Across Latin America and the Caribbean, more than one million people have already died from Covid-19, making it the worst-hit region worldwide. The reasons are complex but, undeniably, have exposed deep inequalities across the region’s 33 countries.
Latin America’s excess death toll – those that exceed the number that normally occur over a given period – has rocketed. The failure by many countries to establish an effective public health strategy has been compounded by overwhelmed and underfunded health systems and social protection mechanisms that have not responded adequately to the enormity of the crisis.
The slow response – or in some instances complete inertia – of many nations has sealed their fate. ‘Governments in certain countries adopted a position of denying the pandemic and not establishing policies to control it,’ says Fernando Peláez-Pier, former IBA President and a senior consultant at FPeláez Consulting.
Gripped by high inflation, chronic shortages and an ever-widening fiscal deficit, Venezuela a year ago was not a pretty picture. But after 12 months that have seen further unrest, currency devaluations, a dramatic slump in oil prices and a bitter stand-off between the government and international airlines, turmoil has taken on a whole new meaning in Venezuela.
‘The economic situation in Venezuela has worsened considerably since measures have not been taken to resolve the main problems affecting the country,’ says former IBA President Fernando Peláez-Pier, a partner at Hoet Peláez Castillo & Duque in Caracas.
Despite indications that Nicolás Maduro’s government was taking action to combat the crisis, ongoing shortages of basic food, medical supplies and foreign currency – not to mention the estimated $12bn a year the government is spending to subsidise domestic gasoline sales – have pushed the economy to breaking point.
The current turmoil in Ukraine continues to dominate the headlines in Europe, but the ripple effect has been felt much further afield. ‘The crisis in Ukraine has once again shown a close correlation between extreme political volatility and energy markets,’ says Pablo Alliani, Chair of the IBA Section on Energy, Environment, Natural Resources and Infrastructure Law and senior partner at Alliani & Bruzzon Abogados in Argentina. ‘Globalisation has interconnected the energy markets in such a manner that a crisis of this sort in any part of the globe will affect the whole world, regardless of any distance.’
For Alliani, there is cause for concern much closer to home: in Venezuela, where civil unrest and political demonstrations continue. ‘Venezuela’s role as one of the region’s leading oil producers means that a crisis in the country would have regional and international ramifications if the oil flow were disrupted,’ he says.
Although protests have been concentrated in the country’s main cities, far away from key production centres such as the Orinoco Belt, Lake Maracaibo and Monagas, the disorder threatens to destabilise the global energy market further. ‘In this respect,’ Alliani adds, ‘even if the oil industry remained insulated, prolonged unrest could severely affect Venezuela’s economy, with major consequences for its key trading partners.’
As the situation in Ukraine grows increasingly complex by the day and draws the world’s attention, thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic,Venezuela endures the worst protests it has seen in more than a decade.
What started as a mere isolated, student-led protest in early February has evolved into a widespread demonstration of discontent, highlighting the government’s failure to provide adequate security measures, basic food supplies and its mishandling of the country’s finances. The protests have drawn comparisons with the unrest that ravaged the country in 2002 and are the most serious challenge yet to the government of Nicolás Maduro, who was elected president in April last year following the death of Hugo Chávez of cancer, after 14 years in office.
Although similar to earlier demonstrations, former IBA President Fernando Peláez-Pier, a partner at Hoet Peláez Castillo & Duque in Caracas, says the scale of these protests has taken the country and the government by surprise. ‘We have not seen governmental repression quite like this in recent years: based on different reports, in 17 days of protests there have been 18 deaths and 1,044 arrests,’ he says.
Following his winning bid for re-election in October 2012 – beating nearest rival Henrique Capriles by a nine per cent margin – Venezuela waited with bated breath to see its President, Hugo Chávez, sworn in for another six-year term last Thursday.
However, on 10 January 2013, or ‘10E’, as it has often been referred to by the press and on social networking sites, Chávez was nowhere to be found in Venezuela. Instead he was reportedly still in Cuba, recovering from complications following a fourth cancer operation which took place on 11 December 2012.
Unlike Chávez’s previous trips to Cuba for medical treatment, no up-to-date images of the President have been released since the operation and a prolonged silence – notably even on his Twitter account – has provoked widespread concern over the President’s health, his succession plan and a rumoured impending power vacuum.
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