Even after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a pandemic and governments throughout Latin America implement harder measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, authorities in Mexico and Nicaragua are going in a completely different direction.
Both Nicaragua and Mexico are refusing to impose travel restrictions. In fact, Nicaragua’s authorities are going as far as saying the country is a “safe” tourism destination during pandemic times.
Nicaragua hasn’t canceled massive events, and in Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has continued holding political rallies. There are recent pictures of him on social media kissing children. Just a few days ago, Mexico City held a large music festival with nearly 50,000 people in attendance.
Meanwhile, neighboring countries are refusing to welcome Mexicans for fear of the virus. Earlier this week, El Salvador refused to allow a flight carrying 12 passengers who had allegedly tested positive for the coronavirus.
Even as US cities are going on lockdown, AMLO has remained defiant. “There are those who say we should stop hugging because of coronavirus,” he said in a recent rally. “But we should hug. Nothing’s going to happen.”
On Sunday, addressing a large gathering of poor residents in the southern state of Guerrero, AMLO said: “Pandemics and other unfortunate events won’t do anything to us.”
López Obrador is also putting his own health in danger: he is 66 years old, and he had a heart attack seven years ago. As Washington Post’s columnist, León Krauze, describes it, he is the definition of someone at risk of becoming severely ill if he is infected. His defiance has left experts wondering whether he is going a leave a large number of Mexicans exposed to the deadly virus. Already, around 100 Mexicans have been tested positive for the virus.
Even when some measures are in place to fight the pandemic -the country’s soccer league was suspended, and schools will cease classes before the Holly Week break, on the second week of April- many argue that AMLO should do more. Some countries in Latin America are also considering fiscal incentives to reduce the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. AMLO made it clear that Mexico will not join this group. Financial measures in the country include reducing gasoline prices and committing not to increase taxes.
There are some who argue that AMLO is well aware of the risks at hand, but is weighing that against the major economic shock the country would endure if a complete shutdown is ordered. Such a shock could unleash civil unrest that could put Mexico on an all-together different path of deterioration.
Of course maintaining ‘business as normal’ will undoubtedly not prevent economic fallout. The Mexican peso has fallen faster than other Latin American currencies and new plans to close the border with the United States – announced today – are going to immediately damage trade revenues.
In Nicaragua, Vice President Rosario Murillo, wife of President Daniel Ortega, has continued to urge people to stay calm without confirming whether her country is prepared to combat the virus that has wreaked havoc in Italy and Iran.
Just yesterday (Thursday, March 19th), all workers in the country were forced to participate in a national earthquake drill, a situation that inevitably leads to mass gatherings. Murillo stated that the government has no intention of rescheduling any of its upcoming events because of the pandemic.
Health Minister Carolina Dávila Murillo has already made it clear that Nicaragua has no plans to impose mandatory quarantine for foreign arrivals.
Such comments have angered some US doctors, who have signed a statement, accusing the regime leaving vulnerable populations unprotected.
Nicaragua has just registered its first case of the virus, but experts are warning that more will be infected in the weeks to come if the government does not impose strict travel restrictions.
Last Sunday (March 15th), Nicaragua’s conducted a protest to “beat the virus with love.” Having the government organize a mass event, when sanitary authorities all over the world are requesting people to stay home defies all logic.
The blatant negligence from Nicaraguan officials has led to some analysts to theorize reasons that border on conspiracy theories. Two Nicaraguan journalists exiled in Costa Rica told the media outlet elmundo.cr that they believe Nicaragua’s government wants people to get sick, to weaken the opposition.
“It’s bizarre that the Ortega’s didn’t participate in the demonstration,” told elmundo.cr William Aragón, correspondent of the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa. “They stayed home, while people were exposing [to the virus]. They always go to these types of events, but this time they didn’t,” he added.
*Narayan Ammachchi contributed to this piece.