Coronavirus: Latin American Nations Must Respond Adequately and Proportionately to Health Crisis

20/03/2020
Press release
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On 11 March, the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) calls upon Latin American heads of state to guarantee their populations’ health security.

Considering the fragility of some of the region’s national health systems, FIDH believes it is essential that governments take necessary and effective measures that preserve the right to health and the comprehensive wellbeing of their populations, with a focus on those who are most vulnerable. Measures restricting individual freedoms may be taken temporarily to fight the pandemic only if they are justified and exercised to the extent strictly necessary. They should not endanger vulnerable populations and should not persist after the crisis.

While Latin America is still at the beginning of the pandemic, FIDH is concerned about initial measures already taken by some countries in the region.

It is deeply regrettable that the Nicaraguan government is disregarding WHO recommendations on social distancing, encouraging public gatherings. On Saturday, 14 March, the Nicaraguan government called for a march "Love in the Time of the Covid-19. We walk as a people with faith, life and hope" and currently, despite having acknowledged the existence of the country’s first case, it continues to call for demonstrations including a 23 March "Parade celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Great National Literacy Crusade".

In Brazil, we are concerned that the government of Jair Bolsonaro is minimizing the threat posed by the pandemic and has not taken urgently needed concrete measures to combat it. There have been prison riots in the state of Sao Paulo, motivated by the revocation of Easter temporary releases due to coronavirus-related fears. The country has the world’s third largest prison population, with over 758,000 people behind bars. We urge the Brazilian government to take steps to preserve the health of Brazilians.

In Honduras, despite Executive Decree PCM 021 of 2020 which allows travel for the purchase of food and the opening of shops selling basic necessities, a large number of supermarkets have closed, as well as banks, gas stations and access to public transport. Under these conditions: where to find food? According to information gathered by FIDH, the popular neighbourhood of El Carrizal in Tegucigalpa, where all shops were closed, was particularly affected by these measures. This situation leads to unacceptable precariousness for the most disadvantaged persons, who have no means of accessing food. The same decree requires the police to detain anyone who circulates outside the established exceptions.

Our Federation is also concerned about Honduras’ so-called "Economic Acceleration Law against the Coronavirus" passed on 13 March by the National Congress, which gives the possibility of spending up to 420 million dollars, with no competitive tendering procedure, to fight the coronavirus. In a context of serious corruption scandals involving members of the executive and legislative branches, monitoring and follow-up mechanisms are needed to know how these resources are being invested.

In Venezuela, health worker Julio Molinos was arrested on 18 March in Maturín for making a video requesting compliance with the law on Prevention and Conditions of the Working Environment (the "Lopcymat" law). FIDH demands his immediate release and underlines that it is crucial for doctors, nurses and other health centre workers to have the necessary conditions and tools to carry out their work and not to be daunted by the task at hand.

In Latin America, many people work in the informal economy, thus staying home means an immediate lapse of income. The governments of countries where confinement measures are being imposed must quickly attend to the needs of these populations and not leave them destitute and unprotected.

Finally, we call on the international community to support Latin American countries with fragile public health and social security systems and to ensure that human rights are at the heart of emergency plans, which must not be used to repress Latin American populations.

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