“The world response to the COVID-19 epidemic has been completely unprecedented. At the time of writing, 82 countries have restricted travel through their borders and 37 have completely closed them completely. Both the invisible and physical walls that separate the world have grown less penetrable, but no region has enacted measures as strict as Latin America, whose governments fear their vulnerable health systems will not be able to cope with widespread outbreak.
A dozen Latin American countries—with a combined population of more than 175 million people—have placed their citizens on full lockdown, a measure which some countries are enforcing by deploying soldiers to the streets.”
“The primary barrier to governments enacting controversial power grabs are the critics and institutions who would object, so a handful of Latin American leaders are taking dramatic steps to silence those who check their power. They’re now muzzling journalists through intimidation, arrest, or character assassination.
In Honduras, the government passed an emergency measure that temporarily suspended constitutional protections on free speech for both citizens and journalists. On March 25, the Bolivian government announced a decree that allows imprisonment for up to 10 years of those who “misinform” or “promote non-compliance” with government regulation. The nonprofit Human Rights Watch has criticized the language of the law, saying it is intentionally vague and could be used to prosecute political opponents and journalists alike.
In Venezuela, freelance journalist Darvinson Rojas was arrested by Special Action Forces (FAES) and imprisoned for his coverage of the coronavirus crisis. The local Venezuelan press has covered half a dozen instances of journalists being intimidated. And on April 6, FAES arrested Luis Serrano, a civil assemblyman who would have determined the next election oversight board in Venezuela, according to WOLA, a human rights group in Latin America. They seized masks and protective gear Serrano’s organization had donated to journalists covering COVID-19 and detained politicians who’d been contradicting the government’s official coronavirus statistics, which many medical experts consider unbelievably low.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has turned the crisis into a political weapon, claiming that the press is trying to destroy his presidency through misinformation. Despite ignoring advice from health officials within his own party about the danger of the epidemic, he used the crisis as justification to release an executive order that abolished freedom of information legislation, effectively undermining the ability of journalists or NGOs to obtain public health information. The executive order was quickly struck down by Brazil’s Supreme Court.”
“Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia have all been heavily criticized by the United Nations for violent repression of a continent-wide wave of protests that swept through Latin America just months ago. If civil unrest flares up again over economic or health issues during the current state of emergency, protesters in many countries may find themselves facing down state forces with extralegal powers and a muzzled press.
The degree of authoritarianism varies by country”