SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CN) — While Mexico, Brazil and Nicaragua disregard the World Health Organization’s recommendations, the rest of Latin America has closed airports and land borders to everyone except citizens trying to return.
Last week a rock music concert drew more than 120,000 to Mexico City to enjoy Guns ‘n’ Roses and other acts. President Manuel López Obrador claims the virus is overrated and promotes business as usual.
President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil is the leading denialist in the Americas, now that President Trump has changed his tune. Bolsonaro still attends rallies and discounts the threat of Covid-19.
“The people will soon see that they were tricked by these governors and by the large part of the media when it comes to coronavirus,” Bolsonaro said in a nationally broadcast TV interview Sunday night, even as his own health officials announced 25 deaths and 1,546 cases of coronavirus in Brazil, and though 20 of his aides have tested positive after returning from the Trump country club in Florida.
Bolsonaro blasted the governors of major Brazilian states, including São Paulo and Río de Janeiro for imposing strict measures to try to control what he described as “a little flu.”
Echoing the claims that his North American counterpart had to abandon as Covid-19 spread across all 50 U.S. states, Bolsonaro said: “It is a shameless campaign, a colossal and absurd campaign against the head of state. … They want to force me out however possible.”
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, called on supporters to rally and show their faith that the coronavirus will never prevail because God is on their side.
God could not be reached for comment.
The rest of Latin America has responded to the crisis with closed borders, closed airports and radical limitations on civil liberties. Some countries have forbidden all travel or severely limited movement between cities.
Some have declared nighttime curfews, during which all cars and people cannot move. Latin America has not faced a crisis of such magnitude since the neo-Fascist dictatorships of the 1980s, the Great Depression of the 1930s, or, some say, since the arrival of the Europeans nearly 600 years ago.
No Latin American country has a fraction of the hospital facilities they will soon need for the pandemic. Mexico particularly especially is woefully unprepared. Doctors this week picketed hospitals in Mexico City, with signs protesting a dearth of supplies and lack of preparation for the growing crisis.
El Salvador has adopted the most comprehensive policies to slow the pandemic. Its international airport has been closed and Salvadorans returning home are required to submit to mandatory quarantine for 30 days when they arrive at land borders. They are not allowed to return to their homes during the 30 days.
Everyone in El Salvador has been ordered to remain at home for 30 days. One person per household may leave the house once a day to find food and medicine. Heavily armed soldiers and police forces on the streets enforce the quarantine — a chilling reminder, for an entire generation, of the worst days of the Salvadoran civil war.
People who are found on the streets for any other reason are to be detained in quarantine centers for 30 days. Homeless people are being sent to hotels for the duration of the crisis.
Salvadoran President Naybi Bukele’s still-popular government has made arrangements to cover hotel costs at reduced rates as nearly all hotels are empty, according to the daily newspaper La Prensa Gráfica.
Despite the Draconian forced lockdowns, most Salvadorans support the radical measures. Images from Spain and Italy have persuaded people to self-isolate and the normally crowded streets in the mainland Western Hemisphere’s most densely populated nation are virtually empty, in accordance with the mandates.
The government has promised to give each household $300 per month until the crisis subsides and has ordered price freezes on food.
The money is needed immediately, as half the country survives by street-selling and has no savings.
Economic activity in Latin America has collapsed, as in most rest of the world. Virology experts predict at least six months of mass disease and death. So despite its late arrival to the Southern Hemisphere of the Americas, the continent will soon be in the same boat as the rest of the world. Demonstrations denouncing government corruption and demanding human rights in Chile, Colombia and Ecuador have been canceled or postponed, as the virus makes it risky to gather.
Courthouse News correspondent Miguel Patricio is based in El Salvador.