In what will be a recurring theme, there are plenty of news items from Latin America this week. Below are a few highlights from media coverage throughout the region.
COVID-19 was slower to spread to and through Latin America than North America and Europe, but the peoples and countries of the region are now facing the pandemic in full. The lack of direct air travel between infected countries like China and Italy prevented the first wave from reaching much of Central and South America immediately, but the second wave of the virus has arrived in these countries with a vengeance. Indeed, several countries in South America now face some of the highest rates of infection in the world. Peru and Chile find themselves among the 10 countries with the most cases in the world, despite neither being in the top 40 most populous countries.1 Meanwhile, Brazil’s rate of infection has climbed steadily in recent weeks, with nearly two million confirmed cases in the country. Death totals due to COVID-19 in Brazil are also high, with some 70,000 Brazilians dead of the virus since February and more than 1,000 deaths daily for the last week.2
Complicating the response to COVID-19, especially in the Caribbean, is the arrival of hurricane season. While the pandemic arrived later in the Caribbean than in mainland North America, the region’s popularity among tourists and lack of stockpiled medical equipment meant that the Caribbean would not stay isolated for long.3 The Commonwealth of Nations, an affiliation of 54 countries (mostly former British colonies) notes that pandemic response will soon by complicated by other factors; Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland highlights a loss in travel/tourism revenue and the impending extreme weather season as dangers for Caribbean nations.4 “The Caribbean is facing not only COVID-19, but the fact that when the new hurricane season hits…their economy will be greatly weakened, and we are looking at some of the most heavily indebted countries in the world. And this debt hasn’t come about because of their fiscal ineptitude—it has come about because they have had to respond to climatic and other events like the pandemic which are beyond their control.” Typically, hurricane season lasts from the start of June until the start of December, and the United States National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted “above-normal activity” for the 2020 season. Given the uncertainty and destruction caused by COVID-19, it remains to be seen how the Caribbean will respond to further crises.
Goya Foods items—from beans and seasonings to frozen meals and ready-to-eat snacks—can be found on supermarket shelves throughout the United States. Goya prides itself on being “the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the United States,” but many Hispanic Americans are taking umbrage at recent remarks from the head of the company.5 Chief Executive Robert Unanue attended and spoke at a White House event ramping up support among Hispanic voters, stating, “we are all truly blessed … to have a leader like President Trump.” However, many Americans have criticized Trump for his politics and rhetoric that make frequent targets of the Hispanic community. When announcing his bid for president in 2015, he took a hardline anti-immigration stance when he proclaimed, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”6 Trump received further criticism for his handling of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the American territory of Puerto Rico while the White House seemed not to respond to the crisis. Following the announcement of a death toll of 2,975 on the island, Trump praised his administration, stating, “I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful… It was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done.”7 Prominent Latinx Americans Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (U.S. House of Representatives) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) have spoken against Unanue’s recent comments and begun a boycott of Goya’s products, which have also been supported by non-Latinos like Chrissy Teigen (model and author) and James Beard Award winner Michael W. Twitty (The Cooking Gene).8
One of the many Brazilians with COVID-19 is the country’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro.9 In the several weeks before he tested positive for the virus, Bolsonaro downplayed the severity of the pandemic and mocked preventative measures such as the wearing of masks. According to reports, just days before his positive test, Bolsonaro used a homophobic slur to describe those who chose to wore masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.10 The pandemic skeptic and self-described “proud homophobe” has neither confirmed nor denied his use of the slur, but has announced that he is being treated with hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug touted by Donald Trump as preventing the spread of COVID-19.11, 12 Bolsonaro’s hesitancy in addressing the pandemic within Brazil, as well as his embrace of a medication that lacks proven effectiveness, is not surprising given his close ties to Trump. The two visited together at a Trump property earlier this year, and the pair have implemented similar responses to the pandemic, including voicing skepticism about public health officials, expressing a desire to leave the World Health Organization, and emphasizing safeguarding their nations’ economies even at the cost of citizens’ lives.13 In addition, Bolsonaro has joined with Trump in rejecting notions of manmade climate change, with the Brazilian government allowing massive swaths of the Amazon rain forest to be slashed and burned. At the time of publication, Bolsonaro reported that he was feeling well despite the virus and that his wife and her two daughters had tested negative for COVID-19.