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article imageA look behind El Salvador's quick response to COVID-19 threat

By Karen Graham     Mar 28, 2020 in Health
Earlier this month, as Latin American leaders looked the other way when it came to COVID-19, El Salvador put itself on the right side of history, taking action before it had registered a single case.
El Salvador's measures that include a total quarantine to combat the coronavirus were considered to be excessive when first ordered. El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, shut down the country’s borders and airport on March 14, before the country had seen its first COVID-19 case, and he has faced stiff political opposition.
When the 30-day quarantine order was put into effect, Bukele, in a televised address to the nation said: “We are going to make some quick decisions that are going to have mistakes, that are going to cause discomfort, that is going to have incredible costs for our economy,"
On March 21, In Guatemala, President Alejandro Giammattei ordered an eight-day curfew that began on Sunday. “If we look at the growth curve of the disease we are entering the most dangerous weeks,” Giammattei said from a warehouse complex that has been turned into a temporary hospital to care for infected patients.
“It has not been easy to make decisions, it has not been easy to feel the responsibility of 18 million (people) on my back. From tomorrow a curfew will go into effect in our country for eight days from four in the afternoon until four in the morning of the next day,” he said.
A good response or an iron hand"
While taking what the world considers a very responsible position in combating the viral menace, there is still an undercurrent of unease being voiced by many due to the restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly - and they are cause for concern.
Latin America is a region of the world that is very familiar with authoritarian governments that have freely clamped down on personal freedoms and human rights. And while President Nayib Bukele won office as an anti-corruption outsider, he’s sown seeds of distrust among parts of the population.
Back in February, long before COVID-19 had gripped the headlines worldwide, the young leader entered the Legislative Assembly along with dozens of armed soldiers and police officers dressed for battle, demanding the approval of a loan to carry out crime-fighting initiatives.
Data as of March 26  2020.
Data as of March 26, 2020.
Americas Society / Council of the Americas
El Salvador's recent past is still fresh in the minds of its citizens - a brutal 12-year civil war and years of autocratic leadership. And Bukele's stunt triggered that past and left the nation confused and fearful - setting the stage for a more skeptical El Salvador when he announced action against the coronavirus.
Fear can be a useful tool and President Bukele seems to be taking full advantage of this tool in his tweets to the public. Yes, like President Trump in the U.S., he is an avid Twitter user. The president called out legislators earlier this week for trying to block measures he believes are necessary to fend off COVID-19. “DON’T KILL OUR PEOPLE, I BEG YOU” he wrote in all caps.
He’s also threatened citizens that if they violate the country’s quarantine, they’ll be taken to “containment centers” for 30 days.
El Salvador is not alone
The point of all this autocratic behavior is fairly simple. Mr. Bukele is looking at the bigger picture, sort of. He is the president of a nation that has been under authoritarian rule for years, one of the most densely populated countries in Central America, and one with an ailing healthcare system.
And keep in mind that El Salvador is not the only Caribbean country or territory to take such aggressive action. In the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, a decade-long recession has left its healthcare system weak and short-staffed, as thousands of doctors have moved to the mainland.
On March 16, Gov. Wanda Vázquez shut down the island’s beaches, clubs, and all “non-essential businesses.” She closed schools, government, imposed a nighttime curfew and required all residents — and visitors — to stay indoors through the end of the month. If the disease evolves in Puerto Rico as it has in the rest of the world, it could mean 27,000 to 58,000 deaths, according to some estimates. To help blunt the
More about Covid19, El Salvador, quick response, Caribbean, Puerto rico
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