Coronavirus generates serious political and social crisis in Central America


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Submitted by InfoBrics, authored by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro…

The situation of the global pandemic in the American continent is very well documented by the western media about the US, Brazil and Mexico, which, respectively, are the American countries most affected in the world ranking of cases and deaths. Currently, Latin America is the great global epicenter, accumulating the largest number of cases, although the US remains the country most affected by fatal cases. However, a large portion of the American continent, its central part, is still neglected by the media. In all the islands of Central America, the pandemic is spreading voraciously, seriously affecting entire nations and, consequently, triggering serious political, economic and social crises.

Panama recently became the third Central American country to lose its health minister during the pandemic. With a government reform promoted by Panamanian President Nito Cortizo, three ministers were dismissed, including Rosario Turner, the former health minister. Turner had already considered resigning, but then abandoned this idea and publicly announced that she would remain in office until the end of the pandemic. Experts say that her performance was remarkable, with a real effort to achieve good results, therefore, her dismissal is surprising and unexpected. The new minister will be Luiz Sucre, who until then had served as Turner’s deputy minister. Sucre is Cortizo’s big bet to overcome the almost irreparable ills of the pandemic in Panama, the country most affected by the coronavirus in Central America, with about 30 thousand cases and almost 600 deaths for a population of 4 million people.

Before Panama, El Salvador underwent a similar change. In late February, the country’s president, Nayib Bukele, announced the replacement of the then minister of health, Ana Orellana, by Francisco Alabi, who had also previously served as deputy minister. Unlike Turner, however, Orellana came out amid criticism for her role in fighting the pandemic, being almost unanimously considered inefficient in handling the situation. Prior to President Bukele’s decision, the National Assembly of El Salvador had already formalized a request for the replacement of Orellana, who constantly received harsh criticism for her work. El Salvador currently has more than 5,000 confirmed cases and 133 deaths, with a population of 6 million inhabitants.

Another country that replaces its health minister was Guatemala, which, on June 19, was replaced by Hugo Monroy with Amelia Flores, a renowned bacteriologist who has already announced several reforms in measures to combat the coronavirus, with a new hospital policy for carrying out basic care. Monroy also left amid criticism, being considered unfit to deal with the pandemic. One of the negative marks of his performance was the neglect of other diseases, masked by an exacerbated attention with the coronavirus, which, over time, ended up damaging the general national health situation and even increasing the cases of COVID-19. Guatemala currently has almost 16,000 confirmed cases and more than 600 deaths, with a national population of 17 million.

In several other Central American countries, although there is no flow in the position of health minister, the pandemic situation is also generating major political instabilities. In Nicaragua, for example, President Daniel Ortega has shown himself to be increasingly silent during the pandemic. The president spent 34 days “missing”, out of contact, with the country amid a serious health emergency. After reappearing, Ortega still completely ruled out the possibility of a national quarantine, claiming that the country’s economic situation does not allow such a measure. No explanation was given by the president about his disappearance. Officially, the country has already recorded 74 deaths, but the government of Daniel Ortega has already been internationally denounced for omitting cases, which leads to suspicions that the country already has hundreds of fatal cases.

In all the cases above mentioned, what we can contemplate is a scenario of political instability generated by the pandemic, as seen in most of the planet. However, when it comes to Central America, we are dealing with small and poor countries, with islands almost unfit for economic autonomy and that will need a strong help through international cooperation in the post-coronavirus world, mainly coming from the great poles of power in Latin America, Mexico and Brazil, which are the Latin countries able to exercise this regional role. However, with the serious political and economic crisis that befalls these countries, the situation becomes even more disastrous, building a scenario of low expectations for the future.

In fact, the American continent will be the most affected by the pandemic, which may even reach a status of permanent crisis, completely neutralizing the potential of these countries. Strong measures and far-reaching reforms will be needed to overcome this scenario.


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