This is the seventh in a series of updates by the AALL FCIL-SIS Latin American Law Interest Group and Latino Caucus in a project monitoring COVID-19 legal responses in the Latin America and Caribbean region. Updates will be posted every two weeks. The group also created its own website: lawlibrariansmonitoringcovid19.com. Materials from a June 18, 2020 webinar on the project will be posted on the FCIL-SIS Continuing Education Committee webpage.
Name: Ulysses N. Jaen + the Ave Maria Law School Library Team
Workplace: Director of the Law Library, Ave Maria School of Law
Countries you are monitoring: Mexico + Central America
1. What is your interest in this project?
Our team at the Ave Maria Law School Library has been researching the spread and mitigation of the Coronavirus. Therefore, we decided to divide and conquer our research for Mexico and Central America between our librarians. We are an international team: Asli Karaevli is from Turkey, Katia Tarnowicz is from Peru, Rachel Hocott and Rebekah Miller are sisters from Michigan and I, Ulysses Jaen, am from Nicaragua. We all live in South Florida which is the gateway to Latin America. Spanish is spoken here daily, and our economies are closely interconnected. We are all naturally inclined to monitoring Latin America and found this as a great opportunity to learn and share more about the area.
2. What have you noticed since the first week you began monitoring and until now?
MÉXICO. In January, the Mexican National Committee for Health Safety created a plan for how to handle COVID-19. In February, the cases of infected citizens started trickling in. March saw a large influx of confirmed cases, and a diabetic man was recorded as the first death from the virus on March 18th. April saw the first recoveries from the virus as well as an increase from 1,000 to 15,000+ cases confirmed. Mexico received medical supplies from China and the United States to aid with the increase in cases. May saw much of the same in terms of increasing infections with record highs for both contracted cases and deaths from the virus almost weekly.
Furthermore, May also brought more turbulence economically, socially, and politically in Mexico. The central bank cut its rate to the lowest since 2016, and inflation rates accelerated quicker than previously expected. That month also saw their largest trade deficit on record. Socially, many Mexicans displayed their fear of the pandemic with protests. The hospitals quickly filled up, and as COVID-19 deaths were linked with patients who had diabetes, hypertension, or obesity, concern increased because many in the Mexican population are afflicted with such diseases. For the first quarter of the year, homicides increased by 2.4% from the same quarter last year.
There were some conflicting statements made by the government’s ministries as to when the auto industry could resume. GM began reopening plants on May 21st followed by the Japanese automakers Nissan, Toyota, Honda. While Ford has reopened all four of its Mexico plants recently in June. On the other hand, as of June, the state of Puebla refused to open their auto factories for Volkswagen AG and Audi due to the pandemic conditions and fearing that the worst was yet to come. Government officials pushed to reopen the auto industry and pushed back on the ideas that the pandemic would impoverish millions and on recession forecasts. On May 18th, Mexico began reopening, and on the 28th the president declared his plans to begin international traveling despite the high record levels of COVID-19 cases. While President Obrador is still yet not taking any responsibility on the government’s underestimation of its mortality rate due to Covid-19, he is continuing on his daily attacks on the country’s press and dismissing his critics as illegitimate sources, “fake news”, calling the journalists as “criminals.”
NICARAGUA. Nicaragua is of particular interest to me. My mother is caught isolated from the rest of our family because the airlines have stopped servicing Nicaragua and the land borders are also closed off. She has been there for months and we are waiting to get her back to the USA as soon as possible. Nicaragua is also highly controversial because of its approach varying from the herd immunity theories from Sweden to flat out denial of cases even though the population is posting videos and testimonials of loved ones being lost due to COVID-19.
The Ortega government has refused to take safety measures or to acknowledge the effects of the pandemic, relying instead on mass disinformation and activities designed to portray the government as being prepared and claiming victory over the virus. On March 14, Daniel Ortega led a rally in Managua entitled “Love in the Time of Coronavirus.” His government has an ongoing campaign forcing health department workers and even teachers to go from house to house spreading their misinformation. On 03/18/2020, Nicaragua registered its first case of coronavirus infection, a 40-year-old Nicaraguan man who picked up the virus during a recent visit to Panama. The Ministry of Health (Minsa) has confirmed that Nicaragua registered its first death from coronavirus on March 26, 2020. This is the second of two patients with COVID-19 in the country as confirmed by the government. Ortega instituted an immediate burial order for all leading to the recording of “burial midnight express” incidents of relatives being buried right after passing with no wake or family visitation.
Ortega has since gone missing from the public eye for much of the past months, and has continued to refuse to impose a shelter-in-place order on the country, and to disavow any knowledge of communicable contagion in Nicaragua. However, an explosion of “pneumonia” related deaths is seen as highly suspicious by the population that insists they are in fact Coronavirus-related deaths. The Nicaragua Citizens COVID-19 Observatory, a collaborative citizens-driven initiative, reported that they have detected more than a thousand probable COVID-19 infections and almost 200 fatalities.
3. What situation are you monitoring the most?
EL SALVADOR. The first measure started even before the first COVID-19 case in this country. On January 25th, The Government designated $ 8.6 million as a preventive measure. As of January 27, thermographic cameras and infrared digital thermometers were part of the equipment with which the Salvadoran authorities seek to detect people with coronavirus symptoms who seek to enter the country through the international airport, or by sea and terrestrial.
On February 2nd, the government in El Salvador suspended activities in theaters, museums, and others that involve massive attendances. On March 3rd, there were no registered cases across the country. However, President Nayib Bukele declared a national quarantine on March 11th across the country for 21 days, massive events suspended, and the local governments unified in the measures.
Furthermore, President Bukele has disavowed the order of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, which prohibits arresting people during the quarantine of the coronavirus pandemic. Negotiations between congress and President Bukele to reinstate the quarantine measures broke down. As of May, President Bukele proposed gradual reopening of the economy starting June 6 amid the coronavirus outbreak. By June 16, the country reported more than 4,000 confirmed cases and hit a daily high of 125 new reported cases, though some believe the figures are underreported. However, some also believe that strict lockdown measures implemented in mid-March by the government of President Nayib Bukele led to the relatively low figures. However, after the president and the general assembly failed to agree on a plan in June, lockdown measures expired and contagion increased.
GUATEMALA. By the end of March, as a first measure, Guatemala tried efforts to stop all deportations of Guatemalans from the U.S. government. Locally, authorities began giving away masks and establishing ways to apply fines to people who go out without masks, up to 150 thousand quetzales.
By mid-April most of Guatemala’s 196 confirmed COVID-19 cases and five deaths had appeared in the country’s urban centers, including Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango. However, later that month, the government reported the first case of community transmission in the Maya Kaqchikel town of Patzun, some 80km (50 miles) west of Guatemala City. By the end of April, the cases increased to 500 hundred, and the president requested social distancing and lockdown measures.
PANAMÁ. On March 9th, Panama had the first confirmed case of COVID 19: a 40-year-old woman from Spain, who entered Panamanian soil without control through the Tocumen International Airport. After five days from this first case, Panama declared a State of Emergency, instituting heightened surveillance measures in place at points of entry. On April 1, the government expanded movement restrictions based on gender. In June, union workers protested the government’s plans to reopen the economy despite 22,000 active cases.
4. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I loved how Poet Gioconda Belli analogized the Nicaragua Government’s response to the outbreak as “dark magical realism”. She has stated that “Poets are revered in Nicaragua” and she believes that’s exactly what has protected her from getting in trouble. I wish that other non-democratic countries also had shields against the “villains of poetry” who continue being strong critiques of governmental oppression.
Furthermore, the countries in Central America are working together as one through the Regional Contingency Plan against Coronavirus denominated by The Central American Integration System (SICA in Spanish). Each country was granted $1 million to each of the member countries of SICA, which has already been requested by Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Belize. The resilient characteristics from the people in Latin American countries facing massive food shortages, and historical economic contractions inspires us all.