INTL Latin America and the Islands: Politics, Economics, and Military- July 2020

Plain Jane

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June's thread:

Main Coronavirus Thread beginning page 1264:

JUNE 30, 2020 / 3:26 PM / UPDATED 4 HOURS AGO
Mexican prosecutors seek arrests of 46 officials in student disappearance probe


MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican prosecutors have requested 46 arrest orders for public officials over charges of forced disappearance and organized crime as part of a renewed probe into the disappearance of 43 student teachers, the attorney general said on Tuesday.

The warrants are for officials from Guerrero state, where the students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College disappeared in a 2014 case that became a crisis for the administration of then-President Enrique Pena Nieto and triggered international outrage.

Authorities under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took a renewed push at solving the case, after independent experts picked holes in the official version. Beyond a single bone fragment, the students’ remains were never found.

Attorney General Alejandro Gertz said the new probe, which on Monday led to the arrest of a leader from a Guerrero gang accused of involvement in the disappearance, opened up new theories overriding what the past administration dubbed the “historical truth.”

“All of the proceedings undertaken during this new investigation period... have let us establish a chronology of what happened, as well as the participation of those who committed these crimes,” Gertz told reporters. “The historical truth is finished.”

Remains found during the current administration’s probe have been sent to Austria’s University of Innsbruck for analysis, and Gertz said he hoped to provide more information at the end of the week. He added he expected to soon press charges against public officials of various ranks.

An Interpol red notice issued in March for the arrest of Tomas Zeron, a former official who has been accused of manipulating the probe, is still active along with warrants for other former officials, he added.

Zeron, who has denied wrongdoing, had fled the country, Gertz said. He also accused former investigators of violations and missteps in handling of the case, including torture, arbitrary arrests and hiding evidence.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Diego Ore; Editing by Aurora Ellis
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Plain Jane

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JUNE 30, 2020 / 5:39 PM / UPDATED 13 HOURS AGO
Peru's biggest LGBTQ nightclub reopens as grocery store to survive pandemic


LIMA (Reuters) - As Peru begins to ease its strict coronavirus lockdown, the country’s biggest LGBTQ nightclub opened its doors on Tuesday, but there will be no nighttime revelers; its dance floor will instead be filled with shelves stocked with groceries.

Instead of slinging cocktails at the bar or dancing on stage, ValeTodo Downtown’s famed staff of drag queens will sell customers daily household products as the space reopens as a market while nightclubs are ordered to remain closed.

The Peruvian government will lift the lockdown in most regions of the country at the beginning of July, but will keep borders closed, as well as nightclubs and bars.

The lockdown has been a struggle for the club’s 120 employees like drag queen Belaluh McQueen. Her life completely changed when the government announced the quarantine. Her nights were spent at home, rather than performing as a dancer at the club in vivid-colored costumes.

“I was very depressed because I have been doing this art for years, but you have to adapt to new challenges for the future,” said McQueen, who is identified by her stage name.

Now McQueen is back to work as a grocery store employee, wearing a sequined suit, high heels and a mask. A DJ will play club music as patrons shop.

“We have a new job opportunity,” McQueen added.

Renamed as Downtown Market, the club, which has been a mainstay hallmark of the local LGBTQ community, ushered in its reopening with an inauguration ceremony.

“Before, I used to come here to dance and have a good time, but now we come to buy,” said Alexandra Herrera, a regular attendee of the club. “The thing is to reinvent yourself.”

The club’s general manager, Claudia Achuy, said that the pandemic impacted the heart of Lima night life, but she chose to reopen as a market rather than risk cutting staff.

If we had just stayed as a nightclub we did not have a close horizon or a way of working,” Achuy said.

Peru’s confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 282,364 with 9,504 associated deaths on Monday, according to government data. It has the second highest outbreak in Latin America after Brazil, according to a Reuters tally.

Reporting by Reuters TV; writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Aurora Ellis
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Plain Jane

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Paraguay controls coronavirus, while its neighbors struggle


ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — As nearby nations grapple with uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus, the poor, landlocked nation of Paraguay appears to be controlling the disease, with just a few thousand confirmed cases and a few dozen deaths.
Along with Paraguay’s relative isolation, experts credit the country with creating a network of quarantine centers in military academies, motels, and religious institutions where citizens arriving home must isolate for at least 14 days and pass two consecutive coronavirus tests before being able to move about the country freely.

A youth rests on a bed with his cellphone at school turned into a government-run shelter where citizens returning home are required by law to quarantine for two weeks and pass two consecutive COVID-19 tests, as a preventive measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, Thursday, June 24, 2020. The youth said he was quarantined for 70 total days before he left. As nearby nations grapple with uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus, the small, poor, landlocked nation of Paraguay appears to be controlling the disease, with just a few thousand confirmed cases and a few dozen deaths. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

A youth living in quarantine drinks "mate," a traditional herbal drink as he peers from the door of a gym at a school being used as a government-run shelter where citizens returning home are required by law to quarantine for two weeks and pass two consecutive COVID-19 tests, as a preventive measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

A woman in quarantine looks through the window to watch members of the National Mechanism to Prevent Torture (MNPT) visiting a school turned into a government-run shelter where citizens returning home are required by law to quarantine for two weeks and pass two consecutive COVID-19 tests as a preventive measure amid the COVID-19 in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, Thursday, June 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

With only 7 million people, a stagnant economy, high poverty and a weak public health system, Paraguay moved to slow coronavirus in March by closing borders and imposing the quarantine restrictions, along with closing schools and public events and declaring a nighttime curfew.

Some 8,500 have passed through the quarantine system already, some complaining about poor food and housing and the requirements that the 14-day clock starts again for everyone in a shelter if one person tests positive for the coronavirus. There are also complaints of delays from many of the 15,000 Paraguayans still waiting outside the country in neighboring nations like Brazil and Argentina.

“It was a horrible experience the entire time,” said a 21-year-old who insisted on speaking anonymously out of fear of being discriminated against for having been infected. “There were 100 men together in my (quarantine) center, of all ages. When I arrived home my mother was excited to see me but didn’t touch me. She first disinfected me all over with alcohol and a home remedy. I bathed and only then did she hug me.”

A young man talks on his cellphone in the patio area of a school being used as a government-run shelter where citizens returning home are required by law to quarantine for two weeks and pass two consecutive COVID-19 tests, as a preventive measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)<

Paraguay built two hospitals to handle a possible surge in coronavirus cases, but a recent visit by an Associated Press journalist showed both are empty, which authorities cited as evidence of their success in slowing the spread of the virus.

“Striking a balance is a great challenge for the government,′ presidential adviser Federico González said. “The shelters are full and the population is safe.″

Observers worry, however, that the uncontrolled surge of cases in Brazil, many close to Paraguay’s border, means the smaller country’s success may be short-lived.

Adding to concerns are a predicted 5% drop in gross domestic product for an economy that was already struggling, and a health system that remains unprepared for a large-scale epidemic.

“I think the government’s measures have been the right ones,″ said leftist Sen. Esperanza Martínez, a former health minister. “The problem is that they haven’t been accompanied by longer-term solutions ... I think we’re going to have problems in the next months that it will be hard to reverse, and the health system isn’t prepared.”

Associated Press photojournalist Jorge Saenz reported this story in Asuncion and AP writer Andrea Rodríguez reported from Havana.

Plain Jane

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Peruvians fill streets as lockdown ends despite infections

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People wait in line for some businesses to reopen in downtown Lima, Peru, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Major cities including the capital, will begin allowing for public transportation and certain businesses to reopen, but will still restrict the movement of the elderly and young children. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Blocks-long lines formed at bus stops, food markets and shopping centers in Peru’s capital Wednesday as people left their homes en masse to go to work or shop as a 106-day coronavirus lockdown ended in many parts of the country.

For the first time in months, food vendors offered breakfasts for 50 cents from street carts covered in clear plastic in Lima’s historic center. Vendors hawked face shields and disinfectants outside crowded public markets. City workers cleaned statues with jets of water.

“God always accompanies me,” said 73-year-old newspaper deliverer Segundina Lolo when asked if she feared the virus with infection rates in the country still high and scientists warning against ending three months of strict stay-at-home orders too soon.

Peru has been hit hard by the coronavirus and is still reporting 400 new confirmed cases a day. Until recently it had been following international advice on dealing with the pandemic but the measures didn’t stop one of the world’s worst outbreaks.

The Andean country is also facing one of the worst econonic forecasts, with the World Bank projecting a 12% drop in GDP in 2020. The 106-day lockdown devastated Peru’s economy, causing thousands of businesses to go under and unemployment to soar. Many of the jobless and poor turned to selling goods in the street to survive despite the stay-at-home orders. An estimated 70% of Peru’s work force is employed in the informal economy.
President Martin Vizcarra said the goal of easing the lockdown is to “reactivate the economy” and generate jobs. Shopping centers reopened a week ago.

Vizcarra said if the virus returns in force “the most severe measure would be to resume quarantine, but it would be the last option.”

Lockdown measures have been lifted in Lima and other parts of the country where authorities say the rate of virus transmission is decreasing. But tough measures will remain in place in seven regions in central Peru where infections are on the rise.

Health Minister Víctor Zamora told the newspaper La República the lockdown that began March 16 saved 145,000 lives and prevented more than a million hospitalizations.
“It would have been a real massacre without quarantine,” Zamora said.

With more than 285,000 confirmed infections, Peru has the seventh highest case count in the world. It has reported 9,677 deaths from COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the coronavirus.

Plain Jane

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JULY 5, 2020 / 1:17 PM / UPDATED 16 HOURS AGO
China halts imports from two more Brazil meat plants amid COVID-19 concerns

Ana Mano, Jake Spring

SAO PAULO/BRASILIA (Reuters) - China has suspended imports from two Brazilian pork plants owned by meatpackers JBS SA (JBSS3.SA) and BRF SA (BRFS3.SA), according to the Chinese customs authority, as it cracks down on meat shipments amid concerns about the new coronavirus.

China is temporarily halting imports from a BRF plant in Lajeado and a JBS-owned Seara brand plant in Tres Passos, both in Brazil’s southern Rio Grande do Sul state, according to a posting dated Saturday on the General Administration of Customs China (GACC) website.
The posting, which only identified the plants by registration numbers, gives no reason for the suspension. But Brazil is reeling from the second worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world behind the United States.

China is the largest buyer of Brazilian pork, beef and chicken. It has requested that meat exporters globally certify their products are coronavirus free, which BRF, JBS and other Brazilian meatpackers have already done.

A total of six Brazil meat plants have now been blocked from exporting to China amid rising concerns over thousands of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, among slaughterhouse workers in the country.

BRF said it was not given a reason for the suspension, which it only discovered via the GACC website. But the company said it was already working with Brazilian and Chinese authorities to reestablish exports from the facility as quickly as possible.

JBS said in a statement it would not comment on the decision. It was taking various measures to ensure its food is of the highest quality and that its workers are protected, JBS said.

Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry said it would only comment after it received an official communication from China on the matter, which it has not received.

Reporting by Ana Mano and Jake Spring; Editing by Tom Brown and Daniel Wallis
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Plain Jane

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Virus fear prompts Mexican town to block road from US border

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Residents of the town of Sonoyta, across from Lukeville, Arizona, briefly blocked the main road leading south from the U.S. border over the weekend over fears of coronavirus outbreaks.

Arizona has seen a major upsurge in infections and there were worries about intensified contagion during the July 4 weekend.

The mayor of Sonoyta, José Ramos Arzate, issued a statement Saturday “inviting U.S. tourists not to visit Mexico.”

Local residents organized to block the road with their cars on the Mexican side Saturday.
Video posted by residents showed several travelers complaining that they had a right to cross because they were Mexican citizens. The road is the quickest route to the seaside resort of Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point.

Ramos Arzate wrote that people from the United States should only be allowed in “for essential activities, and for that reason, the checkpoint and inspection point a few meters from the Sonoyta-Lukeville AZ crossing will continue operating.”

“We had agreed on this in order to safeguard the health of our community in the face of an accelerated rate of COVID-19 contagion in the neighboring state of Arizona,” Ramos Arzate wrote. “It is our duty as municipal authorities to protect the health of our town.”

Mexico and the United States agreed previously to limit border crossings to essential activities, but up until this week, that had mainly been enforced for people entering the United States, not the other way.

Residents of Sonoyta demanded health checks on incoming visitors, better health care facilities and broader testing.

There has been some resentment that tourists, but not local residents, had reportedly been allowed into Puerto Peñasco, where many banks and other services are located.

In view of continued high infection rates and deaths in Mexico, some state are backpedaling on reopening businesses. For example, the Mexico City government said Sunday that more streets in the city’s colonial-era downtown would be closed to traffic but open to pedestrians.
The city already allows businesses with even-numbered addresses to open one day, and odd-numbered businesses the next.

But on Sunday the city proposed a new, voluntary measure to reduce crowds downtown: officials asked people whose last names begin with the letters A to L to shop on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those whose names begin with the letters M to Z would be encouraged to shop Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. There was no proposal to enforce the rule.


Plain Jane

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President Jair Bolsonaro Tests Positive For COVID-19: Brazilian Media
Profile picture for user Tyler Durden
by Tyler Durden
Tue, 07/07/2020 - 09:45

Brazilian media is reporting early Tuesday that President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for coronavirus, but the country and local media are still awaiting official confirmation.
CNBC reports Tuesday morning that "Brazilian news sources, including an affiliate of CNN — report that Bolsonaro has tested positive for the virus, but this has not been verified by CNBC or officially confirmed."

The prior day Bolsonaro had been feeling unwell and running a high temperature, his office said. The 65-year old leader was described by CNN as having a fever over 100 degrees, and reportedly began taking the anti-malaria pill hydroxychloroquine to help treat the virus.

He went to the hospital Monday night for a lung scan and said he would get tested for conoronavirus, results of which are expected back this morning.
As recently as this weekend he was photographed enjoying festivities with cabinet members at a July 4th gathering at the American ambassador's residence, where as is typical for Bolsonaro and his entourage, no one was wearing a mask.

The Brazilian president was siting next to US Ambassador to Brazil, Todd Chapman, during the party, raising concern. The New York Times reports the potential exposure has prompted Chapman to get tested:
Also on Monday night, the U.S. embassy signaled concern that the ambassador might have been exposed to the virus, saying that Mr. Chapman does not have any symptoms but intends to get tested and “is taking the proper precautions,” including following contact tracing protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control.
All of this comes after early in the pandemic crisis multiple aides of the Bolsonaro tested positive after a trip to meet with President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

Since then the Brazilian president has tested negative for COVID-19 three times. He's also come under intense criticism locally and internationally for a seemingly cavalier approach to the virus.

According to CNBC this instance, and with symptoms present, is enough to prompt prompt cancelling all presidential events: "Local media reported Bolsonaro has canceled all his official activities until he gets the results of his test for Covid-19."

Brazil still ranks second in the world behind the United States in both confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths.