Guayaquil, Ecuador has struggled mightily with the effects of the covid-19 pandemic. The capabilities of health systems in Latin America vary dramatically, and some wonder whether other health systems will be overrun as Guayaquil's has. This article discusses challenges facing countries in Latin America as well as mechanisms some governments are using to prepare and to cope.

"Latin America's Health Systems Brace for a Battering" - The Economist

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for re-election, is casting doubt on the fairness of the country's electoral processes. Some observers infer that Bosonaro is sowing doubt about the country's election system so that he can ensure his own victory in the country's October election, or dispute the results if he loses. Right-wing Bolsonaro is flailing in the polls against Luiz Ignacio Lula Ignacio da Silva, the leftist former president who served from 2003-2010. Brazil is one of the largest democracies in the world, is the third largest export market for the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere, and is of significant strategic importance.

"Might Jair Bolsonaro Try To Steal Brazil's Election?" - The Economist

"Mr Bolsonaro appears bent on undermining trust in democratic institutions. Before the last election, his supporters energetically spread fake news about his opponents. Since then the pro-Bolsonaro parallel news universe has expanded."

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"China's New Silk Road Runs through Latin America, Prompting Warnings from the U.S." - PRI

Through its Belt and Road Initiative, China is extending its reach and power across the world, including in areas traditionally part of the U.S sphere of influence. China has a number of high-profile projects underway in Panama and in 18 other countries in Latin America but is encountering resistance from the United States. "China, patiently and methodically, is using its Belt and Road Initiative to expand and strengthen its strategic presence around the world, including in what has long been called the United States’ backyard."

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In late August Guatemalans elected anti-corruption leader, former diplomat, and member of Congress Bernardo Arévalo as their new president in a historic election. Arévalo's victory over former first lady Sandra Torres was a surprise upset; he was an underdog candidate who faced a number of significant challenges. He will replace right-wing President Alejandro Giammattei when he is inaugurated in January. Government authorities took weeks to certify Arévalo's victory, federal prosecutors are seeking to suspend his party, and his rival Torres has launched court proceedings to try to overturn the election results. Guatemala suffers from rampant corruption, poverty, climate-related food insecurity, and crime. As a result the country is a major source of migrants to the United States. Guatemalans and analysts are hopeful that the Arévalo administration will restore democratic processes and freedoms that had been increasingly constrained by the Giammattei administration.

"Bernardo Arévalo: Anti-Corruption Leader Wins Guatemala Election" - BBC

"Guatemala's President-Elect and His Anti-Corruption Party Face Legal Challenges. Here's What's Happening" - PBS

"Anti-Corruption Candidate Scores Landslide Win in Guatemala Vote" - Washington Post

"The implications of Sunday’s vote go well beyond this coffee-exporting country of 17 million, one of the poorest in Latin America. Guatemala is a major source of irregular migration to the United States and is a significant pipeline for Colombian cocaine bound for the U.S. market. The Biden administration took office pledging to combat corruption and support a stronger rule of law in Central America, as a way to deter migration. But in Guatemala, as well as Nicaragua and El Salvador, democratic institutions including an independent judiciary have eroded."

The Washington Post - "In secret recording, Pompeo opens up about Venezuelan opposition, says keeping it united ‘has proven devilishly difficult’"

The U.S. Secretary of State reportedly discusses difficulties in uniting the Venezuelan opposition.

Despite the warmer climate, younger populace, and time to prepare, Latin America is experiencing devastating outbreaks of covid-19. Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Mexico have been hardest hit so far. The WHO considers Latin America to be the new epicenter of the pandemic.

"Latin America Had Time to Prepare for the Coronavirus. It Couldn't Stop the Inevitable." - Washington Post

"Central and South America Now Intense Zones for Covid-19 Transmission" - UN News

For decades the U.S. immigration system has been dysfunctional. Congress has neglected to pass meaningful immigration reform and the already complex issues related to migration have become increasingly politicized. Meanwhile, record numbers of migrants are overwhelming government resources at the southern U.S. border and wait times for immigration court hearings can stretch from months to years.

A new report from the Migration Policy Institute focuses on issues at the U.S./Mexico border, where the sheer volume of spontaneous migrant arrivals threatens to overwhelm existing U.S. resources. Whereas a decade or two ago most arriving migrants were single working-age Mexicans, the demographics of arriving migrants have changed considerably in recent years. More families are now arriving, as are migrants from around the world who take circuitous routes to the U.S./Mexico border.

This new report addresses these challenges and proposes several solutions. Chief among the solutions is that Congress must allocate considerable additional resources to the government agencies responsible for enforcing U.S. immigration policy. These include not only Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), but also U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (CSIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and others. This report also provides a comprehensive description of the recent history of border control policy as well as of current migrant processing procedures at the border.

"Shifting Realities at the U.S.-Mexico Border" - Migration Policy Institute

"These factors have stretched the U.S. border management system beyond its capabilities. Insufficiently equipped to respond effectively to these and likely future changes, U.S. immigration agencies must perpetually react and shift operations according to their strained capacity and daily changes in migrant arrivals. Such conditions result in unpredictable and arbitrary processing decisions for migrants, an inability to screen the majority of asylum seekers upon arrival for their eligibility for protection, large numbers entering the country to await hearing dates that may be years away, and spillover effects for U.S. and Mexican communities, local governments, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that assist migrants. The cumulative picture is one of policy breakdowns that reach well beyond the border."

"In total, U.S. immigration authorities recorded 2 million unauthorized migrant border crossings between POEs and 430,000 arrivals at POEs in FY 2023, and monthly migrant encounters remained elevated into FY 2024."

As President Daniel Ortega prepares his bid for re-election in November, the Nicaraguan government is cracking down on opposition figures. Six candidates planning to run against Ortega have been arrested since the beginning of June, in addition to numerous other members of civil society. As is often the case when repressive regimes detain opposition figures, the Ortega regime accuses those arrested of threatening the sovereignty of Nicaragua or of fomenting terrorism.

"Nicaragua Opposition Arrests Climb to 26" - France24

"Nicaraguan Opposition Activists Held as Crackdown Intensifies" - BBC News

The U.S. government has imposed sanctions on members of the Ortega regime. "The region and the international community must stand with the Nicaraguan people in support of their right to freely choose their government and their freedom from repression and human rights abuses. President Ortega is defying the international community, and we will continue to respond."

The State Department's "2020 Country Report on Human Rights: Nicaragua" states in its introduction that, "Nicaragua has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Daniel Ortega Saavedra and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo Zambrana. Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front party exercises total control over the executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral functions. President Ortega was inaugurated to a third term in office in January 2017 following a deeply flawed electoral process."

In mid June, the Organization of American States (OAS) condemned the Ortega regime for its treatment of the opposition and demanded that the government restore human rights and create the conditions for free and fair elections.

In a further escalation of tensions in Peru, the government has expelled Mexico's ambassador. The expulsion occurred after Mexico announced that it would grant asylum to the family of Peru's recently ousted president, Pedro Castillo.

On December 7, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo declared a state of emergency, dissolved parliament, and stated that he would rule by decree. Peru's congress then impeached Castillo, who had been accused of corruption, and he was replaced by Vice President Dina Boluarte. Castillo was arrested and is being detained on suspicion of rebellion and conspiracy. Violent protests have broken out, with protesters calling for new elections and demanding the release of Pedro Castillo. The new president declared a state of emergency, and the crisis is having effects across the region as other countries (such as Mexico) weigh in.

"Peru's Political Crisis: Jaw-Dropping Twists and Turns" - BBC

"Everything You Need to Know about Peru's Political Crisis" - Washington Post

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While Venezuela might have faded somewhat from the headlines, the situation remains dire in the formerly vibrant country. This interesting work of photojournalism shows some of the numerous cars that have been abandoned in Caracas, symbols of the country's economic collapse.

"In Caracas, these left-behind cars lie in slums and affluent neighborhoods alike, nostalgic symbols of the city’s tragic transformation from the culturally alive, avant-garde capital of an oil-rich nation to a gloomy, backward warren of shuttered businesses and vacant buildings."

"Symbols of a Tragic Transformation: The Abandoned Cars of Venezuela" - The Washington Post

 An inoperative car is parked in the middle-income neighborhood of Santa Paula in Caracas, Venezuela, on Nov. 3. (Andrea Hernández Briceño)

The Dominican Republic recently elected a new president, Luis Abinader. Abinader is from the Modern Revolutionary Party; his election unseats the Dominican Liberation Party that has long been in power. The new president faces many challenges, including corruption, crime, economic problems, and the covid-19 pandemic.

"The Dominican Republic Changes Its Ruling Party" - The Economist

Immigration is a complex, highly controversial topic in the U.S. The Council on Foreign Relations has published an excellent overview of the relevant facts and issues.

"The U.S. Immigration Debate" - Council on Foreign Relations

"Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform for years, effectively moving some major policy decisions into the executive and judicial branches of government and fueling debate in the halls of state and municipal governments."

"The undocumented population is estimated to be about eleven million people and has leveled off since its peak before the 2008 economic crisis."

"Though many of the policies that aim to reduce unlawful immigration focus on enforcement at the border, individuals who arrive in the United States legally and overstay their visas comprise a significant portion of the undocumented population. A Center for Migration Studies report found that, in 2010–2018, individuals who overstayed their visas far outnumbered those who arrived by crossing the border illegally." (About two thirds of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. overstayed visas while one third crossed a border illegally).

"As of 2018, Mexico was the most common country of origin for U.S. immigrants, constituting 25 percent of the immigrant population. However, Asia was the top region of origin, with 28 percent of immigrants born there."

More than two thirds of legal immigrants in the U.S. are admitted based on family reunification.

The vice president recently announced a new program that will leverage an additional $540 million in private investment to improve conditions in Central America with the goal of reducing unauthorized migration to the U.S.

"Kamala Harris To Announce New Private Investments Aimed at Slowing Central American Migration" - LA Times

Thousands of Cubans marched on Sunday to protest economic instability, energy blackouts, and food shortages amidst U.S. sanctions and a worsening covid-19 situation in the country. Large protests are very rare in the authoritarian state.

"Cubans Hold Biggest Anti-Government Protests in Decades; Biden Says U.S. Stands with People" - The Washington Post

"Biden Says U.S. Stands Firmly with Cuban People Amid Protests Against Regime" CBS News

Representatives of the Venezuelan government and the opposition have begun talks in Mexico City. The meetings seek to address the country's prolonged economic and political crisis. The talks, moderated by Norway and attended by representatives from a number of other countries, are expected to address sanctions relief, humanitarian aid, and the release of political prisoners.

Record numbers of Venezuelans are entering the United States, hundreds of thousands in just the past couple of years. The Biden administration recently extended temporary protected status to Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. prior to July 31 this year, giving them work authorization. Cities and towns across the United States are struggling to handle the influx. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 7.7 million Venezuelans, or approximately 25% of the country's population, have left Venezuela. Most are being hosted in Latin American and Caribbean countries. What are the problems in Venezuela that are pushing so many to leave their homes? Venezuela has been experiencing a prolonged economic, political, and humanitarian crisis. Despite the country's tremendous oil reserves, its people struggle to access basic necessities such as food, gasoline, and healthcare. Word has spread about ways to get to the United States (and elsewhere), and human smugglers have stepped in to facilitate the process. Is Venezuela another example of a country falling prey to the resource curse, the idea that countries rich in natural resources experience poor economic performance and suffer from a host of negative long-term consequences? Here are some resources to help understand the Venezuelan crisis, which is generating ripple effects around the world.

"Venezuela: The Rise and Fall of a Petrostate" - Council on Foreign Relations

"Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, is a case study in the perils of becoming a petrostate. Since it was discovered in the country in the 1920s, oil has taken Venezuela on an exhilarating but dangerous boom-and-bust ride that offers lessons for other resource-rich states. Decades of poor governance have driven what was once one of Latin America’s most prosperous countries to economic and political ruin. Venezuela has suffered economic collapse in recent years, with output shrinking by three-quarters and rampant hyperinflation contributing to a scarcity of basic goods. Meanwhile, government mismanagement and U.S. sanctions have led to a drastic decline in oil production and severe underinvestment in the sector."

"Why Are So Many Venezuelans Going to the United States?" - New York Times

"Venezuela Situation" - UNHCR

"The spiralling cost of living, fallout from the COVID-19 emergency, and high unemployment rates have increased the vulnerability of Venezuelan refugees and migrants and have made it difficult for many to rebuild their lives and integrate into host societies across the region."