Will Latin American Civil Rights Be a Casualty of Coronavirus?

Protesters in many countries may find themselves facing down state forces with extralegal powers and a muzzled press.


Sixteen Latin American countries severely restricted their borders in mid-March, creating a physical firewall against the coronavirus that they hope will allow them to avoid the fate of countries such as Italy, Spain, and the United States. Nine nations—Honduras, Colombia, Suriname, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina—have closed their borders completely, leaving many travelers and foreign citizens trapped for the foreseeable future.

The most dramatic closure occurred in Colombia, which for years had maintained an open border with Venezuela amid the worst refugee crisis in modern Latin American history. Since 2015, over 6 million Venezuelans have fled their collapsing state, mostly through Colombia, where 1.7 million have taken up permanent residency. That is no longer a legal option, and the closure has put millions along the Colombian-Venezuelan border at the mercy of armed gangs who control informal smuggling paths.

"We have no choice," an immigration official told Reason in March. "Colombia is not a rich country. If Italy and the U.S. can't handle the virus, how can we?"

"I am a strong critic of the authoritarian government" of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, says Jihan Simon Hasbun, a doctor and political activist in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. "But our health system almost collapsed under a dengue [fever] outbreak last year. Coronavirus is much more contagious and statistically much more deadly." At the same time, Hasbun believes Hernández is using the COVID-19 outbreak to distract from accusations of government corruption and drug trafficking and to quash protests against privatization of the medical sector.

Honduras isn't the only country in the region taking advantage of the crisis. In the latest of a series of eyebrow-raising authoritarian actions, the unelected interim government of Bolivia indefinitely postponed national elections that were scheduled for May 3. In Colombia, the government's response to prisoners who rioted out of fear of infection left 23 people dead.

The mandatory national lockdowns in 12 countries, which allow citizens to leave their houses only to buy food or medicine, have been enforced with fines, arrests, and even deportations. In Ecuador, the military was put in charge of quarantine enforcement for an entire city. Meanwhile, the sudden halt in economic activity has left millions of working-class citizens across the region unemployed—people who were already living day-to-day with no savings and few options.

Free speech and civil institutions can be effective at preventing governments from abusing power, yet some Latin American leaders are taking steps to silence critics. In Honduras, the government passed an emergency measure that temporarily suspended constitutional protections of free speech. On March 25, the Bolivian government announced a decree that allows the imprisonment for up to 10 years of those who "misinform" or "promote noncompliance" with government regulation. The nonprofit Human Rights Watch says the decree is intentionally vague and could be used to prosecute political opponents and journalists.

In Venezuela, protests by hungry citizens have spread to 15 cities and have been put down violently by state forces. Freelance journalist Darvinson Rojas was arrested by the Special Action Forces (FAES) and imprisoned for his coverage of the coronavirus crisis and local press has covered half a dozen instances of journalists being intimidated since lockdown began. On April 6, FAES arrested Luis Serrano, a civil assemblyman who had been tasked by Congress with choosing members of the next national election oversight board, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group. FAES seized masks and protective gear that Serrano's organization, Redes Ayuda, had donated to journalists covering COVID-19 and detained politicians who'd contradicted the government's official coronavirus statistics.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has claimed that the press is trying to destroy his presidency through misinformation. He used the crisis as justification to abolish freedom of information legislation, preventing journalists and nongovernmental organizations from obtaining public health data. Fortunately, the executive order was quickly struck down by Brazil's Supreme Court. "This is a continuation of a pattern of [Bolsonaro's] attacks on the bodies that limit presidential power," says Camila Asano, program coordinator of the Brazilian human rights organization Conectas. "He is using the crisis to silence critics and those he perceives as enemies."

In 2019, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia were all criticized by the United Nations for violently repressing protests. If civil unrest flares up again during the current state of emergency, protesters in many countries may find themselves facing down state forces with extralegal powers and a muzzled press.

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    1. My last pay test was $9500 operating 12 hours per week on line. my sisters buddy has been averaging 15k for months now and she works approximately 20 hours every week.ASd i can not accept as true with how easy it become as soon as i tried it out.

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  1. So, as it always was.

    1. Are you implying that Latin American countries are shit holes?

      1. Only the good ones have risen that far.

  2. After decade after decade of watching protestors marching in the streets, you’ll excuse me for viewing anything that gets them off of the streets as a Good Thing. Fuck the protestors.

  3. Bold of you to assume that the LA’s had any civil rights in the first place.

    But in other news, how about Atlanta, huh?

    1. Hot Atlanta?

    2. Which part, darkflame? The idiotic charging of two officers, before the GBI finished their investigation, and without an indictment for either? Further, that the DA claimed the taser fired by Brooks wasn’t a deadly weapon, at the same time his office has pursued charges against six separate officers for using tasers against protesters/rioters, claiming they were deadly weapons.

      Or a good chunk of APD officers walking of the job last night? AIUI, Atlanta is divided into 6 zones for the purpose of police administration. Last night, I read that in 4 of the 6 zones, officers walked off the job, and in 2 of those zones, it was a majority of the officers.

      I don’t blame the cops at all.

      1. The officers not showing up bit. Also the suburbs/surrounding area told Atlanta to go screw itself, they weren’t gonna help out either. And quite frankly, I don’t blame them one bit, any cop still on station is a moron. If they can get the death penalty for defending themselves, then they literally are unable to do their job, and there’s no point going out there. It’s coming up on the weekend, and quite a few people are getting tomorrow off due to companies trying to be woke, if they keep staying off the job, Atlanta’s gonna have a real hot weekend. Maybe if we’re lucky, someone will go find the mayor and explain to her with a bat why her actions are bad, and she should feel bad. (For legal purposes that’s a joke)

        1. They’ll still get cops to show up. It just won’t be the kind of cops you’d want to see. Those left after this aren’t going to do a damn thing that might involve confrontation of a black suspect. People in Atlanta will be lucky if they even get as much policing as ‘smiling and waving’. The powers that be have made it clear what the new rules are going to be. Frankly, I expect the Guard to be called out this weekend.

          The D.A. here is a historic piece of shit, who: has a couple of past and present sex harrassment cases against him, is being looked at for misappropriating 140K from a non-profit he was affiliated with, and is supposedly in a nasty primary fight. Trying to stand on the bodies of two white cops to keep his neck out of the rising cesspool, is something completely understandable for him to do.

          Glad I don’t live there, but I am concerned that my own city’s DA and civic leaders will think that this kind of prosecution is a good idea.

          Aside, I haven’t watched network news for awhile now, and today I’m stuck in a waiting room with CBS News blaring. When did network news turn completely into a race-baiting, orange man bad, propaganda fest? It’s like they decided to model their presentation after the fictional news broadcasts from dystopian movies.

          1. The Democrats who run Atlanta have had around 40 years to get their police under control, just like they’ve had that time to reduce poverty and Black on black homicides. Strange how they never can.

      2. If officers are protesting because one of their coworkers is being charged in court for killing a citizen while he was running away, then good riddance. Those are the types of officers we don’t want.

        1. Maybe you should watch the actual video instead of just reading headlines. It was a justified shooting. Brookes was shooting the tazer at the cop.

          1. Don’t bother. chemjeff is a sovereign citizen who refuses to obey lawful commands from police.

          2. I wouldn’t say it was necessary or 100% justified. It does seem to fit standard police training and reasonable excuse to use force. It’s definitely worth a department discipline review and possible manslaughter charges

      3. My friends are in a still gentrifying area of zone 6.
        Really nice house.
        I stayed there this weekend.
        Saturday, I watched a procession of 100 or so activists march up the street. 12 hours later, we were awoken by a brief gunfight.
        3 people were shot, but none died.
        I’m a little worried about them.

  4. So the cure is worse than the disease?

    1. “The cure is worse than the disease” is about the best summation of 2020 there could be.

      1. Could be a bumper sticker, John. 8-(

        1. Yes it could and probably should be.

          2020 The Cure Is Worse Than The Disease

          1. Quick! To market!

            (Along with “Cthulhu 2020”.)

  5. Considering the fact that in large parts of the US it is illegal to hold a church service or any public gathering over 10 people except protests with a message approved by the local officials, I am more worried about the death of civil rights here. No offense against Latin America but my own civil rights are of more immediate concern.

    1. Yep, this.

    2. If we don’t fight totalitarianism abroad, we’ll fight totalitarianism at home!

      1. We’ll bitch about totalitarianism abroad (unless it’s China), we’ll make excuses for it at home!

  6. “If Italy and the U.S. can’t handle the virus, how can we?”

    The world community thanks you, Colombia, for your herd immunity clinical trial!

    1. Italy cannot handle the virus. The US could handle it just fine if it had chosen to do so. Instead, our state and local officials chose use the virus to do as much damage to the country as humanly possible because Orange Man Bad.

      1. officials chose use the virus to do as much damage to the country as humanly possible

        Got proof?

        1. I can’t read their minds. So, it is possible they are really that stupid and just meant well. Whether they are stupid or malevolent makes no difference, however, since their actions would be identical in either case.

        2. I mean, Whitmer and Cuomo ordered sick people into nursing homes, which by itself is a stupid fucking idea, but Whitmer then double-downed and renewed the order after data came out showing that their actions were killing people. She only rescinded it after public outcry became too great, that sounds like purposeful damage to me.

          Plus also, you know, we have the whole “you’re terrorists if you want to go outside or if you work, or if you are driving alone, but if you come out in mobs and riot, or burn down businesses, or assault people, then that’s alright and you get a magic virus pass. Sounds to me like they don’t really care about the virus, and more about killing the economy there.

          1. Fair observations, J and d.

  7. Not shocked. It’s a perfect excuse. You can’t gather because gatherings will “Kill Grandma!” Won’t be surprised if this gets used as an excuse to disband unwanted protests in the future.

    1. Is the inference then, that the Floyd protests were ‘wanted’?

      I have completely lost any patience or understanding for any public health caterwauling about this bug. They didn’t say a thing when crowds in the tens of thousands gathered in the middle of the street, repeatedly over several days. But now, people need to stay away from each other and businesses can’t fully reopen?

      No. Absolutely not, you tyrants. Keep fucking with people just trying to make a living, and we’ll eventually rediscover our cultural memory of what we do to tyrants.

      1. They talked about the protests. Thousands of health officials said the protesters and riots were good for public health

      2. Plenty of people have been talking about how these mass protests are not good when it comes to public health.

        See for example:

        1. >The Atlantic
          Why not just post articles from Haaretz and Jacobin?

      3. “Is the inference then, that the Floyd protests were ‘wanted’?”

        the economy was doing incredibly well and unemployment was at historic lows. As a sitting president seeking reelection Trump couldn’t have hoped for better. The Democrats desperately needed something to tank the economy. The virus and lockdowns were a godsend in that respect. The Floyd protests and riots were just icing on the cake, but of course they wouldn’t have had the scope of impact that they did if they weren’t preceded by 3 months of economic shutdown and 30 million people losing their jobs

        Now that Democrats know that people won’t stand for the lockdowns anymore, the protests and riots are the best way to keep Trump looking bad and to slow economic recovery

      4. Is the inference then, that the Floyd protests were ‘wanted’?

        I wasn’t thrilled with Roger Waters leaving the group, but I didn’t throw a cinder block through a Starbucks window when it happened.

        1. Nor I. Relistening to them though…wow. A lot less profound than I thought they were when I was 17.

          Still beautiful music though, and I’ve grown to like Animals a lot more now than I did when I was younger.

  8. It is more danger and disease disease can spread fast.

  9. Protesters in many countries may find themselves facing down state forces with extralegal powers and a muzzled press.

    So kind of like New Jersey.

    1. I don’t live in NJ, but if the press there is like the press here (MN), it isn’t muzzled at all — it enthusiastically applauds all the authoritarian measures and vituperates against the dissenters.

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