Welcome to the Latin America Foreign Policy Letter.
This week's highlights: How the COVID-19 chaos is affecting Brazil far-reaching risks, a coalition of Film and theater artists speak up on performance dynamics in the workplace and Colombia plans a restart to his aerial warfare against coca.
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New variations are just the beginning
In addition to the staggering human cost – COVID-19 deaths in Brazil hit an all-time high of over 1,900 in a single day this week – Brasília's negligence towards the pandemic has been linked to a data failure that is hampering efforts to understand the highly contagious people, according to Loud a scientist advising the World Health Organization on COVID-19 vaccines, a new strain is spreading across the country.
The new variant, known as P.1, was estimated in a preprint study to be 1.4 to 2.2 times more transferable than other variants. It was also found to be able to bypass 25 to 61 percent of the immunity caused by a previous infection from another infection.
Scientists believe the rapid spread of P.1 is related to the sudden packing of ICUs across Brazil – by Tuesday, 19 of the country's 27 states had reached at least 80 percent ICU capacity. Nine were more than 90 percent.
Brazil's troubles are a snapshot of another trend that the WHO warned about this week: after six weeks of falling daily case numbers around the globe, new cases have risen again, thanks in part to new variants and easing of precautionary measures.
Brazil's role in this trend has particularly worried WHO, not only because President Jair Bolsonaro and his government rejected containment measures, but also because the country did not seriously follow the spread and characteristics of P.1. Brazil currently only performs genetic sequencing on a tiny fraction of the confirmed cases. A municipal health department in the greater Rio de Janeiro area did not find out that P.1 had arrived in the city until 10 days after the death of a patient.
The variety is said to have developed in the Amazon city of Manaus in early November 2020. This month alone, over 92,000 people flew from the city to the six other Brazilian states where P.1 was identified in late February. The strain has been identified in at least 24 other countries, including Peru, where daily deaths have risen since January, and the US, where it has already been found in five states.
Brazil and Peru each have less than 1 percent of their population fully vaccinated.
Containment Opportunities. Brazilian health ministers have asked Bolsonaro to implement a national lockdown but have largely been ignored. Bolsonaro has been strongly opposed to lockdowns throughout the pandemic, and the fact that the police are among his most loyal supporters may have contributed to poor enforcement of locally mandated restrictions. Some states have imposed curfews in the past few days.
What we know Another preprint study that sequenced 250 virus genomes from the state where P.1 occurred found that they made up 4 percent of the strains in the state in early December, 45 percent in late December and 73 percent in early January, which is the Evidence for its increased ability to spread.
What we don’t do It seems that P.1 can re-infect people with natural immunity, but what about people who have received different vaccines? A small laboratory experiment (also a preprint) showed that antibodies from the CoronaVac vaccine, which is currently being administered in Brazil, are weaker against P.1 than against other strains of the virus. Researcher Nuno Faria warned that more studies are urgently needed.
Sunday March 7th: Regional and local elections are held in Bolivia.
Wednesday March 10th: The United States Human Rights Council discusses Venezuela.
Friday March 12th: The foreign ministers of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay are discussing the Mercosur bloc.
Friday March 12th: Deadline for Peru to determine which candidates will be elected for the April 11th elections.
AMLO and Biden turn the page. The Mexican and US presidents set a positive tone on their first virtual bilateral visit, a postponement of Andrés Manuel López Obrador's delay in recognizing Joe Biden's presidential victory. For more clues as to the direction of the relationship, see the U.S. response to Mexico's new restrictions on private power grid ownership, which some analysts say could violate the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade pact.
Venezuelan civil society is growing. Foro Cívico, a newly formed group working for a peaceful and democratic transition in Venezuela, has proposed 15 electoral experts as candidates for the next seven-year term of the National Electoral Council. Venezuela's lawmakers, dominated by President Nicolás Maduro's party, will elect the council in the coming weeks.
Foro Cívico's move represents a new dynamic for a political transition within the existing Venezuelan political structures, in contrast to the congressional elections last December, which boycotted much of the opposition.
Forced sterilizations. After decades of efforts to settle the case, a Peruvian court began examining allegations this week that former President Alberto Fujimori and other officials were responsible for the forced sterilization of more than 2,000 women, most of whom were poor and local, in the 1990s were.
What is holding back women artists? Women in the film and theater industry in 11 Latin American countries have formed a new partnership against verbal harassment and psychological harm in the workplace. The Respect Onstage campaign will hold a series of events in March.
An "elder statesman" of reggae. Jamaica's prime minister was one of those who offered condolences this week following the death of Neville Livingston, better known as Bunny Wailer, the last living member of the original Wailers trio, which included Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Livingston, the group's “spiritual mystic”, spent much of his six-decade career in Jamaica, where he followed the development of reggae on the grassroots.
Colombia has started the permit process to resume air fumigation of coca for the first time since it suspended the practice in 2015 for health reasons.
The air war against coca has a controversial history in Colombia, the only country where glyphosate has been sprayed from planes to fight drugs. What year did air spraying of counter-drugs peak before the final break?
In focus: Feminist campaigns to shape politics
March 8th is International Women's Day, usually marked by protests across Latin America. While these are likely to be smaller this year due to the pandemic, feminist mobilizations are currently playing an important role in domestic politics across the region.
In Mexico, the president's "Achilles' heel". Mexican feminists, previously loyal to López Obrador, have loudly criticized his support for the candidacy of Félix Salgado Macedonio, who was accused of rape by two women. López Obrador called the allegations "media lynching". Hundreds of his party members, including a coalition of female party leaders, have called for Salgado's candidacy and "history" page to be removed.
"Mexico's feminists are a thorn in the side of AMLO: a unique political movement that he does not seem to understand, that he cannot control, and that he cannot suppress," wrote Denise Dresser for Americas Quarterly last October.
In Honduras, emphasis on extrajudicial executions. Feminist protests broke out after a 26-year-old nursing student, Keyla Martínez, was murdered in police custody in early February. The demands for justice related to her death caught the attention of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Amnesty International, all of whom urged Honduras to investigate the case. Allegations of femicide add to the push by some US lawmakers to sanction Honduras for human rights abuses.
Shaping the constitutional process in Chile. Thanks to feminist activism, half of the participants in a constitutional assembly to be elected in April must be women. The proposals of several feminist candidates have received attention, such as a new constitutional right to individual autonomy over the body that could pave the way for access to abortion, wrote Charis McGowan for foreign policy.
While it was former President Juan Manuel Santos who ended the practice in 2015, his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, had resorted to it in his second term, saying, "It causes complaints and provokes reactions against extermination."
Over the years, many coca growers whose crops have been fumigated have simply recreated them elsewhere. Research suggests that if the Colombian government is to sustainably reduce coca cultivation, it should focus instead on providing growers with legal economic alternatives.
That's it for this week.
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