Nearshore Americas

Curfews and Quarantines Sweep Through Latin America

As many as 13 countries in Latin America have imposed curfews or mandatory quarantines of some sort, as they launch an all-out battle to stop the spread of  COVID-19.

The measures vary greatly, from nation to nation. Still, a significant number have suspended or limited freedom of movement by introducing curfews and other restrictions.

Countries in the Nearshore region that have a curfew or mandatory quarantine include Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. The measures in these countries vary in terms of duration and territorial extensions.  Some countries like Honduras, Peru, Chile, Haiti, and Puerto Rico have extended previously existing measures, in an attempt to flatten the curve of infections.

In most of the countries that have curfews in place, restrictions begin at night and end before sunrise. Chile has decided to remain under a ‘nationwide state of catastrophe’ for 90 days. As a result, today there are armed forces on the streets of Santiago to enforce the curfew.

In Peru, thousands of people have been arrested for violating the curfew and social distancing measures. Its decree allows residents out only to buy food or receive medical treatment.

Honduras has gone as far as suspending people’s constitutional rights in a last-ditch effort to limit the movement of citizens. The enforcement of harsh social distancing measures is partly due to the realization that governments face severe medical equipment shortages. The combination of a deadly disease and limited methods to reduce its spread are part of a toxic mix afflicting virtually every nation on earth.

Less Restrictive Measures

Meanwhile, other Latin American countries have imposed less restrictive measures to contain the spread of the virus. Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, and Uruguay have all closed their borders and suspended massive events and classes, but they haven’t yet imposed nationwide curfews or mandatory quarantines. They are all, however, recommending that citizens stay home.

Nicaragua remains a major exception. While the country has closed its border, authorities tell people that it is safe to go out as usual, and the government itself is conducting a series of massive events.

In Brazil, despite President Jair Bolsonaro minimizing the impact of the pandemic, most governors are taking measures on a state-by-state basis. The actions range from the cancellation of massive events to the shutdown of all non-essential businesses.

In Costa Rica, the Constitution doesn’t allow authorities to impose curfews. Unlike most of Latin America, fundamental liberties haven’t been suspended in Costa Rica in almost 60 years, which makes authorities reluctant to take measures in that direction. However, as Holy Week approaches, the country has taken more strict measures to make it harder for citizens to go on vacation. Over the next week, private vehicles will be subject to restrictions and public transportation navigating distances over 75 kilometers (47 miles) will be suspended.

Mexico is still resisting stringent restrictions on mobility. Nevertheless, the country’s Health Ministry has just recently urged people to self-isolate to avoid contracting the virus. “The only way to reduce the transmission of the virus is to stay home for one month,” stated the country’s Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell in a media briefing earlier this week.

In Latin America, a region unfortunately very familiar with authoritarian regimes, lawyers and civil society organizations are calling for well-defined durations and clear justifications, to avoid the temptation of authorities to sustain restrictions even after the crisis is over.

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“The situation of public calamity must be very clearly demonstrated, that is, the effect that public health may have if these measures are not taken into account because ultimately they end up being states of exception, cuts in freedoms,” said the Uruguayan lawyer Martín Fernández in an interview with the media outlet Sputnik.

The lawyer, who is a member of the Institute of Legal and Social Studies of Uruguay, recalled the recommendations of the American Convention on Human Rights regarding the suspension of guarantees. “The states of emergency must be absolutely limited, and when the conditions that generated the emergency disappear, the state of exception must disappear as well,” Fernández concluded.

*Narayan Ammachchi contributed to this piece.

Diego Pérez-Damasco

Diego Pérez-Damasco is a writer and managing editor at Nearshore Americas. He has more than six years of experience covering politics and business in Latin America. He has been published in media outlets throughout the Americas and holds an MA in International Journalism from the University of Sussex, United Kingdom. Diego is based in Costa Rica.

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