This week’s digest is a little shorter than previous weeks’ as there is less COVID-19 news than usual. In addition to the light coronavirus coverage, this week’s edition includes information on Mexican tourism and the ongoing fires in the Amazon region.
Last week, Latin America passed another unfortunate milestone, becoming the world’s region with the largest number of COVID-19 deaths. While the number of infections surpassed all other regions earlier, as detailed in last week’s digest, the number of deaths from the virus had stayed just behind that of Europe. But as August got underway, that statistic also changed, as Latin America and the Caribbean has reported 213,120 fatalities from COVID-19, 460 more than Europe.1 This development comes as some Caribbean observers note the disparity in gross case numbers and per capita infection rates when comparing Caribbean nations to Latin American countries. Particularly in the tourism and hospitality industry, Caribbean representatives note that their home has not faced as many infections or deaths. Karolin Troubetzkoy, president of the St Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association, stated, “It concerns me greatly that the Caribbean is continuously thrown into the same pot with Latin America. As we know, COVID-19 cases have spiked in Latin America but not the Caribbean.”2 More than a dozen countries in the Caribbean have recorded fewer than 100 cases, and while their populations remain lower, the per capita infection rate in the Caribbean is substantially lower than that of Latin America, where numbers are inflated by Brazil’s and Mexico’s case totals.
The coronavirus pandemic has also forced changes to a ride-sharing service’s Latin American business model. Uber, which promises its users low fares by outsourcing rides to contracted drivers instead of utilizing vetted and certified taxi drivers, is exploring the taxi model as the pandemic worsens in Latin America. The service Uber provides is often unregulated, but as the pandemic forces changes to how people interact with one another and what types of activities are allowed, the company’s drivers have been more susceptible to interference by local law enforcement. Instead of continuing to place drivers and riders in potentially unsafe conditions, Uber is pivoting to a taxi-like model, with certifications and licenses required for its drivers in Santiago, Chile, and São Paulo, Brazil.3 It remains to be seen if these requirements will spread to other locations or if they will be permanent features in their current markets.
The Mexican tourism industry weathered multiple storms in the last week as an official government website had a translation fiasco and advertisements were pulled from the air. VisitMexico.com, the English-translated version of the country’s tourism website, featured translated pages that also changed the names of cities—some simple literal translations, with others being changed to something entirely different. Puerto Escondido became “Hidden Port,” which is the literal translation of the city’s name, but other cities were not so fortunate—Ciudad Madero, for instance, became “Log.” The Tourism Department quickly issued apologies and noted that it had filed a criminal complaint, opening questions about how such errors came to be represented on a nation’s official tourism page. This news came fast on the heels of the removal of multiple ads for the city of Acapulco. While the city has been hit hard by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and has implemented many protections, such as closing nightclubs, until August 6 video ads showed visitors to the city engaging in mask-less activities, attending nightclubs, and living a “no rules” lifestyle, as highlighted by the ads’ narrator. Noting that the ads were not appropriate for the current health climate, officials removed the ads last week.4
Finally, the wildfires in the Amazon and Pantanal continue to rage. As detailed in the July 27 digest, the regions are home to annual sporadic fires that cause significant damage to biodiversity and ecological systems. In 2019 and 2020, however, the fires have been far larger and more damaging than in years past, continuing despite military intervention and stricter laws against fires in the regions.5 Nearly a decade ago, the future of the Amazon seemed promising, as the Brazilian government brought deforestation to record lows in 2012. But in the last few years, fueled by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s climate change skepticism, the burning of the Amazon has returned to high levels. While the exact causes of this year’s increased fires remain up for debate—with speculators, indigenous peoples, and migrant workers blamed by different groups—the destruction continues. Military units dispatched to the region have been unable to stop or slow the spread of the fires, which typically reach their most intense levels in August and September.