On 15 June 2020, the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade organized a webinar about the effects of the coronavirus on Latin America, discussing the events and trends with a focus on domestic politics in Brazil and Mexico. Speakers of the event were Luicy Pedroza, Associate Professor, El Colegio de México; Patricia Villen, Research Fellow, University of Campinas, Brazil; and Sándor Gyula Nagy, Associate Research Fellow, Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Associate Professor, Corvinus University of Budapest. The event was moderated by Béla Soltész, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The experts discussed three broad topics. First, an overview was given about the political and governance factors that conditioned the response of Latin American countries to the coronavirus outbreak. Patricia Villen explained how Jair Bolsonaro’s government downplayed the severity of the threat, and how the president’s previous and current decisions, such as ending a program of employing thousands of Cuban medical doctors in Brazil, or dismissing his popular Minister of Health, contributed to the governance crisis that Brazilian healthcare is actually facing. Luicy Pedroza described the factors conditioning Mexico’s response to the crisis: lack of social trust, political polarization, mafia activities and an austere economic policy pursued by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Sándor Gyula Nagy presented the critical political and humanitarian situation in Venezuela. He also added that in many Latin American countries, such as in Peru, the high share of informal and precarious workers made strict lockdowns practically impossible.
Second, tensions and ruptures were analyzed, that appeared between political actors in Latin American countries between March and May 2020. Patricia Villen mentioned that president Bolsonaro’s power was weakened when his Minister of Justice, Sergio Moro left the government. Meanwhile, the military has started to become an even more powerful player in Brazilian politics, but popular support for the government is decreasing. Luicy Pedroza explained that President López Obrador’s support is also waning, however, health protection measures can be considered to be more successful in Mexico than in Brazil. Sándor Gyula Nagy made a remark about indigenous populations which are under a severe threat in several Latin American countries.
Third, the political and economic effects of the virus and the lockdown were assessed, with an outlook on possible foreign policy implications. The experts agreed that for 2020, the decrease of GDP can reach 8-9% in some countries, and unemployment is already reaching a critical level. The importance of the army and/or self-organized armed groups is very likely to grow. Foreign powers are, for the time being, rather busy with their own internal affairs, but perhaps China will be able to capitalize on the situation by sending medical and financial aid to the most affected countries. Answering a question from the audience, panelists pointed out that grassroots organizations and self-help activities are likely to develop in the future, counterbalancing the insufficient activity of the governments.
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