Politicians exploit COVID-19 in Peru, Bolivia
Peru's right-wing opposition leader Keiko Fujimori, who had been jailed in January while corruption charges are pending against her, was released from pre-trial detention at Lima's Chorrillos prison on May 4, ostensibly on fears she could be exposed to the coronavirus. Fujimori will be under "restricted release," meaning she cannot leave Lima without prior authorization and must check in every 30 days with judicial authorities. Of course there has been no general discharge from Peru's dangerously overcrowded prisons, and one leading anti-corruption prosecutor in the Fujimori case, Rafael Vela, is protesting her release as "illegitimate." (Milenio, Japan Times, Diario Uno)
Ironically, just two days earlier, the Peruvian government issued a decree authorizing mining operations to resume in the country—supposedly with strict health and safety protocols. Operations at Peru's mines, critical to the country's economy, had been suspended in mid-April in response to the pandemic. (Mining.com)
The administration of President Martín Vizcarra has won a degree of support from the popular classes for its handling of the crisis, which has now claimed some 1,400 lives. Finance Minister Maria Antonieta Alva is especially hailed for crafting an ambitious recovery package that emphasizes aid to small businesses and ordinary citizens. (Bloomberg, NYT)
But struggling family businesses, along with migrant workers, are disproportionately impacted by the government's harsh lockdown orders. Market-stall operators have repeatedly protested being shut down and even having their goods confiscated as police fumigate premises. Evicted merchants held a street demonstration outside La Paradita market in Lima's Victoria district May 5, demanding the return of their seized inventory. (Diaro Uno, Diario Uno)
Bolivia meets the new boss
Bolivia's Mining Minister Carlos Huallpa also announced a multi-ministerial resolution May 2 allowing operations to resume at the country's mines, which had likewise been idled as a measure to contain the pandemic. Companies will have to seek individual approval from the ministry for their "biosafety" protocols. (Mining.com)
The COVID-19 crisis is also contributing to Bolivia's general crisis of legitimacy. After last November's ouster of Evo Morales, it was assumed that interim president Jeanine Añez would be in power for only a matter of weeks, until new elections could be held. Since then, excuses have mounted to postpone new elections. After repeatedly stating she would not run in the new polls, Añez changed her tune in January and threw her hat into the ring. Elections which had been initially scheduled for this week have been indefinitely postponed.
On April 30, the country's congress passed a law stating the poll must be held by Aug. 2, but Añez vetoed it, saying the election should be held "when the pandemic allows us to." Morales noted cynically from exile in Argentina that the pandemic fit her plans "like a ring on a finger." There have been 59 coronavirus deaths in Bolivia. (Financial Times, Nodal)
This is ironically redolent of the constitutional shenanigans Morales used to extend his tenure in office, and many of the social contradictions that sparked protest under his rule are only deepening under the new regime.
Wildfires that devastated much of the eastern lowlands last year, helping to fuel popular unrest in the region, have not abated. In the first four months of 2020, Bolivia registered more than 15,000 wildfires—a figure three times higher than that for the same period last year. Bolivia's Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza warned that this year "threatens to repeat" the grave environmental damage that the country's rainforests suffered in 2019. (AFP)