Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, at a press conference after the resignation of Justice Minister Sergio Moro, Brasilia, April 24, 2020 (AP photo by Eraldo Peres).

The coronavirus pandemic has so far proven to be a boost for many autocratic leaders around the world, who have managed to exploit the crisis to expand and tighten their hold on power. But the situation is different for at least one far-right demagogue, for whom the pandemic is shaping up to become the key line in his political obituary: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. The political future of a president who has been called the “Trump of the Tropics” now hangs in the balance as Bolsonaro continues to actively exhort Brazilians to reject public health measures, even as the number of […]

Iraqi soldiers man a checkpoint as oil wells burn on the outskirts of Qayyarah, Iraq, Oct. 19, 2016 (AP photo by Marko Drobnjakovic).

Competition over scarce natural resources is often a key driver of the tensions that fuel armed conflict in different corners of the world. Yet in the heat of battle, environmental considerations are often relegated to afterthoughts, as smoke from burning buildings clouds the skies and toxic byproducts of munitions poison the soil and groundwater. As former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in 2014, “The environment has long been a silent casualty of war and armed conflict.” Conflict-related environmental damage directly and indirectly affects the wellbeing of nearby civilians by threatening their health, ecosystems, livelihoods and economies. Accordingly, humanitarian organizations […]

Demonstrators hold a banner with the names of murdered activists during a protest march in Bogota, Colombia, July 26, 2019 (AP photo by Ivan Valencia).

The first victim in March was Julio Gutierrez Aviles, the president of a local community action group in Campoalegre, a small town in the rural, mountainous department of Huila in western Colombia. Gutierrez had taken part in recent protests to support Huila’s farmers, trying to make a difference in a region that has long been seen as strategic by various armed groups in Colombia. According to local news, he was on his way home when he was attacked by a group of men, who shot him without saying a word and then left his body on the road. In the […]

Guyana’s president, David Granger, addresses the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 20, 2016 (AP photo by Richard Drew).

Despite growing signs of a dramatic and global economic downturn stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, the small South American country of Guyana appears poised for a period of spectacular economic growth. In its recent semiannual report on Latin America and the Caribbean, the World Bank forecasts a 4.6 percent contraction for the region’s economy in 2020, followed by an expansion of 2.6 percent in 2021. However, the World Bank sees Guyana’s economy skyrocketing by 51.7 percent in 2020, before leveling off to 8.7 percent in 2021. The reason for this very rosy outlook? In December, ExxonMobil began pumping oil from […]

Soldiers stand guard after the start of a curfew to slow the spread of the coronavirus, in Lima, Peru, April 22, 2020 (AP photo by Rodrigo Abd).

LIMA, Peru—Even before his quick, decisive response to the novel coronavirus, the irony of Martin Vizcarra’s accidental yet popular stint as president of Peru was not lost on many of his constituents. When voters here are asked to explain their reformist leader’s apparent honesty and effectiveness, they often respond cynically, “We didn’t vote for him.” They have a point. All five of Peru’s elected presidents between 1985 and 2018, when Vizcarra stepped up from the vice presidency to replace the scandal-plagued Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, have been linked by prosecutors to corruption. One, Alberto Fujimori, is serving a 25-year jail sentence. […]

Asylum-seekers wearing masks attend a mandatory immigration court hearing in El Paso, Texas, March 16, 2020 (AP photo by Cedar Attanasio).

Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has complained that on immigration, the United States has “the worst laws of any country in the world,” which constrain his anti-immigrant agenda at the border with Mexico. He hasn’t been able to convince Congress to change those laws, or even to pay for a wall along the southern border, even after instigating the longest government shutdown in history just to pressure Congress. Trump’s administration has instead sought to chip away at immigration statutes and bend them almost to their breaking point, in order to make it harder for all immigrants, but primarily asylum-seekers, to […]

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

MONTREAL—On Feb. 10, Karla Tait was arrested in northern British Columbia while participating in a ceremony along the path of a multi-billion-dollar pipeline project to honor missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police accused Tait and other members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation of violating an injunction preventing them from blocking construction on the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The project passes through an area where members of the Unist’ot’en clan, a sub-group of the Wet’suwet’en peoples, have set up a traditional healing center and camp to reclaim their ancestral lands and protest the pipeline’s construction. The road […]

Soldiers distribute food to people who cannot leave their homes during the coronavirus lockdown in Quito, Ecuador, April 2, 2020 (AP photo by Dolores Ochoa).

Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, has emerged as Latin America’s epicenter in the COVID-19 pandemic. Though smaller in scale than the staggering outbreak in New York City, Guayaquil’s is no less devastating. Its 2.7 million inhabitants are enduring many of the same, wicked challenges that New Yorkers have been facing: a surge in confirmed cases, overwhelmed hospitals and mortuaries, and a national government that is trying to look like it is handling the crisis. Yet one thing is quite different: Guayas, the province surrounding Guayaquil, has been placed under military jurisdiction. To respond to the spread of the virus, […]

A sign indicates a COVID-19 checkpoint ahead as a truck crosses the Confederation Bridge in Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick, Canada, March 22, 2020 (photo by Andrew Vaughan for The Canadian Press via AP).

Throughout history, outbreaks of infectious disease have often been linked with illicit trade. A cholera outbreak in Mexico during the 1990s, for example, is believed to have originated with an infected person from South America who arrived on an illegal airstrip used for drug trafficking. The historian Julia Clancy-Smith writes that in mid-19th-century Tunisia, “contraband, quarantine, and cholera worked together.” And while the precise origin of the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the globe is unknown, the illicit wildlife trade in China may have been a major factor. Once they spread widely, infectious diseases also disrupt the illicit drug trade at […]

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado delivers a speech at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 17, 2019 (Photo by Salvatore Di Nolfi for Keystone via AP Images).

A major scandal erupted in Costa Rica recently over privacy concerns stemming from a data analysis unit that President Carlos Alvarado created after he took office in 2018. The scandal has forced the resignation of several high-level Costa Rican government officials, but no evidence has emerged yet of any illegal intent on the part Alvarado’s administration. In an email interview with WPR, Suráyabi Ramírez, a graduate student at the London School of Economics and a former staffer in Costa Rica’s legislature, explains why the scandal has caused such an outcry and why it may still have far-reaching political implications. World […]

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There is no shortage of wrenching details about the coronavirus pandemic so far. But few have been as shocking as the images coming out of Ecuador, where COVID-19 has already exacted a horrifying toll on impoverished residents and overwhelmed authorities. Scores of bodies lie on sidewalks and city streets, as the relatives of the dead plead for help. Ecuador’s Guayas province has emerged as ground zero for the coronavirus in South America, with more cases reported there than in many Latin American countries as a whole. Its capital, the Pacific port city of Guayaquil, is the country’s most populous metropolitan […]

Cuban doctors and medical professionals pose with a photo of Fidel Castro before departing for Italy to assist with the coronavirus outbreak in the country, Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2020 (AP photo by Ismael Francisco).

Cuba has long promoted its high-quality health care system by sending medical professionals to treat patients in other countries, “a show of soft power that also earns billions in badly needed hard currency,” as the Associated Press recently put it. While some right-wing governments in Latin America have sent their Cuban doctors packing in recent years, Havana is seeing a new surge in demand for its help as a result of the spread of COVID-19. In an email interview with WPR, John Kirk, a professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, discusses Cuba’s […]

Graffiti of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wearing a protective mask in Rio de Janeiro, April 7, 2020 (AP photo by Silvia Izquierdo).

Plenty of observers have rushed to predict that the COVID-19 pandemic will seriously harm the political fortunes of populists, or even make populism the outbreak’s first “ideological casualty.” Populists, they assert, vilify experts; now we are all learning that the price of not listening to experts may well be our own lives. Populists, it is also often said, are the great simplifiers; now we need experienced bureaucrats and leaders who can deal with a complex challenge. Yet this valiant attempt to see a silver lining in this political moment is itself highly simplistic. Populism is not primarily characterized by hostility […]

The headquarters of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 28, 2019 (AP photo by Fernando Llano).

The surprising decision this week by Russian oil giant Rosneft to pull out of Venezuela provides a textbook study of the intricacies of Russia’s global energy wars. It was only six months ago that Russia’s majority state-owned oil company was poised to take over its nationalized counterpart in Venezuela, PDVSA, in a bid to insulate President Nicolas Maduro’s regime from increasingly harsh U.S. sanctions. Now, it looks like Rosneft may be buckling under the pressures of a coronavirus-induced slump in oil demand, a price war with Saudi Arabia and continued American sanctions. Or, at least, that’s how it looks on […]

President Jair Bolsonaro, center, with the economy minister and health minister during a press conference on the coronavirus, Brasilia, Brazil, March 18, 2020 (AP photo by Andre Borges).

Political leaders around the world have responded to the coronavirus pandemic in a wide variety of ways. Some are strictly adhering to the advice of epidemiologists, like the presidents of South Korea and Taiwan. Others are brazenly launching autocratic power grabs, in the case of Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban. Still others are to trying to deny reality itself, as in Turkmenistan, where the government has banned the word “coronavirus.” In Latin America, the responses from national leaders have ranged from buffoonish irresponsibility to stern action. The region is a good place to try to identify what it is about […]

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In terms of progressive ideas, Uruguay has always punched above its weight. It introduced a free, universal public education system in 1878, 40 years before the United States. Eventually, Uruguay blossomed into one of the most robust social welfare states in Latin America, with the region’s lowest income inequality. It was the first country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana and the second in the region to legalize gay marriage, after Argentina. This small country of 3.5 million people has also burnished its environmental credentials, conserving native forests, protecting biodiverse areas and striving to be carbon neutral by 2030. […]