Power & Market

The Covid Crisis Has Pushed Latin American Regimes back toward Authoritarianism

Listen to the Audio Mises Wire version of this article.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, many governments around the world have taken advantage of the crisis, stretching the state’s scope to levels that erode individual liberty and overstep civil rights.

Latin America has not been an exception. Administrations hungry for power have gratefully received emergency powers and have often used those to undermine protests, the press, and private property.

In an article for Reason, Joshua Collins highlights recent cases of power abuse across Latin America. For example, in Honduras, the government has temporarily suspended constitutional protections of free speech. In Bolivia, the interim government has put in place a decree allowing the incarceration for up to ten years of those who “misinform” or “promote noncompliance” with government measures. As usual, the Venezuelan regime has put down protests violently and detained journalists and politicians who dared to exercise their rights. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has prevented access to public health data. In Argentina, Alberto Fernández’s administration has announced a protocol of “cyberpatrol that was unwelcome by citizens and NGOs. The Argentine government has also threatened to expropriate a big agroindustrial company to achieve “food sovereignty.” In Cuba, the regime has continued with its attacks on citizens’ rights and human rights activists have denounced the government’s “increased arrests, harassment, and bans” on their movement, “even though they have not violated any health standards.”

All this is taking place in the context of long and severe restrictions on movement that are enforced with “fines, arrests, and even deportations,” says Collins. As he adds, “if civil unrest flares up again during the current state of emergency, protesters in many countries may find themselves facing down state forces with extralegal powers and a muzzled press.”

The Economic Crisis

Long periods of severe government restrictions on movement and economic activity may prevent the overburdening of health systems but have damaging economic effects. In a recent United Nations Development Programme study, Constantino Hevia and Andrés Neumeyer explain that extensive shutdowns cause bankruptcies, mass layoffs, and a loss of efficiency in supply chains and production networks, among other effects.

What is more, in poor nations with messy public accounts (like several Latin American countries) these measures have deeper impacts on employment and investment. Besides, governments don’t usually have the tools to deal with the crisis. Consequently, civil unrest may be more intense as desperation increases and poverty grows.

A Glimpse into the Past

The current combination of predatory governments and a deep recession adds to a long history of authoritarianism and economic disasters in the region.

Despite the progress of nations like Chile and Uruguay, corruption, authoritarianism, and poverty are still common in many people’s lives. From Castro to Videla, and from Pinochet to Maduro, tyranny has taken many forms and colors during the last decades. However, structural poverty, weak institutions, and state crime have never ceased to be on the lookout for a big part of Latin Americans.

Today, during a deep economic crisis, citizens of many Latin American countries will suffer the asphyxiation of a violent state that has used the emergency to increase its power. The story of power-hungry leaders taking advantage of unfortunate events is not new, and this ordeal will be added to a long list of attacks on liberty in the region.

All Rights Reserved ©
What is the Mises Institute?

The Mises Institute is a non-profit organization that exists to promote teaching and research in the Austrian School of economics, individual freedom, honest history, and international peace, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. 

Non-political, non-partisan, and non-PC, we advocate a radical shift in the intellectual climate, away from statism and toward a private property order. We believe that our foundational ideas are of permanent value, and oppose all efforts at compromise, sellout, and amalgamation of these ideas with fashionable political, cultural, and social doctrines inimical to their spirit.

Become a Member
Mises Institute