Covid Waves from South of the Border

by May 21, 2020

When I lived in Copacabana, I often jogged through the surf and dove under the Atlantic’s rolling waves. Afterwards, I’d join “beach friends” for an impromptu volleyball. A cool cerveja was our just reward. Today, Rio’s famous beach lies empty, save the gulls pecking at the seaweed. Cariocas sadly observe the scene from their high-rise apartments, humming ‘Tristeza nao tem fim, felicidade sim…

According to Worldometer’s report, Covid-19 cases are surging, spreading faster than anywhere on earth. Two health ministers resigned when the sitting president dissed their pro-active policies. As the governor of Sao Paulo lamented on NBC News, “Brazil is battling two viruses: one is Covid-19, the other is called Bolsonaro.” With health officials at odds with politicos, Brazil’s testing is 3,400 to one million residents (compared to the US’ 42,000/1M.)

Five thousand miles to the northwest, the largest metropolis in our hemisphere is under similar duress. Another so called “populist” president no longer encounters audience for his morning news show. The people are commemorating the Day of the Dead in May instead of November 2nd. Worldmeter reports 2,220 new cases but only 1,400 tests per one million.

A Guadalajara resident opines: “The country is too big for AMLO, the state of Jalisco too big for the governor. Everyday people don’t trust the pols anymore.” La Plaza de los Mariachis has gone quiet. Instead, residents of Jalisco cry out to Our Lady of Guadalupe for help.

1,000 miles east over the Gulf of Mexico, shines a relative bright spot in this battle. Thanks to decades of investment in medical education, Cuban authorities acted quickly to identify the novo coronavirus threat. Testing ramped up and Habaneros were quarantined in May. See PNWA’s associate Ronald’s Covid-19 card, required of all residents. Cuba averages 7,700 tests per million inhabitants.


Such good news is overshadowed by Cubanos’ hard daily life. Gasoline is in short supply and my friend has to bicycle 50 miles to provide food on the family table. In the countryside, farmers in coops seem better off so long as authorities don’t seize ‘’excess’’ crops. In laboratories, Interferon Alpha 2B is being retested on prisoner “volunteers” as remedy. Its side effects are harsh. Read book #2, Havana Odyssey, later this summer for more vignettes.

Now, lets fly 1,100 miles to the southeast over Caribbean thunderclouds to the capital of la Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela. Despite DJT’s trumpeting Maduro’s downfall, you’re likely to see him revving up his red-shirted followers downtown. As the humanitarian crisis deepens, they come for food. With thousands of Cuban operatives and doctors in support, Chavez’s underling clings to power. Venezuela tests 21,000 per one million inhabitants, though they grow fewer by the day. Exiles now surpass five million, double Caracas’ size.

Confides my friend Enrique: “I live one block from my office, so my risk is less. My current gasoline status is pretty good, with five cans almost full and a couple of motorcycles. I walk to work every day. It’s a bizarre life a la ‘Mad Max.’ As my grandpa said, the country’s ‘one bald frog’s hair away’ from collapse. The powder keg is set and primed.”

In Chile and Peru, tests have passed 21,000 per million inhabitants, despite outbreaks in the copper mines. Political tension remains high in both countries, inhibiting more concerted action. In little Uruguay, across el Rio de la Plata and Argentina, tourists no longer frequent Punta del Este. Concludes PNWA colleague Rodolfo: “The politicos have gotten together to provide a common front, encouraging cooperation of the people.”

As an aficionado de las Americas, I end my blog on this hopeful note. Stay well, Esteban

By Stephen E. Murphy, Senior Advisor, Latin America, Pacific Northwest Advisors LLC

Contributors: James Callahan, photo of Copacabana; Ronald and Mary, photos from Cuba; Marc, Reuters’ report; Guilherme Marques, Fundação Getúlio Vargas, his Covid-19 precis on Mercosur, cousin Ricardo for Mexican testimonies and Enrique from the streets of Caracas.