While pandemic news remains relevant and important, there are several more news items this week, from fields as disparate as contemporary politics and historical slavery. In this week’s digest, we’ll look at COVID-19 updates, the Peruvian impeachment process, and a unique discovery off the coast of Mexico.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, many parts of Latin America have reopened economies and begun a transition back to normalcy. While the region has enacted long and stringent lockdowns, the number and rate of cases remains high; World Health Organization leaders are asking national officials not to relax restrictions before COVID-19 is under control in their countries. According to the WHO’s Regional Director, Carissa Etienne, rates of both infection and death are still rising in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and parts of Argentina and Mexico.1 Evidence that a cluster of cases can become a national spike in a matter of days can be seen in the fact that Latin America already accounts for roughly a third of the cases and deaths caused by COVID-19 globally.2
There are political news items from multiple countries this week, as both Haiti and Peru face legislative and administrative decisions. In Haiti, President Jovenel Moise has tapped a nine-person committee to oversee upcoming elections and design a referendum regarding the powers of the country’s executive branch. Moise has come under fire in recent months for failing to stamp out corruption in his country, and he has responded with a call for strengthened presidential powers in order to achieve his goals.3 However, critics fear that a stronger executive will bring back the days of the Duvalier family’s ironclad rule over the country—a major reason for the weakening of the executive branch in the late 20th century. Elections have not yet been scheduled for the country; speculation exists that the referendum will be completed before elections occur, but that has not been confirmed.
In Peru, meanwhile, the impeachment saga of President Martín Vizcarra has come to an end—at least for now. For more information on the background of the impeachment proceedings, check out last week’s digest. Vizcarra faced a vote last Friday that could have removed him from office. However, in the end, less than a third of the country’s 125 legislators voted to remove him, with 78 voting against the motion and 15 abstaining. Removal from office required a two-thirds majority vote. Still, Vizcarra’s position is tenuous, as lawmakers continued to blast his record and show concern over the mismanagement of government funds; the failure to remove him from office seems to be chalked up more to a desire for stability and less to a belief in Vizcarra’s competence. Said Francisco Sagasti, one of the “no” voters, “It’s not the moment to proceed with an impeachment which would add even more problems to the tragedy we are living.”4 Time will tell if the people’s faith in Vizcarra changes in the coming months.
International relations remain a key focus as well. Uruguay, which has handled the pandemic well and limited the spread of COVID-19 within its borders, has seen a large influx of people seeking refuge—and permanent citizenship. Most notably, Argentinians seem to be flocking to their northeastern neighbor in droves, with wealthy Argentine citizens now comprising a shockingly large proportion of the Uruguayan population. In the last six months, some 15,000 to 20,000 Argentinians have moved to Uruguay, roughly equivalent to 0.6% of Uruguay’s 3.5 million population.5 Uruguay is offering its new residents decade-long tax holidays and encouraging migration, which is aided by the country’s high standard of living and excellent coronavirus response. After the pandemic is handled worldwide, it will be worth monitoring to see if these new Uruguayans return to their original homes or stay in their new country.
Finally, a news item comes from Mexico, where a historical relic has been identified definitively. A shipwreck found in 2017 off the Yucatan Peninsula has been confirmed as a steamboat known as La Unión, which wrecked in 1861.6 The ship was known to be a slave trade vessel—it carried a about 25 enslaved Mayans to Cuba every month, where the people would be forced to work on sugarcane plantations. According to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, it is the first wreck ever discovered and confirmed to be a Mayan slave ship. Despite Mexico outlawing slavery in 1829, the kidnapping and deportation of Mayan people continued for decades, with victims being sold into slavery in Cuba and other Spanish holdings. La Unión sank after an explosion in its boiler room, which killed half of the 80 crew members and 60 passengers on board. It is unclear how many Mayans were killed in the explosion and sinking, as these people were on the manifest as cargo, not as human passengers.