Jul 15, 2021

Axios Latino

¡Muy buen jueves! Today we dive into shortages and crackdowns, growing COVID cases among immigrants, and the aftermath of a nuclear test.

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This week’s newsletter — edited by Michele Salcedo— is 1,504 words, about a 5.5-minute read.

1 big thing: The path to Cuba’s mass protests
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Data: Proyecto Inventario; Map: Will Chase/Axios

“I took to the streets because I am done with being hungry, unemployed, without water, without power,” Sara Naranjo, 88, says on video. She is one of the thousands of Cubans who took part in anti-government protests on the island.

What’s happening: People like Naranjo, who remembers Cuba before the revolution, this past week joined thousands of younger Cubans, who have only known communism, in massive street protests throughout the country, ignoring their fear of their government’s harsh response.

Why it matters: The extent of the protests hasn’t been seen in 60 years of Castrista rule. Pockets of overt dissidence had been growing for months, especially after Raúl Castro resigned as head of the Communist Party in April.

Driving the news: The song “Patria y Vida,” written by Yotuel Romero, Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno, El Funky and Maykel Osorbo, helped mobilize people with lyrics like “no more lies, no more doctrine."

  • Movimiento San Isidro — a coalition of academics, journalists and artists, including Osorbo and El Funky — has also been encouraging more Cubans to protest publicly.

Background: Frustrations simmering for decades have reached a boiling point because of the pandemic.

  • The resulting drop in tourism dried up an important source of hard currency.
  • The island’s state-run economy, already hit by sanctions from the U.S. embargo and by Cuban government mismanagement, fell to its lowest point since Soviet subsidies stopped in the 1990s.
  • Chronic shortages of food and medicine have become more acute, especially as the nearly quarter-million people with COVID have pushed the healthcare system to the verge of collapse.
  • Growing internet availability and 3G cell connections have facilitated gatherings and displays of dissidence.

Where it stands: At least one death from the crackdown has been officially acknowledged. Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, 36, was from an especially impoverished part of Havana.

  • The government shut down the internet and phone lines on Sunday.
  • Reliable information on the number of arrests is difficult to come by, but estimates are as high as 5,000.
  • The U.S. has demanded that the Cuban government free all those arrested, while discouraging Cubans from crossing by sea to get to the United States.

The other side: Cuba President Miguel Díaz-Canel has acknowledged shortages but blamed them on the embargo, and his government characterizes the protests as “disorder” and as “non-conventional warfare” financed by the U.S.

Keep reading.

2. Scoop: A rise in immigrant deaths from COVID

The remains of a Salvadoran man found 100 miles into Texas. He tested positive for COVID-19 post-mortem. Photo: Noticias Telemundo Investiga

Four out of 10 undocumented migrants who’ve died on their way to the U.S. contracted COVID-19 before ending up in the Falfurrias, Texas, morgue.

Details: A Noticias Telemundo Investiga report shows an increased incidence of coronavirus in the bodies of migrants recovered in border states, as the number of deceased John and Jane Does rises this summer.

  • The symptoms of coronavirus make heat stroke and dehydration worse, as people try to cross through remote, treacherous desert, with record-breaking temperatures during the day and cold nights.
  • COVID-19 also spreads faster in the crowded stash houses where smugglers keep migrants on both sides of the border, and on dinghies used to navigate the Rio Grande.
  • On the U.S. side, crowded ICE detention centers have seen over 7,500 new cases of infection since April, per a New York Times analysis. An immunization campaign in those facilities began yesterday with Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The big picture: Increasingly, adult migrants to the U.S. are fleeing the after-effects of the pandemic, in addition to the despair over violence and previous economic crises in Mexico, Central America and beyond.

3. Hope for compensation from nuclear fallout

The 1945 Trinity Test in New Mexico, the world's first atomic bomb explosion. Photo: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images

Hispanics and Mescalero Apache tribe members in New Mexico mark tomorrow’s anniversary of the 1945 Trinity nuclear test hoping lawmakers will finally acknowledge and address the negative effects they’ve lived with since.

Why it matters: The fallout from the world's first atomic bomb detonation left lasting health problems for generations of families living nearby.

  • They were neither told anything ahead of the test nor included in the 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act or its amendments.
  • The test also created a green glass-like substance called trinitite, which locals unknowingly took to collect or to make jewelry, exposing them further.
  • Activist Tina Cordova is pushing for her community to be recognized as a downwind area to be eligible for compensation for medical claims that include treatment for rare cancers.

Go deeper.

4. A catastrophic shortage in Mexico

Children with cancer and their parents protest on June 30 outside Mexico City's airport demanding the timely delivery of treatments they were promised. Photo: Gerardo Vieyra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Child cancer patients and HIV-positive Mexicans have increasingly had to put life-saving treatments on hold as public hospitals run out of the medications they need.

Breaking it down: Shortages have been growing since 2018, but they have worsened during the pandemic. In 2018, Mexico’s government gave purchasing power to an inexperienced branch of the finance ministry, arguing there was corruption with the past set-up.

  • Retail pharmacies also report a 15% drop in inventory, affecting people with more manageable health problems, like ulcers.
  • Courts have ordered authorities to supply patients and their families with needed medications, and the UN has stepped in to help, but the government has not met its promises to make the drugs consistently available.

The other side: Undersecretary of Health Hugo López-Gatell drew outrage after denying the shortages and suggesting that protesting parents of children with cancer are paid by the opposition.

  • López-Gatell, who’s in charge of the coronavirus response and of Cofepris (Mexico’s FDA), later backtracked.
  • Authorities have promised a partial batch of treatments will arrive tomorrow, but patients demand a more long-term solution.
5. Attacks in Caracas on eve of talks

Security forces aim their guns while patrolling the Cota 905 and El Valle neighborhoods of Caracas during clashes with gangs, July 8. Photo: Yuri Cortéz/AFP via Getty Images

Venezuela opposition figure Freddy Guevara was detained and U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó was threatened at gunpoint this week, as President Nicolás Maduro tried tightening his grip on power.

Why it matters: The Chavista government has renewed roundups of the opposition despite scheduled negotiations between the two sides, set for August with Mexico as host and Norway as mediator.

  • Guevara and Guaidó are accused of “terrorism” by the Maduro regime, which claims the opposition is working with gangs in the capital, Caracas, to destabilize and “foment a civil war.”
  • The recent armed battles between those criminal groups and police closed needed soup kitchens and highways, which interrupted the delivery of goods to the rest of the country.
  • Hyperinflation and the scarcity of food, gas and medicine are still part of everyday life in the country.
6. Colombia's bloody record for handling protests

A couple at a protest in Pasto, Colombia, June 28. Photo: Sebastián Maya/Long Visual Press/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Colombia has one of the highest protest death tolls in the world since the beginning of the pandemic, with one death every 36 hours, according to a report by the transitional justice and anti-impunity body Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

Details: At least 42 people were killed while demonstrating, and 24 —more than half —died in May, the group found.

  • A panel of international experts also found that law enforcement agencies used excessive force, committed sexual violence, “planted evidence and manufactured confrontation with infiltrated plains-clothes officers” in response to the protests and strikes that began in late April over socioeconomic inequalities.
  • 200 police officers are under disciplinary investigations, half of them over abuse of authority and 16 for possible murder.
  • More than 60 Colombians remain missing since the protests and are feared forcibly disappeared.

Between the lines: Violence overall has shot up in Colombia this year. Eighty-six activists have been murdered, and attacks from rebels and suspected paramilitary forces have displaced at least 44,290 people.

7. Bolsonaro, facing impeachment, cries wolf

Jair Bolsonaro on June 19. He has expressed nostalgia for the dictatorship established after a 1964 coup, even commemorating the date. Photo: Wagner Meier/Getty Images

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has begun sowing distrust in next year’s elections, alarming lawmakers and the courts alike.

Details: Bolsonaro, a former military captain, is already anticipating fraud with the electronic ballot system that’s been in place since 1996 and suggesting he might not even allow elections to happen.

  • Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is currently the runaway favorite heading into the October 2022 contest.

Driving the news: The Supreme Court opened an investigation into the Bolsonaro government’s handling of vaccine contracts, and the Senate is holding hearings, which could lead to an impeachment that is supported by a majority of Brazilians.

  • "Bolsonaro is facing an uphill battle, but it remains far too early to rule him out of contention," journalist Gustavo Ribeiro told Axios World.

The latest: Bolsonaro was taken to hospital yesterday with abdominal pains and hiccups, and will be under medical observation until Saturday.

8. 🖼️ 1 smile to go: Frida in high definition

The digital exhibition shows 26 works by the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Photos: Noticias Telemundo

The art and life of Frida Kahlo highlight a new immersive showcase that uses video and includes folkloric music and her poetry.

  • There are plans to take the exhibit, currently in Mexico City, on a worldwide tour.

What they’re saying: “It adds more dimensions to Frida, allowing you to listen to the music she listened to, to find little unfamiliar details in her work that have been almost family secrets,” Frida Hentschel, a great-grandniece of the artist, tells Noticias Telemundo.

Hasta la próxima semana, have a safe one.