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Latin America's two big coronavirus challenges

Latin America's two big coronavirus challenges

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, many Latin American countries were struggling with low prices for their commodities exports, a Venezuelan refugee crisis, and a surge of street protests across the region.

Then came the worst global public health crisis in a hundred years.

So far, there are about half a million confirmed cases in Latin America and about 25,000 deaths, but spotty testing and reporting mean both figures are too low.


Now the region faces a twin challenge. First, dilapidated and highly unequal health-care systems risk becoming overwhelmed if the disease spreads widely. And in a region where 30 percent of people live in poverty and half the labor force toils in the informal economy, working from home is not a ready option for tens of millions of people. Cash-strapped governments are scrambling to help those left without work and food.

Second, the economic and social impacts will be severe. Shutdowns in China, Europe, and the US have cratered demand for Latin America's exports while also decimating remittances, a lifeline for countries in the Caribbean and Central America. Tourism, an economic engine for the region's island nations and Mexico, has vanished too. The IMF says the region's economy will shrink more than five percent this year.

The stakes are high. Over the past 20 years, 100 million Latin Americans rose out of poverty. Now, the UN warns, as many as 24 million of them could slide right back.

Here's a look at a few big stories in the region.

Brazil, the region's biggest economy, has handled the crisis the worst. President Jair Bolsonaro has rightly raised concerns about the economic toll of state-ordered lockdowns, but he's mocked the pandemic threat, clashed with governors over quarantines, and stoked protests against social distancing. Two health ministers have resigned in the past month. As Brazil grapples with the region's biggest outbreak and its steepest economic contraction since 1901, the epitaph for Bolsonaro's handling of the crisis could well be, "Some people died. So what? I'm sorry. What do you want me to do?"

Chile, which locked down early and has recently extended its measures in the capital region, recently made headlines for being the first country to introduce an "immunity passport" as part of a plan to get people back to work safely. Good idea, or not?

Colombia moved early to get tests and impose a nationwide lockdown, and it's now slowly reopening select regions. One big question: How will the crisis affect Colombia's ability to integrate the more than 1 million Venezuelan refugees still in the country, or to make progress on an already-stumbling peace process with the FARC? A snapshot: Colombia's poor are raising red flags on their houses to let the authorities know they need food.

Mexico's still-popular President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador dismissed early warnings about the virus because of his concern about a lockdown's effect on the poor. That hurt efforts to contain its spread, and though he has since declared a national emergency, there are big questions about the real death toll in Mexico City and other regions. As the economy faces a historic 6 percent collapse, will he still have the money he's promised to spend on infrastructure and social initiatives? He's beginning a phased re-opening of Mexico's economy this week.

Peru won early praise for swift lockdowns, but it now faces a mounting health crisis as workers who lost their jobs in Lima return to poorly-equipped rural villages, taking the virus with them.

Central America, already plagued by violence and hugely dependent on remittances, is in a tough spot, even if reported deaths are still fairly low. El Salvador's authoritarian-minded young president has triggered a constitutional crisis with some of the strictest lockdown measures in the region. Next door in Guatemala, villagers have violently rejected migrants trying to return home for fear they carry the virus.

Make way for the little 'Guay! Despite minimal forced lockdowns, the 3.4 million people of Uruguay broadly adopted social distancing measures on their own, and the country's well-developed public health system hasn't been strained. So far, the death rate has been about on par with New Zealand's.

The role of the public library has evolved over time. As we move online at an even faster rate, knowledge, entertainment and opportunities for education and employment are found on the internet. Those living in well-connected, affluent places may have come to take internet access for granted. But there is a digital divide in the U.S. that has left people at a disadvantage – particularly since the arrival of COVID-19.

Finding ways to overcome that divide in a sustainable, community-led way could help bring the benefits of the internet to those who need it most. One solution is to use technologies such as TV white space to facilitate wireless broadband – as Microsoft's Airband Initiative is doing. To read more about Microsoft's work with public libraries, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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One week before the US election. What do other world leaders want to happen?

Well, I mean, let's face it. Outside the United States, most of the world's leaders would prefer to see the back of Trump. An America first policy was not exactly made for non-Americans. That was not the intended demographic audience. Trump doesn't really care. In fact, to a degree, it's kind of a selling point that a lot of foreign leaders don't want Trump. It's showing that Trump is strong in negotiations and indeed is doing better for the American people.

That's largely BS, but occasionally it's true. I mean, his willingness to use American power to force the Mexican government to actually tighten up on Mexico's Southern border and stop immigration from coming through. AMLO would have much rather that not have happened, but the fact that it did was an America first policy, that rebounded to the benefits of the United States. And there are other examples of that. But generally speaking, it would be better for the US long-term, and for the world, if we had more harmonious, smoother relations with other countries around the world, certainly pretty much all the Europeans would much rather see Trump lose. The United Kingdom is the significant exception given the nature of Brexit, and the fact that Trump has been in favor of that, like being called Mr. Brexit by five or six Brits or however many did.

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