Latin America’s COVID-19 Moment: Differences and Solidarity

There has been no better example of the political diversity in Latin America than the varying responses of governments to the coronavirus crisis.


  • Christopher Sabatini

    Dr. Christopher Sabatini, is a senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, and was formerly a lecturer in the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University. Chris is also on the advisory boards of Harvard University’s LASPAU, the Advisory Committee for Human Rights Watch's Americas Division, and of the Inter-American Foundation. He is also an HFX Fellow at the Halifax International Security Forum. He is a frequent contributor to policy journals and newspapers and appears in the media and on panels on issues related to Latin America and foreign policy. Chris has testified multiple times before the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2015, Chris founded and directed a new research non-profit, Global Americas and edited its news and opinion website. From 2005 to 2014 Chris was senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas (AS/COA) and the founder and editor-in-chief of the hemispheric policy magazine Americas Quarterly (AQ). At the AS/COA, Dr. Sabatini chaired the organization’s rule of law and Cuba working groups. Prior to that, he was director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Endowment for Democracy, and a diplomacy fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, working at the US Agency for International Development’s Center for Democracy and Governance. He provides regular interviews for major media outlets, and has a PhD in Government from the University of Virginia.

Differing approaches across the hemisphere have had different impacts on presidential popularity and, at least in one case, on democratic institutions and human rights. Yet, even within that diversity, South America’s Southern Cone countries (Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay) have shown a sign of solidarity: protecting and facilitating trade flows, sponsoring cross-border research and ensuring citizens’ return to their home countries.    

The response from populist leaders

On the extreme have been the responses of presidents of Brazil, Nicaragua and Mexico, all of whom have ignored the science of the virus and of experts and refused to implement isolation policies.  President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil fired his health minister, Luis Henrique Mandetta on 16 April for contradicting him and earlier had claimed that the pandemic was a hoax or little more than a ‘measly cold.’ 

Meanwhile, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega has resisted closing businesses and schools.  After a mysterious 34-day absence, Ortega appeared on television on 15 April reinforcing his refusal to close businesses saying that Nicaraguans must work or they will die and claiming that the virus was ‘imported.’ 

To read more, please visit Chatham House

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