixth highest number of confirmed cases globally on 13 May, with 188,974 cases and 13,149 deaths. But Bolsonaro has not changed his tune.

President Bolsonaro’s reaction to the pandemic has driven an ever-growing rift between the federal executive and state governments, with negative impacts on the latter’s efforts to tackle Covid-19. This week, Bolsonaro delayed sanctioning a law which would distribute R$60bn (US$10.19bn) to state and municipal governments to help their healthcare systems and make up revenue lost as a result of the pandemic. The bill, modified by the senate after an initial version tabled by the chamber of deputies was slammed by the government, was approved in congress on 6 May.

On 11 May, Bolsonaro issued a decree including gyms, beauticians, and barbers in the list of essential services allowed to remain open during the pandemic, even as an increasing number of states and cities have extended quarantine measures and imposed strict lockdowns. A majority of Brazil’s 27 state governors have publicly said they will ignore this decree, citing their commitment to science-backed efforts to curb the outbreak, and a supreme court (STF) ruling which gives local, not federal, authorities the final say on isolation measures [WR-20-15]. Nevertheless, the decree exacerbates the confusion that reigns in Brazil over what is and is not permitted for the population as a whole, and therefore undermines efforts to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control.

Despite governors pushing forward with what measures they deem necessary and appropriate to the severity of the outbreak in their state, local health authorities have been demanding that the federal health ministry adopt a clear position on the matter. With less than a month in the post, Health Minister Nelson Teich has been struggling to strike a balance between delivering a robust response to the pandemic and not upsetting Bolsonaro (Teich’s predecessor, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, had become more popular than the president whom he publicly contradicted on isolation measures before he was fired [WR-20-16]).

“This discussion on a strategy does not mean defining whether you are going to isolate or relax [isolation],” Teich said on 11 May, arguing that the debate around isolation measures has become unhelpfully polarised. A 13 May press conference during which he was due to announce national directives on isolation was cancelled at the last minute, after the health ministry failed to reach a consensus on the issue with the councils representing the state and municipal health services (Conass and Conasems respectively).

Yet Teich’s ambivalence has not stopped him from being attacked on ‘bolsonarista’ networks and snubbed by the president. Questioned by journalists on 11 May about the presidential decree expanding essential services, issued that same day, Teich looked taken aback, seemingly learning about its existence from the press. He then said the issue concerned the president and the economy ministry, not the health authorities. On 13 May, one day after Teich had cautioned about taking chloroquine, mooted as a possible treatment to coronavirus although scientific evidence of its effectiveness is lacking, Bolsonaro argued that the drug should still be used on Covid-19 patients. “It might work, it might not work,” he said.

Distraction tactics

There are those who argue that Bolsonaro’s mismanagement of the public health emergency serves the purpose of diverting attention away from his other problems. He is at the centre of an unfolding political scandal, relating to allegations of undue meddling in the federal police, which could lead to impeachment proceedings. These will be more likely if the inevitable economic downturn erodes his support. The federal government slashed its GDP projections for 2020 to -4.7% on 13 May – and this remains one of the more optimistic forecasts. The unemployment rate edged up to 12.2% in the first quarter of 2020, and a 39% monthly increase in applications for unemployment benefits in April portends a surge in job losses.

Bolsonaro has already sought to lay the blame for the looming recession at the feet of state governors, as the government has faced criticisms over its response on the economic front also. Notably, the distribution of a R$600 basic income to informal workers is stalled, with a reported 17m people still awaiting the emergency handout after glitches in the application process. Bolsonaro dismissed them as a “noisy minority” on 7 May.

Bolsonaro’s approval ratings

A poll released on 12 May shows that President Bolsonaro retains a solid support base, despite rising disapproval ratings. The CNT/MDA poll, one of the few in Brazil that presents the presidential approval ratings in binary terms, found that Bolsonaro has a personal approval rating of 39.2% and disapproval rating of 55.2%. The federal government’s response to the pandemic is viewed positively by 51.7% and negatively by 42.3%, although 67.3% of respondents support blanket isolation measures. State governments are deemed to be doing better: disapproval of their response to the pandemic stands at 26.8%, and approval at 69.2%.

The Brazilian government has deployed troops to the Amazon, part of efforts to fight environmental crimes as deforestation is expected to surge with the start of the dry season (and increased wildfires). Although ostensibly a sign that the government led by President Jair Bolsonaro is taking deforestation seriously, the fact that it puts environmental-monitoring efforts under military command raises some concern.

In a press conference on 11 May, Vice-President Hamilton Mourão, who heads the federal government’s national council of the Amazon [WR-20-06], announced the launch of ‘Operação Verde 2’. The R$60m (US$10.1m) military operation, authorised by a presidential Garantia da Lei e da Ordem (GLO) decree, initially valid from 11 May to 10 June, deploys 3,800 troops to the Amazon region. They will assist the government’s environmental agencies such as Ibama and ICMBio in their work, fighting illegal activities which drive deforestation. 

“We don’t want Brazil to be seen as the environmental villain,” Mourão said. President Bolsonaro’s response to particularly destructive wildfires in the Amazon last August sparked criticism worldwide and delivered a blow to Brazil’s international reputation. After a spike in 2019, deforestation has continued to rise in 2020 [WR-20-15]. The latest figures from the government’s early-warning system (Deter), released on 8 May, point to year-on-year deforestation having increased 63.7% in April.

The GLO bringing in the military reinforcements is expected to be extended beyond its initial 30-day period, perhaps all the way to 2022. Mourão stressed that the armed forces will not be substituting Ibama, ICMBio, or Funai (the indigenous rights agency) but will be present in a “coordination and management” capacity.

The risk that these independent agencies become directly subordinate to the military, which ultimately answers to the president, is a concern, however, not least because of the Bolsonaro administration’s poor environmental record and tendency to be sympathetic with the very people who are behind illegal deforestation.

MP 910/19

In December 2019, President Bolsonaro passed a decree on land regularisation (MP910/19) which critics say encourages illegal land grabbing and increases the risk of violence against indigenous peoples. Vice President Mourão and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles defended this decree, which is about to expire if not ratified by congress, in the press conference on 11 May. But the next day the president of the chamber of deputies, Rodrigo Maia, announced that the MP910 would not be voted on as planned, and might instead be debated as a bill next week. The MP910 has prompted vocal criticism from environmentalists, public figures, and opposition lawmakers in Brazil, but is defended by the government and by the agribusiness caucus in congress.

Military reinforcements

Federal deputy Tabata Amaral, of the Partido Democrático Trabalhista (PDT), said on 11 May that she had presented a bill to congress to suspend the presidential Garantia da Lei e da Ordem (GLO) decree, arguing that although military reinforcements are not a problem per se, the decree risks jeopardising environmental operations and the autonomy of those who lead them.

ARGENTINA | Taking debt renegotiations into extra time. On 10 May the Argentine government extended the deadline of the expiry of the formal debt restructuring offer it has made to holders of US$66bn worth of sovereign bonds issued under international law until 22 May.

The move by the government led by President Alberto Fernández came after insufficient bondholders accepted its offer by the 8 May deadline it had set; 75% must agree for there to be a binding global agreement. Groups of bondholders had already rejected the offer, arguing that the debt write offs proposed by the government were unjustified, and called for the terms of the offer to be improved [WR-20-18].

The Fernández administration has ruled this out in an apparent bid to pressure bondholders into accepting the offer or face the prospect of trying to collect on the debts following a default.

President Fernández had said that he would not extend the 8 May deadline, raising concerns about an imminent default. But, after only a minority of bondholders (fewer than 20%, according to press reports) signed up to the offer before the deadline, the government issued a decree extending the deadline for accepting the offer on the grounds that it still believes that an agreement can be reached.

Since then, Fernández has urged bondholders either to accept the offer or present a counteroffer before the new deadline. However, Fernández was clear that any counteroffer must meet the debt sustainability criteria outlined by his government, warning that otherwise his administration would not accept it.

The 22 May deadline coincides with the end of the grace period that Argentina has in order to meet US$500m in foreign debt repayments. The Fernández administration has said that it is not willing make any debt repayments until a debt restructuring agreement is reached. If no deal is reached, and the overdue payment is not made by then, Argentina will be in technical default.  

 

CHILE | Economy struggling. Chile’s central bank requested a US$23.8bn flexible credit line from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on 12 May “to protect the economy from eventual external shocks” in the face of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The IMF said that its managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, would recommend that the request be approved by the board of governors.

A week earlier the central bank reported that the economy contracted by 3.5% year-on-year in March. This equalled the worst decline in the monthly economic activity indicator (Imacec) since July 2009. The Imacec had just started to stage a recovery, expanding by 2.7% in February, after the economy contracted in the wake of last October’s social unrest.

The Imacec record will be smashed in April and May, and there is no sign of the economy picking up soon. President Sebastián Piñera announced his determination to open up the economy and avert “a social crisis from unemployment and bankruptcy” at the start of May but his government has been forced to shelve its ‘Plan Retorno Seguro’ amid a surge in Covid-19 cases. On 13 May Piñera announced a full lockdown in the capital and surrounding areas to take effect from 15 May as the government is losing the “Battle of Santiago” as it was dubbed last week by the health minister, Jaime Mañalich [WR-20-18]. There were 2,660 confirmed new cases of Covid-19 on 13 May, an increase of 60% on the previous day, and 12 fatalities, the majority in the capital.

MEXICO

The Mexican military will bear the brunt of the government’s efforts to reduce violent homicides in the country, with all of the associated human rights concerns, for at least another four years, according to a presidential decree issued this week. This does not come as a surprise, especially as violent homicides have continued unabated since the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and security forces are hard put to take the fight to organised crime. But it is an indictment of the effectiveness of the national guard, announced with much fanfare in March last year by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was a fierce critic of the use of the military in public security while in opposition.

The decree, which was published in the official gazette on 11 May, states that the armed forces will carry out a complementary public security role alongside the national guard until 2024, the final year of President López Obrador’s six-year term. This ensures the continued militarisation of public security until López Obrador leaves office, which runs counter to his stated conviction while in opposition, as well as his government’s efforts to improve human rights in Mexico: the military has long been unaccountable for human rights violations.

  • Human rights

Several hundred protesters took part in demonstrations across Mexico to mark the ‘Día de las Madres’ on 10 May, while endeavouring to comply with social distancing requirements, to demand that the authorities search for missing family members. The United Nations (UN) country team in Mexico applauded the efforts of relatives of the ‘disappeared’ over the years and appealed to authorities to continue with the search for forcibly disappeared people in spite of the coronavirus pandemic “by means of specific actions that do not violate measures for the protection of public health”. President López Obrador announced last August that the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) would be invited to take part in the search for forcibly disappeared Mexicans in a mission scheduled for the second half of 2020. 

The public security ministry said the continued role of the military in public security was essential because the national guard was still “in the process of consolidation”. The national guard is overstretched, not least because it has had to play a big role in immigration, being deployed to Mexico’s northern and southern borders, which was not envisaged when it was conceived. The Covid-19 pandemic has also put a strain on the country’s various security forces; marines have been carrying out patrols in Ciudad de México (CDMX), for instance, due to the number of police in the capital having been struck down by illness or compelled to self-isolate.

Mexican security expert Alejandro Hope rejected these possible justifications for extending the military’s role in public security. Writing in the national daily El Universal on 12 May, Hope argued that the entire constitutional reform establishing the national guard was never about creating a new force to replace the military in the fight against organised crime and drug trafficking but rather “the institutionalisation of military participation in public security”. He said that “the heart of the constitutional reform was the fifth transitory article; the national guard was a cover for this objective”. The fifth transitory article allowed for the military to provide support for the national guard while it is consolidating, but this provides plenty of latitude for the military’s role to become open-ended.

Hope’s argument that there was no need to modify the constitution with this end in sight is plausible but to argue that the reform was exclusively about preserving the militarisation of public security rather than establishing a new force overlooks the vainglorious ambition of successive heads of state determined to leave their mark. López Obrador wanted his own force just as his predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) wanted his. Peña Nieto’s grandly conceived gendarmerie, however, ended up being subsumed into the federal police (PF), which has now been superseded by López Obrador’s national guard. There is a strong chance that Mexico’s next head of state will create yet another militarised police force to replace the national guard, while the military will all the time keep performing its public security role.

Mexico’s automotive industry, as well as its mining and construction sectors, will reopen on 18 May, and a gradual lifting of measures to contain the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic will follow on 1 June. Confirmation of a post-lockdown economic resumption and a ‘new normality’ was made on 13 May by the health minister, Jorge Alcocer, although various state governments are likely to defy the federal government over easing the current restrictions. Alcocer insisted that “health and lives” were the number one priority, but the federal government is desperate to reactivate the economy amid some of the bleakest growth forecasts in the region.

Alcocer said the reopening of the Mexican economy would be “progressive”. Graciela Márquez, the economy minister, argued that businesses were pushing for the construction and automotive industry to reopen to maintain supply chains with the US.

The success of the reopening of these “essential” economic activities will have a big bearing on the scale of Mexico’s contraction this year. Even if cases of Covid-19 are contained and they remain open, various international organisations are predicting that the economy could contract by 6% this year, but if cases surge, and the federal government is compelled to announce another lockdown, they are forecasting that the contraction could be as large as 10%. Mexico’s social development agency (Coneval) published a report on 11 May projecting that 8% of the population, some 10m people, would fall beneath the poverty line in the country in the event of a 6% contraction.

The economy was in poor shape even before the pandemic, having dipped into recession in 2019, the first full year in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s six-year term. GDP shrank by 2.4% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2020, according to preliminary figures released by the national statistics institute (Inegi) at the tail end of last month, on the back of a fall in activity in all economic sectors. GDP fell by 1.6% compared with the final quarter of 2019.

López Obrador tried to put a positive spin on the data, arguing that it was “better than had been expected” by some analysts. He also took some comfort from the fact that the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was finally ratified on 24 April. The US government notified the US Congress and the governments of Mexico and Canada that it had complied with all the domestic procedures required for the USMCA to enter into force. This follows notifications issued separately by the governments of Mexico and Canada on 2 April, and concludes the necessary requirements in all three countries for the USMCA to be implemented.

The new agreement, replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), is now due to take effect on 1 July, a date that had been previously agreed by the three governments. Mexico’s foreign ministry (SRE) issued a statement saying that when the USMCA enters into force it “will give impetus to the economic recovery of Mexico and the North American region after the health emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

A bipartisan group of 19 US senators had sent a letter to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging a delay to the implementation of the USMCA on the grounds that it would place too much pressure on US companies, reeling from the impact of Covid-19, to adapt to the new rules in such a short space of time. But Lighthizer contended that “the crisis and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates that now, more than ever, [the US] should strive to increase manufacturing capacity and investment in North America”, and that the USMCA was “a landmark achievement in that effort”.

Unemployment

As many as 555,247 jobs were lost in Mexico in April, according to a report by Mexico’s social security institute (IMSS) released on 12 May, as a result of the coronavirus health crisis. Around 20% of the job losses were in Mexico City. The biggest job losses were in the construction and mining sectors. As these sectors are due to reopen on 18 May, some of these job losses could be reversed.

CENTRAL AMERICA & CARIBBEAN

President Juan Orlando Hernández is once again on the defensive after being implicated in drug-related allegations which emerged in charges announced by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) against Juan Carlos ‘El Tigre’ Bonilla, a former national police (PN) chief (2012-2013). As on previous occasions, such as the case involving his brother Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernández, convicted in October 2019 by a US jury on counts including conspiring to import cocaine into the US [WR-19-45], Hernández has issued a firm rebuttal of the claims.

According to a DoJ press release issued on 30 April, Bonilla, who was charged with conspiring to import cocaine into the US and weapons offences, “oversaw the transhipment of multi-tonne loads of cocaine bound for the US, used machineguns and other weaponry, and participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker, to further the conspiracy”. The DoJ statement was explicit that Bonilla did this all on behalf of “Tony Hernández [a former national legislator for the ruling Partido Nacional who is due to be sentenced on 29 June] and his brother”.

These allegations came under two months after the arrest on 1 March in Miami airport of Geovanny Daniel Fuentes Ramires, who was charged with multiple counts of high-level drug trafficking and weapons offences. According to a DoJ statement on 3 March, Fuentes reported directly to Tony Hernández and paid at least US$25,000 to a high-ranking Honduran official known as ‘CC-4’ (a co-conspirator) “in exchange for protection from further interventions by law enforcement”. Court documents identify ‘CC-4’ as President Hernández. This follows other drug-related allegations such as claims made in a document unsealed in August 2019 as part of Tony Hernández’s trial that the PN government received US$1.5m in drug-trafficking proceeds to secure Hernández’s 2013 election.

As on previous cases, the latest allegations drew a strong response from the Honduran presidency. In a series of tweets issued the following day, the presidential palace stated that the references to President Hernández “are 100% false”; that it was he who insisted on a “major purge of the national police, resulting in the removal of General Bonilla, along with 43% of the entire police force”; that he was “the leader in promoting and implementing extradition [and] no president complicit in drug trafficking would ever promote and implement the extradition of drug traffickers”; and that “false testimonies by confessed criminals are based on revenge against the president who persecuted them and their hopes for negotiating a reduced sentence”.

US relations

The US-based Washington Office on Latin America (Wola) argued that the silence of the US administration led by President Donald Trump on the matter was a sign that it is “prioritising acquiescence to a harmful anti-migrant agenda, rather than addressing the systemic corruption that is driving migration”. As if to underline these links, the day after the DoJ statement was published, the details of the controversial asylum cooperation agreement (ACA) between Honduras and the US (which has signed similar deals with El Salvador and Guatemala) were published in the US federal register. As per the agreement, which has been likened to a ‘safe third country agreement’, people from specific countries can be blocked from applying for asylum at the US-Mexico border and instead be returned to the three so-called Northern Triangle countries.

Other allegations

According to the DoJ statement issued on 3 March “CC-4 expressed interest in access to [Geovanny Fuentes’] cocaine laboratory because of its proximity to a major commercial shipping port”, agreed to “facilitate the use of Honduran armed forces personnel as security” for Fuentes’ trafficking activities, and instructed Fuentes to “report directly to Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado for subsequent drug trafficking activities”.

A “non-partisan” response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. This was one of the demands made this week by influential private sector lobby Cosep to the government led by President Daniel Ortega, which has attracted criticism for its relative inaction compared with other countries in the region [WR-20-16]. In its list of demands, Cosep highlighted a further growing complaint raised not only by local civil-society groups and medical associations but also the international community: doubts over the veracity of official information pertaining to the pandemic.

Having previously actively encouraged mass gatherings and seemingly eschewed strategies aimed at enforcing social distancing and sanitary measures, albeit while emphasising prevention strategies, at the end of April Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo suggested a change of tack. She said the government would promote social distancing and the use of facemasks and would intensify actions to disinfect public transport and other public spaces such as bus shelters, markets, places of work, and schools.

However, these concessions fell far short of other demands such as the suspension of non-essential economic activity and prohibition of mass gatherings applied in other countries, and the government response to the pandemic continues to attract criticism. In a statement published on 11 May, Cosep, which is part of the opposition Alianza Cívica por la Justicia y la Democracia (ACJD), urged the government to declare a state of emergency, close schools and universities, cancel all artistic, sporting, cultural or political events, and limit public transport. Cosep also highlighted the need to provide access to “transparent information” which it said was “key to saving lives” - a demand which is increasingly being made across the board. After failing to publish updates on the number of Covid-19 cases for six days, changing from daily updates to a weekly one, on 12 May the health ministry announced the latest figures which showed a total of 25 confirmed cases. The same report also noted eight fatalities as a result of Covid-19 but did acknowledge other (unquantified) deaths due to causes such as pneumonia.

Doubts regarding the veracity of official information have long been raised by various organisations including a local multidisciplinary scientific committee (CCM), which comprises 12 senior health officials, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), and international NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Most recently, on 12 May, the head of PAHO’s Health Emergencies department Ciro Ugarte alluded to “multiple unofficial reports that point to a high number of patients with symptoms of acute respiratory infection, particularly in Managua, Chinandega and other places and an increase in deaths by atypical pneumonia”. As well as referencing earlier concerns highlighted by the PAHO regarding issues such as the reporting of cases, which he said persisted, Ugarte also raised “particular concern because social distancing and the call to mass events continues”. (Despite the emphasis on social distancing, the government continues to promote mass events such as traditional fiestas scheduled this month to take place in Chinandega).

As regards the unofficial reports to which Ugarte alluded, a report circulated in the local media on 11 May by Observatorio Ciudadano Covid-19, a collaborative civil society group set up in March to monitor the local epidemic, put suspected Covid-19 cases at 1,033. However, the Observatorio, which bases its reports on information from “civil society, territorial networks, digital activists, and relatives of those affected by Covid-19”, stresses that the figures are not official.

Former health ministers express concern

On 11 May, five former Nicaraguan health ministers (Lea Guido [1980-1985], Dora María Téllez [1985-1990], Lombardo Martínez Cabezas [1997-1999], Martha McCoy [1999-2000] and Margarita Gurdián [2004-2007]) signed an open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), warning that Nicaragua was facing an “extreme risk” due to the pandemic, a situation they said had been exacerbated by the government’s inaction.

POSTSCRIPT

The government led by President Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou has managed to control the outbreak of Covid-19 in Uruguay so far, keeping fatalities from the coronavirus down to 19, with just over 700 confirmed cases. But domestic demand has plummeted during the lockdown and the economic outlook for the country is challenging.

Tourism, one of the mainstays of the economy, generating 8% of GDP and 11% of jobs, has been particularly hard hit. The tourism minister, Germán Cardoso, recently acknowledged that being “the only sector registering absolutely no economic activity” meant that tourism was facing “enormous difficulties”. Cardoso is working with the industry in an effort to support tourism operators and safeguard jobs.

The tourism and public health ministries have formed a working group with representatives of the Cámara Uruguaya de Turismo (Camtur) to draw up a draft ‘protocol of action’ for the ‘new normality’, such as improved hygiene and biosecurity in hotels and other accommodation, and restaurants. They aim to present it to President Lacalle Pou for approval imminently.

The difficulty facing Uruguay is that non-essential foreign travel is likely to be one of the last restrictions to be lifted. Even if restrictions were completely removed in time for the start of the southern hemisphere summer in November, the number of Argentines visiting Uruguay (comprising more than 50% of the 3.5m foreign tourists in 2019), is sure to be down, not to mention tourists from further afield.

As such, Cardoso announced this week that the initial focus of the industry would need to be on boosting domestic tourism. He said there are around 250,000 Uruguayans who travel abroad each year to go on holiday who would not be able to do so at present or for the foreseeable future, with ports and airports closed. Cardoso also revealed that the government is seriously considering pushing all public holidays in Uruguay to either a Monday or a Friday in order to enable people to escape for long weekends to provide a lift for domestic tourism.

“He is capable of signing a contract to kill his political rival, who in the world does this?”

Venezuela’s de facto president Nicolás Maduro on its interim president Juan Guaidó.

 

“No one will go against the constitution, rest assured. No one will want to override me with a coup, you can rest easy.”

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro addressing supporters.

 

“[The Mexican armed forces will carry out] public security tasks in an extraordinary, regulated, and accountable manner, subordinated to and complementary with the national guard.”

Mexico’s public security minister, Alfonso Durazo.