Categories
Tech

In the 5G era, 4G still dominates in Latin America

Postponed until H1 2021, Brazil’s 5G auction — tipped to be the largest in the world — will be decisive for the provision of the technology across Latin America. However, according to data from GSMA Intelligence, even with the experimental launch of the 5G network by some commercial carriers and several trials throughout the region, it is 4G technology that is set to pave the way for connectivity in Latin America for the coming years.

“We expect 4G to be the dominant technology for many years, coexisting with the growing number of 5G connections,” estimates Alejandro Adamowicz, director of Technology and Strategic Engagement for Latin America at GSMA. [restricted]“By 2025, the share of 4G will rise to 67 percent of total connections, driven by the growing number of smartphones — the adoption of which will rise from 69 to 79 percent between 2019 and 2025.”

According to the expert, Latin America is one of the top regions in terms of traffic growth, boosted largely by video and social networking applications. “The mobile network traffic is growing at an average of 50 percent per year, and in some countries it is doubling every 12 months,” he adds.

With GSMA estimating that USD 90 billion will be injected into the region’s GDP in 10 years through productivity gains, new products and services, and technology-based exports, the 5G network promises to update the Latin American digital landscape. The technology promises to provide increased internet speeds for end users, and increase adoption by business and government sectors, developing what are called “vertical applications” such as Digital Manufacturing, Oil & Gas, Smart Grid, Mining, Health, Transport, and Smart Cities. 

“The real innovative and transformational impact of 5G on the lives of end users will come from a variety of applications that 5G will unlock and that will be delivered through a B2B2C business model: operators selling services to companies that will transform them into tangible benefits for the people.” 

Looking forward to 5G auction day

In Brazil, though the auction of 5G frequencies has yet to take place, the country’s leading telecom carriers have already announced their plans for commercial networks involving the new technology. The idea is to use dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), which would allow 5G connections on frequency bands that are already used by 4G, 3G, and 2G networks, eliminating the need to increase the spectrum. 

TIM Brazil — a Brazilian subsidiary of Telecom Italia — postponed its launch until this month, despite having announced the new service for three cities in September. Competitor Oi, on the other hand, launched its first 5G mobile internet commercial operation in capital city Brasília last week. Claro and Vivo began activating the technology in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and other state capitals back in July. 

In addition to the carriers, tech behemoth Apple also intends to surf the wave of consumer excitement around 5G. Announced on Tuesday, all models of the new iPhone 12 in the U.S. will — according to the company — support millimeter-wave 5G, the fastest variant of the technology, as well as lower-frequency bands.

Outside the country, however, the new devices will not be compatible with millimeter waves. In Brazil, as well as in other countries, iPhone 12 models will only support lower-frequency versions of 5G.

After successive postponements, the 5G auction still has no defined rules and it will be up to President Jair Bolsonaro to give the final say on whether or not Chinese giant Huawei will participate in the process

Mr. Bolsonaro is reportedly considering banning the Chinese firm from providing components for the future network in Brazil, as he “sees China as a global threat to data privacy,” according to a senior government official anonymously quoted by Bloomberg.


This article on remote work was originally published on LABS – Latin America Business Stories, a news platform covering business, technology, and society in the region for an English-speaking audience.

https://labs.ebanx.com/

[/restricted]

Categories
Latin America

Brazil-Paraguay border reopens after seven months

Connecting the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu to Paraguay’s bargain shopping paradise Ciudad del Este, the Friendship Bridge is one of the most-used bridges in South America — and the busiest of Brazil’s border crossings. Before the pandemic hit, some 100,000 pedestrians and 40,000 vehicles would cross on an average day.

A notable free-trade zone, Ciudad del Este welcomes droves of Brazilian tourists looking for tax-free goods such as perfumes, electronics, and clothing. Thousands of informal salespeople also join the throngs of shoppers, in search of cheap products they can resell in Brazil for higher prices.

But that bustling tradition of commerce ground to a halt in March, when Paraguay closed its borders to protect itself from imported coronavirus cases, blocking off the Friendship Bridge in the process. [restricted]At the time, Asunción called Brazil’s Covid-19 response “chaotic,” and Guillermo Sequera, head of the Paraguayan Health Surveillance Board, said the border would remain closed “until the wave in Brazil was over.”

Indeed, closing the border made sense, as 40 percent of all cases in Paraguay were recorded in Ciudad del Este.

Now, the Friendship Bridge is open for the first time in seven months, with Brazil showing progressively lower daily Covid-19 death numbers. For the time being, only private vehicles and cargo trucks will be able to cross between the two countries, and only between 5 am and 2 pm. On November 1, pedestrians will be allowed to use the bridge once again.

Reopening the Brazil-Paraguay border

Bridge Paraguay Brazil border
Federal Road Patrol car blocks Friendship Bridge. Photo: Arquivo/PRF

Closing the border came as a hefty blow to the Ciudad del Este economy. Revenue from commerce in the city dropped from around USD 400 million per month to just 5 percent of that. Sixty-four thousand people were left unemployed, accounting for almost half of the city’s population of working age.

“The bulk of sales depends on people coming over from Brazil,” said Juan Vicente Ramirez, chairman of the local chamber of commerce. “For many store owners, there was no point in opening just for local shoppers — and about 80 percent of them remained closed for the past few months.”

Strained by their economic needs, local business owners launched an intense campaign to reopen the border — a struggle that culminated in violent protests in July.

After falling out over Covid-19, Brazil and Paraguay have begun to mend fences, signing a bilateral agreement to allow the partial resumption of commerce. 

Six trade centers in border towns were created — where citizens can go to buy goods from the neighboring country.

In a second stage, which has yet no date to be enforced, other border crossing points will be reopened. That is the case for the border between Pedro Juan Caballero (Paraguay) and Ponta Porã (Brazil), two cities 400 kilometers north of the Friendship Bridge, and separated by nothing more than a street.

In preparation for the reopening, the city of Foz do Iguaçu has requested federal funds to expand its healthcare network — increasing its number of intensive care units in anticipation of Paraguayan patients flocking to hospitals on the Brazilian side of the border.

Drug smuggling boomed despite closed borders

Paraguay is a massive gateway for drugs coming into Brazil, in what is called the “hillbilly route” of South American narcotics trafficking. Drugs from Bolivia and Peru pour into the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, via Paraguay, before being transported to the Port of Santos — and shipped to Europe.

In recent years, Brazil has invested big bucks to secure its border with Paraguay. The country is implementing the first phase of the Integrated Border Monitoring System (Sisfron) — a sophisticated surveillance network to patrol a stretch of 650 kilometers of the border.

But not even the increased surveillance — coupled with Covid-19 border closures — has slowed down drug smugglers, who seem to be busier than ever. Between January and August, the Federal Highway Police apprehended almost 45 tons of cocaine, 136,000 amphetamine pills, and over 1 million cannabis plants — enough to fill the equivalent of 28 football pitches.

The numbers give the impression that the drug problem is a bottomless pit. In trying to deal with the issue, Paraguayan lawmakers are taking steps to change the laws on legal cultivation of cannabis — going in the direction of Uruguay, where recreational marijuana is legal.

But the conservative Brazilian Congress resists even entertaining discussions on medicinal cannabis — let alone debating relaxed rules on recreational drugs.[/restricted]

Categories
Coronavirus

Peru scraps hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin from Covid-19 medication list

The Peruvian government has revoked the inclusion of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin on the list of medications recommended to treat Covid-19, in the wake of studies that show neither drug is effective in combating the disease, while antiviral Remdesivir has shown positive results. 

When it first recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin back in April, Peru’s Health Ministry had already warned there was no robust evidence to support the efficiency of either drug, but allowed their use at the discretion of medical professionals.  

However, the decision to remove the medications from the list came soon after the director of the country’s health technology evaluation institute was fired following a study on the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating Covid-19. As Gestión newspaper reports, Peru’s Health Ministry is still evaluating the study, but it has already been criticized for a lack of scientific rigor. 

Hydroxychloroquine has been widely touted as a Covid-19 treatment by several world leaders, especially Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who claims to be living proof that the medicine works.

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Categories
Latin America

The history of Nobel Prize winners across Latin America

The 2020 Nobel Prize season came to a close on Monday, as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced American economists Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson as the laureats for Economic Science.

No Latin Americans made the cut this year — though only two had outside chances: Mexican poet Homero Aridjis (33-1 odds), for the Literature Prize, and indigenous leader Raoni, for the Peace Prize. They were pipped by American poet Louise Glück and the United Nations World Food Program, respectively.

To date, just 17 Latin Americans have won a Nobel Prize. Today, we look back on their achievements:[restricted]

Peace

  • Carlos Saavedra Lamas (Argentina, 1936). The former Foreign Minister was Latin America’s first laureate, being recognized for his work mediating peace negotiations between Paraguay and Bolivia after the so-called “Chaco War,” which killed at least 90,000 people between 1932 and 1935. Mr. Saavedra Lamas was also pivotal in Argentina’s admission to the League of Nations in 1932, the first worldwide intergovernmental body whose principal mission was to maintain world peace.
  • Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (Argentina, 1980). Born in Buenos Aires in 1931, Mr. Esquivel was one of the leading human rights defenders in Latin America during the 1970s — a time in which nearly all of the region’s countries succumbed to far-right military dictatorships. He headed human rights organization SERPAJ and built pro-democracy networks across the region. In 1977, Mr. Esquivel was arrested and tortured by the Argentinian military regime — only to be released 14 months later.
  • Alfonso García Robles (Mexico, 1982). Born in the city of Zamora in 1911, the lawyer and diplomat played a crucial role in making Latin America a nuclear-free zone, following the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Mr. García Robles’ efforts led to a 1967 treaty signed by 14 countries in Mexico City — an effort that earned him the nickname “Mr. Disarmament.”
  • Óscar Arias Sánchez (Costa Rica, 1987). During his stint as president of Costa Rica, Mr. Sánchez championed a peace plan to end the devastating civil wars being fought in Central America. The plan was signed in August 1987 by Costa Rica and four neighboring countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua), and aimed at free elections, human rights protections, and plans to diminish foreign interference in the region.
  • Rigoberta Menchú (Guatemala, 1992). The first direct descendant of native Latin American groups to win a Nobel prize, Ms. Menchú was recognized for her work in social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for indigenous rights — amid a period of large-scale repression against native communities in Guatemala. Her work came at great personal cost, as Ms. Menchú’s father was murdered during a peaceful protest in Guatemala City, in 1980. Not long after, the Army tortured and killed her brother and mother, forcing her into exile. 
  • Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia, 2016). The former Colombian president is the last Latin American person to receive a Nobel Prize — and his win is surrounded by controversy. The Royal Swedish Academy bestowed the honor upon Mr. Santos for his work in negotiating peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an armed guerilla group in Colombia known for deploying terrorist tactics. Though the deal officially ended more than half a century of civil conflict, it was more a comma than a full stop: violence continues in Colombia, and Mr. Santos’ peace deal was voted down by Colombians in a referendum.

Literature

Latin America’s political turmoil during the Cold War — which culminated in dozens of military dictatorships across the region — also fueled a literary boom. New, emerging voices redefined literature in the region, and became powerful and influential authors worldwide.

  • Gabriela Mistral (Chile, 1945). Born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga in 1889 in Vicuña, the educator, poet, and diplomat made history as the first female South American laureate. Besides her poetry, Ms. Mistral is praised for her work regarding education and the improvement of literary knowledge. By the time she won the award, she was living in Brazil, in the city of Petrópolis, in Rio de Janeiro state. 
  • Miguel Ángel Asturias (Guatemala, 1967). With his famous and unique work centered on the Central American imagination and cultural peculiarities, especially seen in his 1949 work “Men of Maize,” Mr. Asturias won the Nobel Prize in 1967 for his “vivid literary achievement,” in the words of the Academy, especially for bringing light to the indigenous roots and struggle in Central America. A year before his win, he had also received the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union. 
  • Pablo Neruda (Chile, 1971). One of the most famous writers in Latin America, Mr. Neruda was awarded “for poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings a continent’s destiny and dreams alive.” He died just 12 days after Augusto Pinochet deposed Chile’s democratically elected President Salvador Allende, in 1973. The official cause of death was prostate cancer, though a team of international scientists said in 2017 they were “100-percent convinced” that “a third party” was responsible for his death, following lab analysis of his remains.
  • Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia, 1982). “Gabo” was one of the creators of magical realism, a literary style born in Latin America that intertwines realistic depictions of the world and elements of fantasy. Despite being a supporter of the Cuban regime — and a personal friend of the late dictator Fidel Castro — Mr. Márquez was able to forge a friendship with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who regarded the Colombian as his favorite fiction writer
  • Octavio Paz (Mexico, 1990). A poet and a diplomat, the Mexico City-born Mr. Paz was awarded in 1990 “for impassioned writing with broad horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity.”
  • Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru, 2010). Through his books, which often contain biographical elements, Mr. Vargas Llosa offered a deep examination of how power and corruption play out in Latin America. The author’s political work, however, was not limited to his writing — he ran a failed, quixotic presidential campaign in 1990, eventually losing to Alberto Fujimori. He said the win was an important element in changing international perception around the region. “Latin America seemed to be a land where there were only dictators, revolutionaries, catastrophes. Now we know that Latin America can also produce artists, musicians, painters, thinkers and novelists,” he said in 2010.

Physiology or Medicine

  • Bernardo Alberto Houssay (Argentina, 1947). During his life, Dr. Houssay worked in almost every field of physiology and published over 500 papers and several books. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the role of pituitary hormones in sugar metabolism. The achievement was, at the time, a source of embarrassment for the Argentinian government: then-President Juan Perón had dismissed Dr. Houssay from the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine for opposition to his education policy.
  • Baruj Benacerraf (Venezuela, 1980). The first and only Venezuelan to be awarded a Nobel Prize, Mr. Benacerraf was celebrated for discovering and improving studies in topics related to the immune system, especially in a research of the histocompatibility complex (MHC). He is often described as being Venezuelan-American, due to later obtaining U.S. citizenship.
  • César Milstein (Argentina, 1980). Considered one of the fathers of modern immunology, he went to the United Kingdom to study antibodies and how they can be used for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of several diseases. He shared the prize with Germany’s Georges J. F. Köhler. 

Chemistry

  • Luis Federico Leloir (Argentina, 1970). Born in Paris of Argentinian parents, he was raised in Buenos Aires from the age of two. Despite dealing with a lack of financial support and second-rate equipment throughout his career, Mr. Leloir developed a world-renowned study into sugar nucleotides, carbohydrate metabolism, and renal hypertension — which led to significant progress in understanding, diagnosing and treating congenital disease galactosemia.
  • Mario J. Molina (Mexico, 1995). Mr. Molina’s work on climate change was crucial toward enacting the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987, and it made him one of the most important scientists of the past 50 years. He died just last week — and was hailed by Science Magazine as the “Nobel laureate who helped save the ozone layer.”[/restricted]
Categories
Society

Numbers of the week: Oct. 10, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: PIX, the Central Bank’s new payment system, tourism companies disappearing, high death rates in Peru, Brazil hits 5 million cases, and indigenous candidates in Brazil’s North.

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25 million sign ups for new payment tool PIX

PIX, an instant payment platform [restricted]created by the Brazilian Central Bank, officially opened registrations at the beginning of the week. Until Friday, the number of ‘keys’ issued to Brazilians reached roughly 24 million. The new payment system, which will allow for instant cash transfers, begins its operation on November 16. Besides allowing near-instant transfers and payments outside of commercial working hours, the system is free to use in sending and receiving money. PIX users will only have to provide their unique key — usually their individual tax ID — in order to receive payments, seen as a revolutionary measure within Brazil’s financial system


50,000 fewer tourism companies

Nearly 50,000 companies in Brazil’s tourism industry — accounting for 17 percent of the sector’s employers — went out of business between March and August 2020. The data comes from the National Confederation of Commerce and Tourism (CNC). The worst-affected businesses were bars and restaurants, with 39,500 closing their doors permanently. As in many other sectors, the majority of the firms which suffered the most were small businesses. As a result, the tourism industry lost 13.8 percent of its workforce and, between March and September, revenues amounted to only one-quarter of their potential. Meanwhile, losses reached BRL 207 billion in the past six months.


26 percent of Covid-19 victims under 60 in Brazil

Among countries with high coronavirus numbers, there is a clear pattern of the majority of patients who die from Covid-19 being 60-plus years old. While that is also the case in Brazil, the majority is much slimmer: some 26 percent of fatal victims in the country were under 60. As a comparison, in Italy, less than 5 percent of all deaths were in patients below the age of 60. This can partly be explained by Brazil having a younger population, as senior citizens comprise one-third of Italian residents. But the numbers also suggest other factors in play, such as poorer nutrition conditions, less access to healthcare, and inferior living conditions. The findings are further corroboration to the idea that Brazil’s massive inequality levels have contributed to the spread of the coronavirus in the country.


1,000 deaths per capita in Peru

Despite being one of the first Latin American countries to impose a lockdown (even before European countries such as the United Kingdom), Peru became the first country in the world to top the mark of 1,000 deaths per million people, surpassing 33,000 Covid-19 deaths this Friday, October 10. As a comparison, Brazil — the country with the highest absolute numbers of cases (4.9 million) and deaths (147,817) in the region — currently has a rate of 700 deaths per million. Only the tiny republic of San Marino, with its 732 confirmed cases and 42 deaths, has a comparable rate. 

There are many factors to explain Peru’s coronavirus collapse, such as inequality, lack of information among poor classes, people ignoring isolation measures, and, most importantly, an economy in which more than 71 percent of the population has an informal job. 


16 governors caught the coronavirus

Brazil is one of the few Latin American countries to have a president testing positive for Covid-19. Besides Jair Bolsonaro, Bolivia’s interim leader Jeanine Áñez, Honduras’ Juan Orlando Hernández, Guatemala’s Alejandro Giammattei, and the Dominican Republic’s Luis Abinader have also been infected. Brazil, however, sustains its position as the country with the most cases and deaths in the region.

And 16 out of its 27 state governors (some of them commanding states that are as large as countries) have also caught the virus. The 16th was Camilo Santana, governor of northeastern state Ceará, who announced the news on his Twitter account. So far, none of them have developed severe infections. 


5 million Covid-19 cases

And the state governors are not alone. More than 5 million Brazilians have also been infected by the coronavirus, with a total number of 148,957 deaths and 4.4 million recovered cases. Also, the country’s rolling average of new deaths from October 1 to October 7 remained at 631, 9 percent lower than the previous 14 days. 


148 indigenous candidates in Roraima

According to the Brazilian Superior Electoral Court, the northernmost state of Roraima has 148 self-declared indigenous people among its 1,858 candidates registered in the 2020 elections, the highest number of any electoral zones this year. However, the percentage of indigenous candidates represents only 7 percent of the total. The Roraima Indigenous Council reports that at least 50,000 indigenous people live in the state, spread out across 246 different communities. More than 250 indigenous candidates were elected in the 2016 regional elections, according to the National Indigenous School Education Forum (FNEEI).[/restricted]

Categories
Coronavirus

Coronavirus crisis to hit Latin America harder than anywhere else

Projections by the World Trade Organization suggest that Latin America will be the hardest-hit region in the world by the coronavirus crisis. The region is expected to have a 7.5-percent GDP reduction in 2020 — while the world average sits at 4.8 percent.

Also, the 2021 rebound will be slower in Latin America than elsewhere. While the global economy is projected to grow by 4.9 percent, the region should see growth rates of only 3.8 percent.

Additionally, a second Covid-19 wave in the region could halt the recovery in 2021 altogether.

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Categories
Latin America

The Venezuelan embassy isn’t big enough for the both of us

Diplomatic relations between Brazil and Venezuela reached an all-time low with the former electing far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. Now, almost two years on, the grave is being dug even deeper. In its latest demonstration of hostility toward the Nicolás Maduro administration in Caracas, the Brazilian government moved to make all of the Venezuelan left-wing leader’s diplomats personae non gratae in the country. In practical terms, these staff members are allowed to remain in Brazil, but they have been stripped of their diplomatic status, along with other immunities and protections ensured around the world. 

The decision came as little surprise, from a government that recognizes Mr. Maduro as Venezuela’s “illegitimate” leader. After the administration in Caracas publicly demanded answers from Brazil over what it called the country’s “criminal negligence” in facing the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bolsonaro government moved to further isolate Mr. Maduro’s diplomatic representation in Brazil.[restricted]

Recognizing the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader, Brazil had already decided to close its embassy in Caracas along with a series of consulates around the country. Brazilians in Venezuela were told to seek guidance in Colombia, while diplomats and employees were brought home.

The Bolsonaro government had already ordered the expulsion of Venezuelan diplomats back in April, but the decision was blocked by the Supreme Court due to humanitarian reasons, with both countries in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic. The court’s ruling, however, is only an injunction and could be overturned at any moment, thus forcing the deportation of Mr. Maduro’s embassy staff.

The struggle for power in Venezuela has created several knock-on effects in Brazil’s capital. Since February 2019, the country has actually had two separate embassies, neither one of them functioning properly. The 230,000 Venezuelans that sought refuge in Brazil, fleeing the economic collapse in their home country, are left to fend for themselves for many consular services.

The official Venezuelan Embassy in Brasíla — which takes orders from the Nicolás Maduro government — has been without an ambassador since May 2016, when Alberto Castellar was brought back to Caracas in response to the impeachment of then-President Dilma Rousseff, a process Venezuela labeled a parliamentary coup. Since then, the diplomatic mission has been led by chargé d’affaires Freddy Margote, who maintained a relationship with Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry during the Michel Temer government, before being completely cut off after the election of Mr. Bolsonaro.

Now, without recognized legitimacy from the current Brazilian government or financial assistance from Venezuela amid the country’s long-lasting economic nightmare, the Venezuelan Embassy in Brasília does not provide any of the standard services expected from diplomatic missions, such as issuing visas. Moreover, there is no money to pay utility bills, such as electricity and water. Brazilian left-wing activist organizations have stepped in to use the embassy’s facilities in exchange for paying their bills on time.

Leasing out the Venezuelan Embassy

Almost deserted, the "traditional" Venezuelan Embassy leases its auditorium to left-wing events. Photo: MST
Almost deserted, the “traditional” Venezuelan Embassy leases its auditorium to left-wing events. Photo: MST

The Venezuelan Embassy sits on a massive plot of land in Brasilía’s Embassy Sector, donated to the country when the city was constructed in the late 1950s. One two-story building houses the embassy offices, while other constructions serve as homes for the diplomats and their families. There is also a large round swimming pool, beside a football pitch with a small grandstand.

The walls of the embassy building are decorated with posters and portraits of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, while there is only a single picture of current President Nicolás Maduro hanging in one of the halls. Outside, Venezuelan flags flutter in the wind, alongside those of left-wing Brazilian political parties and social movements.

Due to their severe lack of funds, the embassy’s security is operated by local supporters of the Maduro regime. Members of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) patrol the perimeter of the area, while others tend to the gardens and clean the halls. The need for 24-hour security came after an incident in November 2019, when a group of Juan Guaidó supporters broke into the embassy and intended to squat, using the coincidence with the annual BRICS summit — taking place just a few kilometers away — to draw attention to their cause. They eventually vacated the premises by the end of the day, amid pressure from left-wing social movements, whose members surrounded the embassy.

In exchange for its assistance with security, maintenance, and paying utility bills, the MST has used the Venezuelan Embassy as its headquarters in Brasília. It often holds events held in the building’s auditorium, inviting leaders from the movement and members of other left-wing groups.

The Other Ambassador

María Teresa Belandria is recognized by Brazil as the righteous Venezuelan diplomat. Photo: Anabel Morey
María Teresa Belandria is recognized by Brazil as the righteous Venezuelan diplomat. Photo: Anabel Morey

Meanwhile, as the official embassy barely remains open, the Brazilian government recognizes lawyer, professor, and diplomat María Teresa Belandria as Venezuela’s legitimate ambassador in the country, after she was appointed to the role by Juan Guaidó’s National Assembly in February 2019.

However, she works out of a hotel room in the Brazilian capital, alongside her deputy Silva Guzmán and three other staffers. The work of this “parallel embassy” is funded privately, but the employees refused to reveal who is paying their expenses.

Mr. Guaidó’s representatives are welcomed by Brazilian authorities and treated with diplomatic deference by the closest allies of President Bolsonaro — particularly one of his sons, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro. 

Furthermore, without access to the Venezuelan government’s communication systems, Ms. Belandria’s team is unable to issue visas or passports, or perform the vast majority of consular services.

The impasse remains, however. If the Bolsonaro government decides that Juan Guaidó’s diplomatic representatives have the right to use the Venezuelan Embassy in Brasília, the current tenants are unlikely to vacate willingly.

The hotel-dwelling members of the parallel Venezuelan Embassy are assured of their legitimacy. “Ambassador Belandria has been recognized as such by the Brazilian government, as has her deputy Silva Guzmán. Both are treated by government agencies as being Venezuelan authorities,” said the group’s press officer, who also doubles up as Ms. Belandria’s driver.

However, this recognition comes with responsibility. In May, Ms. Belandria was held responsible for a case filed by the Labor Prosecution Service against the Venezuelan Embassy in Brasília. Brazilian employees working in the embassy have gone without pay for months, according to the complaint. Ms. Belandria responded, saying that she has no way of paying this debt, as she does not even know the quantity or identity of the embassy’s employees, as she is denied access to the premises.[/restricted]

Categories
Coronavirus

Peru to hit 1,000 Covid-19 deaths per million people

Despite being one of the first Latin American countries to impose a lockdown (even before European countries such as the United Kingdom), Peru is set to become the first country in the world to top the mark of 1,000 deaths per million people.

The nation of 33 million inhabitants is projected to reach 33,000 total confirmed coronavirus deaths within two days, considering the 7-day rolling average for new daily casualties.

As a comparison, Brazil — the country with the highest absolute numbers of cases (4.9 million) and deaths (147,817) in the region — currently has a rate of 700 deaths per million.

What went wrong?

There are many factors that go some way toward explaining Peru’s coronavirus collapse.

The country’s health system went into the pandemic with gross insufficiencies, which reflect Peru’s deep economic inequalities. When the Covid-19 crisis hit, Peru had only 100 intensive care beds and around 3,000 regular hospital beds. As of June, the government had to create 15,000 extra beds and multiply ICUs by 16.

The country’s lack of respect for isolation rules also plays a huge role in why Peru was unable to contain the virus

Part of that is due to the structure of the country’s labor market. More than 70 percent of Peruvians have informal jobs, meaning isolation would have left them unemployed and without income. Also, less than 40 percent of the population has a bank account, forcing many people to leave their homes to withdraw the government-issued emergency aid of PEN 760 (USD 211).

However, many Peruvians refused to change their social habits. Since February, police forces in Peru have interrupted — sometimes employing disproportionate force — at least 320 clandestine parties in the capital city of Lima. 

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Podcast

Explaining Brazil #127: When protection becomes repression


Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Latin American countries have shown us both sides of an ugly coin. Some have been called out for not enacting social distancing rules during the pandemic. Others, for using them as a means of repression against specific populations.

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On this episode:

  • Louise Tillotson is an Amnesty International researcher for the Caribbean. Prior to joining Amnesty International, Ms. Tillotson worked across the Caribbean developing human rights-based responses to HIV and AIDS.

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Categories
Coronavirus

Latin American countries using lockdowns for repression

A new report by Amnesty International denounces Latin American governments’ use of punitive and repressive tactics to enforce confinement measures during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In countries such as Venezuela, Paraguay, and El Salvador, thousands have been detained under “appalling conditions” in state-run quarantine centers that often lack guarantees against human rights violations.

During the pandemic, around 90,000 Venezuelan nationals who fled the country’s socio-economic collapse have now returned, after losing their jobs in places such as Colombia or Peru. President Nicolás Maduro labeled them “bioterrorists,” and ordered their confinement in roughly 105 state-run facilities.

In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele’s government quarantined 16,780 people in 88 centers — something the country’s Supreme Court found unconstitutional. Back in April, The Brazilian Report showed that Mr. Bukele has used the pandemic as a cover for ramping up his government’s violent anti-gang and authoritarian policies.

In Paraguay, as of late June, authorities had put some 8,000 people under forced quarantine, mostly citizens returning to the country after working informally in Brazil. According to Amnesty International, most of the detainees had little to no access to clear information about the pandemic and the imposed quarantine.


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Categories
Coronavirus

U-turn in Ecuador could see Flamengo match go ahead

After health authorities in the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil stepped in to impede tonight’s Copa Libertadores football match between Rio de Janeiro-based club Flamengo and local side Barcelona, pressure from the sport’s governing bodies could see the match go ahead regardless.

After multiple Flamengo players and staff members had tested positive for Covid-19 upon arrival in Guayaquil, municipal officials moved to temporarily close Barcelona’s Estadio Monumental, forcing the game’s postponement.

However, South American football confederation Conmebol has reportedly put pressure on Ecuador’s federal government to force the game to take place. Guayaquil mayor Cynthia Viteri tweeted that “the Estadio Monumental has not been closed” and that they are awaiting a statement from the Ecuadorian Health Ministry.

“Mobile bubble” is no bubble at all

Last week, as the continental tournament resumed following a six-month hiatus, we at The Brazilian Report explained the risks that a transnational competition in South America would entail — with players traveling between countries where the Covid-19 pandemic is not controlled. Conmebol talked about creating a “mobile bubble,” that is, a set of sanitary guidelines that would keep coaching staff and players as isolated as possible.

It took less than a week for this bubble to burst.

Problems abound

After losing seven players to the coronavirus, Flamengo were unable to fly replacement squad members to Guayaquil — or even hold outdoor training sessions — due to poor air quality as a result of ash from the nearby Sangay volcano. On September 20, the volcano’s activity increased considerably, spewing large plumes of ashes, gas and steam.

Categories
Tech

Remote working and distance education skyrocket in Latin America

During the first months of lockdown, the world was paralyzed or dramatically slowed down physically, but not virtually. According to the latest study the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) made about the need for universalizing access to digital technologies to address the consequences of the pandemic, website traffic, and the use of applications for remote working or distance learning, there was a tremendous increase in the use of digital platforms. 

Between the first and second quarters of 2020, remote work surged by 324 percent while distance education rose more than 60 percent in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. All providers of collaboration and video conferencing platforms benefitted from the immense rise in users.[restricted]

Zoom, for instance, confirmed on August 31 that it was one of the biggest corporate winners from the coronavirus crisis, as the video conferencing service reported a surge in new business in the three months to the end of July. It reported second-quarter revenues of USD 663.5 million, up 355 percent from last year. Since the start of the pandemic, the platform has been working on converting the mass of free users into paying customers.

But in general usage of Zoom is impressive: it has grown from 10 million daily meeting participants per day in December 2019 to some 300 million in April 2020. Also, daily active users of its mobile app are up an astonishing 1,761-percent year-on-year and 799 percent over the previous quarter. New installations are up 319 percent over the second quarter of 2020.

Zoom told LABS that in Brazil, it saw a 31-fold growth in free users signing-up in April compared to January 2020, while the number of paying customers with more than 10 employees in the country tripled. In Mexico, over the same period, there was a 49-fold growth in the number of free users signing-up, and the number of paying customers with more than 10 employees doubled. 

Overall, Zoom has seen an increase in paying customers, according to its latest quarterly report, with approximately 370,200 businesses clients with more than 10 employees, an increase of approximately 458 percent from the same quarter during the last fiscal year. And the number of large customers — those generating more than USD 100,000 in revenue in the past year – more than doubled to 988 during the fiscal second quarter.

Google Cloud partnered up with Latin American businesses and organizations

Google Meet reached a peak of over 600 million video conferencing participants during a single week globally in the quarter ending in June. At the end of April, according to the company, 2 million new users were connecting to Google Meet daily, spending over 2 billion minutes together — which equates to more than 3,800 years of meetings in a single day. And, of course, it’s not just about work: 41 percent of people increased the frequency of conversation with friends and family, according to a Google Cloud survey.

The search-engine giant cites several cases that demonstrate how its Cloud division kept Latin American businesses and organizations connected and running during the most severe periods of quarantines and lockdowns.

Before the government encouraged remote work across the country, one of Mexico’s largest insurance companies, the National Provincial Group (GNP), implemented a strict home-based policy. The company has developed a series of new procedures and practices in which 6,700 employees use Google Meet for video conferences and G Suite’s collaboration features.

In Peru, the Judiciary has used Google Meet to continue operating during quarantines. Mexico’s Milenio Televisión chose Google Meet to continue broadcasting some of its main TV shows away from its studios. And in Brazil, early in the pandemic, São Paulo’s Hospital das Clínicas partnered up with Google and Loud Voice Services to develop a voice assistant that manages appointments, exams, and medicines stocks using solutions such as Dialogflow and Speech API. 

With the increasing demand for these services, the company announced in June a new Google Cloud region in Santiago — which would be the company’s second region in Latin America, after São Paulo. “In this new region, companies from around the world will be better able to reach their users in Latin America”, said Google Cloud’s president for Latin America, Eduardo López.

Remote work: Microsoft beefs up Teams

The number of calls made using Microsoft’s Teams video conferencing software surged by 1,000 percent in March as people collaborated online due to the coronavirus pandemic. Teams users also generated more than 5 billion meeting minutes in a single day in the second quarter of 2020. 

“Microsoft Teams is helping people be together, even when they are apart. It’s the only solution with meetings, calls, chat, content collaboration with Office, and business process workflows — in a secure, integrated user experience”, said Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, during the company’s latest quarterly earnings conference call.

Sixty-nine organizations have more than 100,000 users of Teams, and over 1,800 enterprises have more than 10,000 users of the platform.

Here are some of the trends among Latin Americans using Microsoft tools: in Mexico, 41 percent of the calls use video; in Chile, the rate sits at 52 percent. These are lower rates than in Norway and the Netherlands, for example, where they reach 60 percent, but higher than the U.S. (38%), France (37%), and Singapore (26%). “The cultural aspect will always be relevant in how much people want to expose themselves”, Loredane Feltrin, director of Modern Workplace at Microsoft Latin America, told LABS.  


This article on remote work was originally published on LABS – Latin America Business Stories, a news platform covering business, technology, and society in the region for an English-speaking audience.

https://labs.ebanx.com/

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Categories
Tech

Tech Roundup: Brazilian giants on startup-hunting spree

You’re reading The Brazilian Report’s weekly tech roundup, a digest of the most important news on technology and innovation in Brazil. This week’s topics: Brazilian big retailers on startup-hunting mode; old problems prevent Brazil from becoming a leader in innovation; and how poor internet access is increasing inequality in Latin America. 

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Amid e-commerce boom, big retailers hunting for startups

This week, two e-commerce giants went shopping[restricted] in the local startup market, as the battle for dominance in a burgeoning sector becomes fiercer by the day. On Tuesday, Mercado Livre announced it had acquired a minority stake in last-mile logistics startup group Kangu, after a year of using its services. Two days later, Magazine Luiza made its entry into the food delivery market, purchasing startup AiQFome. 

  • According to a report by Distrito.me, big companies were responsible for 58.1 percent of 44 startup mergers or acquisitions reported in H1 2020. The number is almost 52 percent larger than 2019 rates.
  • Still, investments halved to USD 691.7 million — a sign that companies may be beefing up their portfolios at a lower cost amid the crisis.

Last-mile meets click-and-collect. Mercado Livre’s investment in Kangu is part of its strategy to reduce its reliance on state-owned postal service Correios, a company riddled with crisis and currently facing a nationwide strike.

  • But Kangu is also a gamble on improving the consumer experience. The startup connects customers to small brick-and-mortar shops near their homes, giving Mercado Livre a way to implement click-and-collect delivery modes. So far, that strategy has been a competitive advantage of traditional retailers such as Via Varejo and Magazine Luiza.

Super-apps. Magazine Luiza openly talks about its aspiration of becoming “Brazil’s Amazon Inc.” Startup AiQFome will be the first food delivery service on its one-stop-shop super-app, which already includes e-commerce household names such as Netshoes (sporting goods and footwear), Zattini (clothing), and Época Cosméticos (cosmetics). The goal is to increase customers’ recurrent use of the app. 

  • AiQFome has 2 million customers and 17,000 restaurants in 350 cities, generating BRL 700 million in revenue. Unlike services such as UberEats or iFood, the platform only connects customers with restaurants who take care of delivery themselves. 

Brazil rises in Global Innovation Ranking, but still below 2011 levels

The Global Innovation Index (GII) released by WIPO puts Brazil as the 62nd most-innovative economy globally, gaining four positions in comparison to 2019 levels. Despite the improvement, the country is still far below its 2011 peak, when the country sat in 47th — a sign of the country’s underwhelming ability to innovate and produce.

Where Brazil stands. Latin America’s biggest economy ranks 16th among 37 upper-middle-income economies. It is also the fourth most-innovative Latin American nation, behind Chile, Mexico, and Costa Rica. Per WIPO, Brazil’s performance matches expectations for its level of development, relative to GDP, compared to the 131 economies analyzed.

Old habits. According to WIPO, Brazil produces fewer innovation outputs relative to its level of innovation investments. The main problems are hardly new issues:

  • It is hard to start a business;
  • There’s a lack of graduates in science and engineering, poor performance in primary education (as seen on the PISA test);
  • Suboptimal levels of general infrastructure and low indicators of gross capital formation;
  • Difficulties to get credit and high bank fees;
  • Sluggish growth of public-private partnerships;
  • Poor performances from national feature films and printing and other media.

Who will fund innovation? The theme of this year’s GII report presents a challenge for Brazil, as noted by the president of the National Confederation of Industry, Robson Braga de Andrade.

  • “The fiscal crisis jeopardizes the progress made by different governments in recent decades. The level of public investment in R&D is lower than it was 20 years ago, and many of the public policies for financing innovation are decreasing or at risk of suspension,” he wrote.
  • Brazil’s 2021 budget proposal, submitted this week, foresees only BRL 96 billion for non-mandatory expenses, including research grants. The amount is below the BRL 100 billion necessary to avoid a shutdown or freezing, as seen in 2019.   

Latin America’s lack of internet access increases inequality during pandemic

The high level of informality in Latin America’s job market and poor internet access prevents more people from working from home during the pandemic, expanding the inequality in the region, according to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Only 21.3 percent of Latin American workers were in a position to perform their activities remotely. In Brazil, that percentage rises to roughly 25 percent.

  • Still, remote work solutions increased by 324 percent in the second quarter, while online learning increased 60 percent versus Q1 levels.
  • As of 2019, only two-thirds of Latin Americans had internet access; in higher-income households, that share rises to 81 percent, while it plunges to 38 percent among the poorest sections of the population.

“Offline” learning. As of June, 44 percent of Latin American countries experienced average internet speeds inferior to 25 Mbps, preventing users from performing multiple tasks simultaneously. As a result, say the researchers, people had to choose between online work or learning.

  • To make things worse, 46 percent of Latin American children aged between 5 and 12 — a total of 32 million youths — live in homes without an internet connection.
  • Among higher-income students, 70 to 80 percent have laptops, while only 10 to 20 percent of lower-income students own such devices.  

Trends. Despite the struggle, the digitization of Latin American economies during the pandemic is remarkable. From March to April 2020, the number of corporate websites skyrocketed by 800 percent in Colombia and Mexico, while Chile and Brazil experienced a 360-percent increase. 

  • To support that trend, the ECLAC suggests creating a “digital staples basket,” granting a laptop, smartphone, and tablet to homes that do not have such devices. According to the study, most Latin American countries would spend less than 1 percent of their GDP to afford such a program, with the exception of Bolivia and El Salvador.

Take note

  • Payment methods. A report by Kantar showed that, in the second quarter, the use of credit cards grew by 13 percent in Colombia, reaching a 27-percent market share in the payment methods market, the best performance in Latin América. However, in Mexico, credit card use dropped by 10 percent, to a 36-percent market share.  
  • Fundraising. Fintech Neon Pagamentos raised BRL 1.6 billion on a C-series investment round led by General Atlantic. The company also attracted new investors such as Black Rock, Vulcan Capital, PayPal Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst. After experiencing a 26-percent jump in the number of users since March, the company now aims to use the money to escalate its credit offer and expand products for individuals and individual entrepreneurs.
  • Telecom. President Jair Bolsonaro signed a decree regulating the “Antenna Law” this week. As we anticipated in last week’s Tech Roundup, the measure was highly awaited by the private sector, as it allows companies to move forward with the installation of antennas if municipal administrations do not greenlight operations within a period of 60 days. Plus, antennas smaller than 3-meters tall will no longer require licenses, which means that up to 90 percent of the equipment required for 5G signals will not face bureaucracy barriers.
  • E-government. The Brazilian Senate approved a provisional decree that makes it easier to have access to public services using digital signatures. Besides public key infrastructure (PKI) issued by accredited companies — known as qualified signatures — the government will now accept simple and advanced digital signatures. The first applies to situations that do not include sensitive information, while the latter only requires users to confirm their identity. The federal government believes that Brazilians will be able to access 48 percent of services with a simple signature.[/restricted]
Categories
Latin America

Coronavirus in Latin America: a tale of failed leadership and inequality

The first confirmed Covid-19 infection in Latin America occurred precisely six months ago when a 61-year-old man tested positive for the disease in São Paulo. Despite having weeks to prepare for the arrival of a virus that was already disrupting societies in Asia and Europe, most Latin American nations have decidedly lost the battle against Covid-19. In the past six months, the region quickly became the world’s epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic.

Many have succumbed to the temptation of placing the blame solely on national governments. After all, it is hard to dispute that Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro or Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro have actively made the crisis worse than it should be. The former did everything in his power to undermine social distancing efforts implemented by Brazilian state governors, while the latter went as far as calling patients infected with Covid-19 “bioterrorists.” Meanwhile, both have touted unproven treatments against the coronavirus, acting as disinformation agents.

But the reality is far more complex. Even in countries where the pandemic was taken seriously from the start — namely Argentina and Peru — infection and death curves have now spiraled out of control. And that is because of a deeply-rooted problem in the region: inequality.


For tens of millions of Latin Americans living in poor housing conditions, social distancing is not an option. Moreover, the region’s economy is extremely informal, being highly concentrated in sectors that depend on the functioning of the in-person economy — meaning that it is impossible for governments to keep their populations at home indefinitely. Quarantines can only work for so long before economic needs begin to throttle the population.

In an August 17 report, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) said that at least 23.9 million jobs were lost in Latin America, affecting 12.5 percent of the total workforce in the region. Meanwhile, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that trade in the region will fall 23 percent in 2020, a bigger skid than in the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

Besides the boom of informal jobs, the political impact of the coronavirus pandemic is already a reality. 

In Bolivia, self-appointed interim President Jeanine Áñez is using the pandemic as an excuse to prolong her time in office — despite promising to act as a stopgap president between the coup that ousted Evo Morales last year and democratic presidential elections.

In Brazil, the pandemic forced the government into creating an emergency salary for informal and unemployed workers, which has become the only source of income for 14 million people — and drove President Jair Bolsonaro’s approval ratings to their highest levels ever.

In other countries, leaders fear the coronavirus crisis could lead to their demise. That is the case with embattled Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, as well as Nicaragua’s authoritarian leader Daniel Ortega.

It remains too early to predict what post-pandemic Latin America will look like. However, it is safe to say that the economic depression — coupled with the sheer human toll of the coronavirus — will leave many scars on what was already the world’s most unequal region.

Here is how the pandemic has affected some of the region’s key economies:


Brazil (3.7 million cases, 116,580 deaths)

Key dates:

  • February 26. A 61-year-old man in São Paulo becomes the first confirmed Covid-19 patient in the region.
  • March 12. Fábio Wajngarten, the president’s press secretary, tests positive for Covid-19 after a presidential trip to Florida. Over 20 people in the president’s entourage were infected shortly after — many of the cases were traced back to that trip.
  • April 16. Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta is fired by President Jair Bolsonaro after disagreements over the use of antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19. The president supports the unproven treatment, against all scientific evidence. Oncologist Nelson Teich is named as his replacement.
  • May 15. Mr. Teich resigns, for the same reasons as his predecessor: disagreements over social isolation guidelines and the recommendation of chloroquine as a “possible cure” for the coronavirus. Since then, the Health Ministry has been run on an interim basis by Army General Eduardo Pazuello.
  • June 19. Brazil surpasses 1 million cases.
  • July 7. Jair Bolsonaro tests positive for Covid-19
  • August 8. Brazil surpasses 100,000 deaths and 3 million cases 

Expected GDP growth in 2020: -9.1 percent (IMF)

Even before the coronavirus arrived in Brazil, the government showed signs that it would take the risks of a massive spread seriously, with the Health Ministry proposing a bill to give the government legal support to carry out emergency measures. After that, however, Brazil’s public response has been a disaster. The federal government collided with state administrations over quarantine measures and President Jair Bolsonaro has been a focal point of misinformation and denialism.

As in other countries, inequality plays a huge role in how the pandemic has progressed in Brazil. Poor housing conditions mean that millions of people live cramped in densely-populated areas, where social isolation is near-impossible. Many more have no access to clean water, making regular hand-washing — a key tool to prevent infections — more challenging.

An informal labor market and an already sluggish economy meant that millions of people preferred the risk of a Covid-19 infection to the certainty of not having any source of income whatsoever. The government created a coronavirus emergency salary program — and in 25 of 27 states, beneficiaries already outnumber people who are formally employed.


Argentina (359,625 cases, 7,563 deaths)

Key dates:

  • March 20. Government announces compulsory quarantine;
  • June 20. Protests against the expropriation of grain exporter Vicentín erupt in several cities;
  • July 9. Demonstrations in several cities demand President Fernández ease quarantine measures;
  • August 17. Protests against a judicial reform also mix with disgruntlement over quarantine measures. 

Expected GDP growth in 2020: -9.9 percent (IMF)

The health crisis began soon after President Alberto Fernández took office, but the country was already battling a deep economic crisis — reaching the point of default earlier in the year. 

Mr. Fernández, however, managed to strike a deal with Argentina’s private creditors to restructure a USD-65 billion-debt. The agreement was a relief to a government that was growing unpopular, as Argentinians began protesting quarantine measures, among other reasons for disgruntlement.


Bolivia (110,999 cases, 4,664 deaths)

Key dates:

  • July 9. Interim President Jeanine Áñez tests positive for the coronavirus;
  • July 21. The Bolivian press reports that, between July 15-20, over 420 bodies were removed from the streets across five regions;
  • August 16. Esther Morales, sister of deposed President Evo Morales, dies of Covid-19 in Oruro.

Expected GDP growth in 2020: -2.9 percent (IMF)

The pandemic postponed long-awaited elections in Bolivia. While Ms. Áñez argues that holding a national election while the pandemic rages on is a bad move, it also raises questions about her willingness to leave power. Especially since courts in Bolivia are cracking down on former President Evo Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS) party.


Chile (400,985 cases, 10,958 deaths)

Key dates:

  • March 16. Chile closes its borders;
  • March 24. The government enforces a curfew;
  • May 15. Capital Santiago goes under full lockdown, along with six other communes in the city’s metropolitan area.
  • June 16. Health Minister Jaime Mañalich resigns, accused of being slow to react to the spread of the virus and tampering with official data.

Expected GDP growth in 2020: -4.5 percent (IMF)

At first, Chile seemed to be managing the crisis well. However, a precocious reopening in May led to an uptick in infections and deaths, with a 60-percent bump in new cases. Things got worse when Health Minister Jaime Mañalich resigned due to a data tampering-scandal. An independent report accused the government of concealing more than 5,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

Moreover, Chile was already a society in turmoil — in 2019, President Sebastián Piñera faced a massive wave of street protests, in a crisis that threatened to bring down his administration. To ease popular discontent, Mr. Piñera promised a constitutional referendum for October.


Colombia (562,128 cases, 17,889 deaths)

Key dates:

  • March 25. President Iván Duque enacts a mandatory quarantine;
  • July 15. Human Rights Watch denounces abuses by armed groups against civilians between March and June, in an effort to enforce their own measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Expected GDP growth in 2020: -2.4 percent (IMF)

Violence in Colombia increased during the pandemic, as many armed groups have been using their unofficial authority to impose isolation measures. A report by Human Rights Watch denounced massacres, especially in border regions. 

Almost 65 percent of Colombians approve of President Iván Duque’s coronavirus response, according to a recent survey. However, the country reported a new record for daily Covid-19 deaths on August 22, with 385 lethal cases. Fears of new peaks pushed the government to suspend tax-free days on retail stores to avoid big shopping crowds.


Ecuador (109,030 cases, 6,368 deaths)

Key dates:

  • March 17. The country begins enforcing restrictions on movement;
  • March 30. Local press organizations report that families in Guayaquil had burned the belongings of Covid-19 victims;
  • March 31. Newspaper El Universo says 450-plus dead bodies featured on a waiting list to be removed from homes. At this point, many families were simply abandoning corpses on the streets;
  • June 6. Capital Quito starts its reopening process.

Expected GDP growth in 2020: -2.4 percent (IMF)

In April, one month before the WHO declared South America the coronavirus epicenter, the city of Guayaquil went viral around the globe due to being the site of the first Covid-19 collapse in South America. The nightmare included more than 100 bodies being collected on the streets during the first chaotic days, according to Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo. Four months after the disaster, the province of Guayas (of which Guayaquil is the capital) now shows a downward trend in cases and deaths, already targeting the final phase of control. 


Mexico (568,621 cases, 61,450 deaths)

Key dates:

  • March 15. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador publishes a video on Twitter hugging and kissing supporters;
  • March 31. Mexico suspends all non-essential activities.

Expected GDP growth in 2020: -10.5 percent (IMF)

At the early stages of the pandemic, President Andrés Manuel “AMLO” López Obrador dismissed the severity of the virus — drawing comparisons to Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and U.S. President Donald Trump. The left-wing leader even showed a Jesus medallion as his “protection” against the virus and urged Mexicans to go on with their lives as usual. 

While AMLO has since changed his stance, Mexico quickly became the third country with most deaths and cases in the Americas — trailing only the U.S. and Brazil.


Peru (607,382 cases, 28,001 deaths)

Key dates:

  • March 15. President Martín Vizcarra passes a nationwide quarantine;
  • July 22. The government adds a total of 3,688 unreported deaths between March and June;
  • August 23. At least 13 people suffocate after police raid a party in Lima. The police were deployed to avoid public gatherings.

Expected GDP growth in 2020: 14 percent (IMF)

Peru is a textbook example of how social inequality may offset any government action against the coronavirus. The government imposed strict lockdowns before the United Kingdom and many other European countries. Still, it has become home to the world’s second-highest rate of Covid-19 deaths per 1 million people — behind only Belgium.

Experts say that a lack of information — coupled with limited access to healthcare and poor housing conditions — turned poorer regions in the Andes into breeding grounds for the virus.[/restricted]

Categories
Podcast

Explaining Brazil #122: Six months of the coronavirus in Latin America

This week’s episode, Six months of the coronavirus in Latin America, was supported by AMEC, the Brazilian Association of Investors in Capital Markets. AMEC brings together around 60 institutional investors from Brazil and abroad — which have a combined portfolio of over USD 130 billion.

It was also supported by AirYourVoice.com, a platform that offers a SEO Mastery course which will make your company’s website the top-ranked in your field, in no time at all. 


We don’t know exactly when the coronavirus began infecting people in Latin America. 

Some researchers say that Sars-CoV-2 might have been circulating in Brazil as early as January, while one preliminary study suggested the virus may even have been present in the country back in November 2019. But the first confirmed Covid-19 infection happened exactly six months ago, when a 61-year-old man tested positive in São Paulo.

Half a year later, Latin America is the global epicenter of the pandemic — with five of the region’s countries among the top 10 worst-hit nations in the world. So far, 6.7 million cases have been confirmed south of the Rio Grande, along with over 260,000 deaths.

How things have gotten so out of control? 

Listen and subscribe to our podcast from your mobile device:

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On this episode:

  • Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets.
  • Aline Gatto Boueri is a data journalist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Background reading:

Do you have a suggestion for our next Explaining Brazil podcast? Drop us a line at podcast@brazilian.report

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Categories
Brazil Daily

What to expect from Brazil’s Q2 2020 GDP numbers?

Today, we look ahead to Brazil’s GDP announcement for Q2. Half a year since the first Covid-19 case in Latin America. And the region looks to take advantage of global shifts in supply chains.

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Upcoming Brazil GDP results to wipe out 11 years of growth

Brazil is set to publish its official Q2 GDP figures on September 1. [restricted]We already know that the drop will be significant, as economic activity was halted for much of the quarter. Reporter José Roberto Castro shows that, according to most financial institutions’ projections, the quarterly drop will be somewhere between 8 and 10 percent.

Why it matters. If projections are confirmed, it means that the Brazilian economy will regress to levels recorded in Q3 2009 — meaning that the pandemic has scrapped 11 years of (feeble) growth.

Winners and losers. Thanks to food exports, Brazil’s agribusiness is set to have a year of growth (projected at 3.2 percent for 2020). But the rest of the economy is perishing. The services sector has been hit hard by the suspension of the in-person economy, with industry — which are reliant on family consumption — finding itself 10 percent below Q4 2018 levels. 

Silver lining. Forecasts for the year are a bit better and suggest Brazil’s economy won’t fall as hard as some neighbors in Latin America. Markets have grown more optimistic about Brazil, and for eight straight weeks yearly GDP growth expectations have been raised, now at -5.46 percent, after a low point of -6.54 percent.

  • “Tuesday’s announcement will be dreadful — but it is a look in the rearview mirror. The low point of the crisis came in April,” says economist Claudio Considera, from think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas. 

GDP: glass half empty. This is Brazil’s worst recession in the past 40 years, with a cumulative loss of 11 percent of the country’s GDP. Moreover, Brazil faces a scenario of (very) slow recovery, even if it manages to get out of a technical recession as early as Q3 2020. 

Pay attention to. Among all the data in the GDP announcement, we must monitor the investment rate — that is, how much money was spent to increase production. Mr. Considera expects a 21-percent drop in that indicator. “Brazil was already not investing a lot, and it will get worse. That drop is bad news because it means there is no kick to the economy,” he says.


Six months of the coronavirus

Six months to this day, São Paulo confirmed its first case of Covid-19 — the infection of a 61-year-old who had returned from the Italian region of Lombardy. That was the first case in Latin America, a region that quickly spiraled to become the world’s coronavirus epicenter. Nearly every country has endured a terrible amount of human losses — not to mention the economic debacle caused by quarantines.

What went wrong? The coronavirus outbreak in Latin America is a tale of failed leadership. In many countries, denialist presidents were too slow to act — some, like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, even became disinformation agents, touting unproven treatments to people. In many nations, rivaling political groups weren’t able to bury the hatchet momentarily in order to fight the worst health crisis of the past century.

  • But it would be unfair to blame it all on politicians. Even in countries where the pandemic was taken seriously, such as Argentina, Costa Rica, or Peru, cases and deaths are dramatically climbing. 

Why it matters. The coronavirus proved to be deadlier in areas defined by structural inequality. Uruguay, the region’s biggest success story, is home to a small, reasonably homogeneous population — and has one of the highest human development indexes in Latin America.

Brazil. In Latin America’s biggest economy, the pandemic deprived tens of millions of their income — and 14 million people rely exclusively on the government’s coronavirus emergency salary. In 25 of 27 states, people receiving the aid outnumber those who are formally employed.


Is Latin America ready for worldwide shifts in supply chains?

The pandemic exposed the problems with overly-concentrated supply chains that are reliant on specific markets. China, as the best example, is responsible for no less than 28 percent of global industrial output — and many countries are pushing for a redistribution of global value chains, seeking to bring production closer to home. That trend could represent a golden opportunity for Latin America — a region somewhat excluded from the supply chain boom of recent decades.

  • A recent study by The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, Brazil, and Colombia as being best placed to compete with Asia.

Why it matters. With a focus on improving the business environment (with clearer rules and less-complicated taxes), alongside infrastructure investments, Latin America could become a key location of supply chains in the near future.

Yes, but … Not all Latin America will profit from this opportunity. “Chile, for example, could struggle in this area despite its many advantages, and political concerns over predictability, stability, and security,” writes the EIU


What else you need to know today

  • Banks. While the pandemic has accelerated the digitization process of the Brazilian economy, it has also exploded the number of fraudulent schemes being perpetrated. Financial institutions calculate their losses with these crimes at around BRL 1 billion (USD 182 million) — which is half of what banks spend on information security.
  • Snub. Economy Minister Paulo Guedes chose not to attend an event at the presidential palace for the launch of a new federal housing project — in a display of discontent with the government’s military wing, which plans to increase public spending in a push to foster growth. Mr. Guedes, a deficit hawk, preaches fiscal responsibility and structural reforms as the best way out of the crisis. Disagreements around fiscal policy forced the government to indefinitely postpone what was promised as a major growth plan.
  • Health. On Tuesday, Brasília’s Health Secretary and five top officials of the federal capital’s health department were arrested for suspected links to corruption schemes. They are accused of operating a kickback system in the purchase of overpriced low-quality Covid-19 testing kits (which have a high rate of false-negative results).
  • Data privacy. The lower house passed a piece of legislation establishing that Brazil’s General Data Protection Law will be enforced on December 31. The law was passed two years ago and the strict data privacy rules were supposed to be enforced earlier this month, but Congress postponed the date due to the pandemic, giving companies more time to prepare. But while the new rules start on January 1, 2021, fines will only be applicable in August of next year.
  • Bailouts. President Jair Bolsonaro submitted a bill to Congress asking for BRL 577 million (USD 105 million) in credit for state-owned companies of the aviation and naval sectors. 
  • Education. The Brazilian Senate passed a constitutional amendment to make basic education fund Fundeb a permanent fixture of Brazil’s educational policy. Congress decided to enhance the federal government’s participation in the fund, from the current 10 percent to 23 percent by 2026. Fundeb is one of the most important ways to try and diminish the underfunding of regional educational systems in poorer states and municipalities.
  • Justice. The Supreme Court nullified a criminal case conducted by former federal judge — and then Justice Minister — Sérgio Moro. The panel ruled that Mr. Moro broke the rules of impartiality by helping prosecutors and even including evidence the prosecution had failed to. The decision is important as the court is also set to trial a similar case involving former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — who has become ineligible due to multiple corruption convictions. And a 2019 scandal showed that Mr. Moro acted as an accessory to the prosecution at several moments of the anti-corruption Operation Car Wash.[/restricted]
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Coronavirus Latin America

The disputes over emergency coronavirus benefits in Brazil and Argentina

With the profound economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, emergency wealth transfer policies have popped up in both Brazil and Argentina. While providing much-needed breathing room to vulnerable populations, they have also shown the size of the challenges South America’s two largest economies will face in the post-Covid-19 financial recovery stage.

According to data from Brazil’s federal government transparency platform, around 66 million people received the administration’s emergency aid benefit in July, comprising a BRL 600 (USD 107) monthly payment to the unemployed, informal workers, individual micro-business holders, and beneficiaries of the Bolsa Família cash-transfer program. Single mothers are entitled to a double payment of BRL 1,200 per month.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Bolsa Família was the most prominent wealth distribution initiative in Brazil, created back in the early 2000s by the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva government and credited with bringing millions out of extreme poverty. Now, the sheer reach of the coronavirus emergency aid leaves the world-renowned Bolsa Família scheme to shame.[restricted] Data from the National Household Sample Survey Covid-19 (PNAD Covid-19), carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), shows that 44 percent of Brazilian households have at least one individual receiving the benefit, a rate that drops to just 4.6 percent for Bolsa Família.

In short, this shows the eye-watering number of people in Brazil who previously didn’t depend on government income-transfer programs, but now require such policies to survive the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to Lauro Gonzalez, the coordinator of the Center for Studies in Micro-finance and Financial Inclusion at think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas, labor trends such as the increase of informal work and the rising proportion of people with variable income have accentuated this crisis. As The Brazilian Report has explained, the informal economy is a big problem across all of Latin America.

Mr. Gonzalez is among the authors of a study about the impact of the emergency aid on Brazilians’ income, using data from PNAD Covid-19. The paper showed that the program increased revenues by an average of 24 percent for all types of work in relation to pre-pandemic levels. In 11 of the 36 categories analyzed by the IBGE, the increase was higher than 40 percent.

“The number of people that have received the emergency salary is a conservative estimate of the size of the problem. A part of the [lower middle class] falls into this category: a bracket that is vulnerable, but not poor to the point that they would receive Bolsa Família or similar benefits under normal circumstances,” Mr. Gonzalez tells The Brazilian Report

Taking credit

As Mr. Gonzalez notes, the emergency salary program was not in the interests of the Bolsonaro government’s economic team at the beginning of the pandemic. The administration first put forward a proposal to pay BRL 200 per month, before they were pressured by Congress to triple this amount and then extend the program for a total of five months.

Now, with the program’s success in providing income to vulnerable households, the government has been able to claim ownership of the initiative, helping President Bolsonaro enjoy some much-needed popularity boosts around the country. This does not mean, however, that the administration will be able to maintain the benefit for a significant period of time without betraying its own economic agenda.

“The government could have pushed welfare transfer policies at the beginning of its term, but from the economic policy point of view, personified by Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, the emphasis is on reforms leading to the ultra-liberalization of the economy, reducing the size of the state and focusing on fiscal balance,” says Mr. Gonzalez.

What remains unclear, according to the researcher, is what the country will do with the millions who have grown to depend on the emergency aid. “Completely discontinuing the coronavirus salary will only be compensated if the crisis eases up, which seems unlikely. The effect on people’s lives and the economy will depend on this tug-of-war between the potential reduction in effects of the crisis and the end of the emergency aid, and it will be best observed in the last quarter of 2020, when the benefit is set to end,” explains Mr. Gonzalez.

While the government has signaled that it intends to replace the emergency aid with a welfare transfer program entitled Renda Brasil (Income Brazil) — seen as an amalgamation of all existing benefit schemes — the Economy Ministry has yet to give any details on how this new program might work.

Emergency aid in Argentina

Over in Argentina, President Alberto Fernández was elected in October 2019 running on a platform that was perhaps the antithesis of his Brazilian counterpart. Regardless, with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the two presidents faced similar challenges. On March 20, three days after Argentina imposed social isolation measures nationwide, the Executive issued a decree establishing the so-called Ingreso Familiar de Emergencia (Emergency Household Income) program, aimed at people aged between 18 and 65 who are either unemployed, in informal work, single taxpayers — the equivalent of Brazil’s micro-business owners — and domestic workers. 

Sixty-one percent of recipients were informal workers or unemployed between May and April, when the first installment of aid was paid out. The initial plan was for citizens to receive a single payment of ARS 10,000 (USD 135.50), but there have now been three installments as of August.

Unlike what was seen in Brazil, the emergency income program was not the subject of intense disputes in Argentina, where the main sticking point between the government and opposition was the continuation of social isolation measures, which went on for five months in Greater Buenos Aires but have been gradually loosened since May.

According to Mr. Gonzalez, it would be difficult to make a regional analysis of the effects of income transfer policies without analyzing each country’s experience in detail. However, in general terms, he says that there are two defining characteristics in the region’s economies: medium-to-low income per capita, and high levels of inequality.

“The design and implementation of adequate policies involve the collective efforts of several levels of the government. Where there are more accentuated political conflicts, the pandemic’s effects may be worse, as we have seen in Brazil, with the federal government facing off against state administrations when they should have been thinking of a strategy to face the crisis,” he adds.[/restricted]

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Coronavirus

Mujica: “even Bolsonaro” has better wealth distribution than Uruguay

Uruguay’s former President and current Senator José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica used Brazil’s emergency salary to criticize his country’s current conservative government. “Even [Brazilian] President [Jair] Bolsonaro distributes much more than us,” said Mr. Mujica, claiming that his country is “last in Latin America in terms of distributing wealth to lower classes.” 

In 2019, center-right President Luis Lacalle Pou ended a 15-year stint of successive center-left administrations upon winning the election. And he has led what is arguably the best response to the coronavirus in Latin America — just over 1,500 confirmed cases and fewer than 50 deaths. 

In March, the government confirmed credit lines at low interest rates provided by state-owned bank Banco República, alongside loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises. The Uruguayan government also postponed the payment of taxes and social security contributions. 

The country’s economic slide in 2020 is set to be much lighter than in neighboring nations — around just -3 percent, according to predictions by the International Monetary Fund. Brazil and Argentina, on the other hand, should see their economies shrink by nearly 6 percent. Unemployment remains a concern, however, pushing the government to put in place a safety net initiative for all sectors. Employees may have their working hours cut by up to 50 percent, with the company paying half of the salary and the government paying another 25 percent.

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Coronavirus

Venezuela calls Covid-19 patients “bioterrorists”

Nicolás Maduro, the authoritarian president of Venezuela, has used brute force as a way to tackle the pandemic. He ordered people to denounce those who caught the coronavirus, labeled by his administration as “bioterrorists.” 

Caracas has imposed quarantines by considering patients as enemies of the state — accusing them of crossing borders and deliberately spreading the coronavirus. When caught, Venezuelans who return to the country from abroad — often after losing their jobs — are confined in prison-like facilities, reportedly without basic necessities, such as food and water.

Venezuela: shady coronavirus numbers 

Though Mr. Maduro established a national lockdown on March 17 and has been using national emergency decrees when new Covid-19 peaks happen, data about the pandemic is not reliable in Venezuela, as The Brazilian Report showed in June. 

The government has been accused of doctoring health and socioeconomic numbers — such as infant mortality rate and even migration figures, estimated by the United Nations at over 4 million people. The country’s official numbers say there are 303 Covid-19 deaths and 36,868 confirmed cases, which would make Venezuela one of the countries with the lowest amount of infections in Latin America.