Latin America’s political narratives are moving on from coronavirus
...but the pandemic is not done impacting Latin America
Source: Our World in Data
Some points from the chart above:
Latin America is right around day 200 since coronavirus cases began to spread in the region. Even though the region is almost seven months into the pandemic, I still estimate that the region is a minimum ten months away from having a majority of its population vaccinated (and it may take much longer). That means we’re less than halfway through this crisis.
There are over 350,000 people dead, about a third of the global total. At least an additional 1,500 people are dying daily.
In terms of new cases, most countries have peaked, declined slightly, and then plateaued. The region never saw the sharp declines that were seen in Europe, which is now experiencing a renewed rise in cases.
Some of that plateau effect is real and some of it may be due to limits in testing. The high rates of positive tests in Argentina, Colombia and Mexico signal that not enough tests are being done to capture all the cases. In Mexico, the lack of tests in part of the strategy.
Of the largest countries in the region, Argentina is the major exception as cases have continued to rise in recent weeks. Venezuela’s statistics remain less trustworthy than elsewhere and the country continues to experience severe outbreaks that are being covered up.
The political narrative has moved on
This past week I noticed that I didn’t write a newsletter specifically about coronavirus during the entire month of September. Coronavirus is still here, but over the past six weeks or so, the political narratives of the region have begun to move on.
To be fair, September and October have been busy. Bolivia has a presidential election. Chile has a constitutional referendum. Venezuela is protesting a lack of food and fuel while arguing over the legitimacy of their upcoming legislative elections. Peru tried to impeach their president and has an election next year. Ecuador is also beginning a presidential election campaign. Colombia had a series of protests and more protests scheduled for later this month. Protests in Costa Rica stalled economic reforms. Feminists are protesting AMLO’s policies in Mexico. Argentina’s currency is collapsing (again).
One thing that means is that the brief moment in which every country was focused on the same shared challenge has gone away. It’s a lost opportunity. The largest countries of the region (the United States, Brazil and Mexico) that should have led a regional response have done the worst. Nearly every country has chosen to close its own borders and act independently rather than collaboratively. As political systems refocus on specific domestic challenges, it will become harder to build regional cooperation on a coordinated response and vaccination program.
What shocks may still come from Covid?
The region may want to move on from the pandemic but as the chart I showed at the start of this newsletter shows, the pandemic isn’t done with the region.
Even though it’s not the top headline in most of the region’s newsletters, the pandemic remains front and center in the minds of many of the region’s citizens. It continues to impact health systems, economies and poll numbers. Hospitalization rates remain well above their levels in March for most of the region. Traffic remains down across many of the region’s cities. Jobs are lost and businesses have been shut down and it could take months or years for those economic numbers to return.
Even though the countries of the region are unlikely to ever focus as a group on the pandemic at the same time, it’s likely that individual countries may face shocks from Covid in the coming months. The upcoming shocks probably won’t be surprising and will look a lot like the ones that have already been faced. Here are four that are very predictable and I’ve written about in recent months:
A new rise in cases causes hospital systems to be overwhelmed. Political leaders will face pressure to not lock down and populations are tired of quarantine measures, meaning that a sudden spike in cases will be harder to halt.
High profile government or business leaders will catch the virus. Several presidents and cabinet ministers have already caught Covid, but most remain uninfected. As people become less vigilant about health safety and return to focusing on other issues,
Corruption cases will hit political systems. Pandemic-related contracts continue and investigative journalists are digging into how they are awarded. Populations will be less forgiving of politicians attempting to use “emergency measures” as an excuse as this crisis drags on for more months.
Protests are likely due to previous grievances combined with an increase in poverty and hunger caused by the pandemic-induced recession. Protests in Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Mexico over the past month were caused by very different local conditions, but should suggest to analysts that a renewed wave of protests is likely to hit.
Thanks for reading
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