Colombia restaurant

A man sits in an empty restaurant in Bogotá. (AP)

LatAm in Focus: Three Stories You May Have Missed in 2020

By Katie Hopkins , Luisa Horwitz and Carin Zissis

From an absent president to illegal fishing to agro-tech, AS/COA Online dives into under-covered—but important—issues facing Latin America in a year of competing headlines.

2020 is a year we’re not so sad to see end, and one where it felt nearly impossible to keep up with the headlines. We found ourselves sifting through news about presidential tweets, massive demonstrations, political drama in more than one country, and, of course, COVID-19. Too often, important stories got buried. With that in mind, our final episode of the year: AS/COA Online explores three important topics that deserve more attention.

First off, as the pandemic bore down, leaders around the world faced constant evaluations of their responses, whether receiving praise for reacting quickly or criticism for bungling the job. But what about when a president disappears completely? That’s exactly what happened in Nicaragua, where Daniel Ortega went missing for over a month just as the coronavirus pandemic landed in the country.

 

Ryan Berg

AS/COA Online’s Editor-in-Chief Carin Zissis spoke with Dr. Ryan Berg about why Ortega, who has a history of going missing, disappeared at such a crucial time and how his government’s coronavirus response reflects deeper governance issues. A research fellow at American Enterprise Institute, Berg gives the various potential reasons for Ortega’s absence and outlines his family’s grip on power and the media, showcased by the rising profile of his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo.

“Many people say that she is really the driving force behind Nicaragua's repression and crackdown,” says Berg, adding that there are signs Murillo is “the one who coordinates with mayors, paramilitary groups, and other groups that are helping the government reduce the amount of space that the political opposition has to organize.” With the crackdown against the political rivals only growing in 2020, Ortega sent a December 19 bill to Congress making it harder for opposition candidates to run in the 2021 elections.

 

Dawn Constanzi

In the second segment, AS/COA Online’s Katie Hopkins dives into illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU) with a policy expert who worked on the first international binding agreement addressing the issue. Dawn Borg Costanzi, a senior officer at Pew’s Ending Illegal Fishing Campaign, gets into rising concern about how this illicit, $23-billion industry affects Latin America. She also gets into how countries can come together to combat the trade, pointing out that Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru recently came together to issue a statement that they’ll be jointly combating the trade. “We see a number of Latin American countries becoming very proactive in this way, and I think it is a positive indication of what is to come,” she says.

Finally, it’s no secret that lockdowns and quarantines make it difficult for Latin America’s small enterprises to stay in business. How have they adapted under these challenging conditions? AS/COA Online’s Luisa Horwitz covers how the pandemic has accelerated change in the region’s food industry, where more than 90 percent of restaurants are independent, family-owned businesses rather than part of big brands.

 

Carlos Upegui Echavarria

Carlos Upegui Echavarría shares his experience as head of growth at the agro-tech company Frubana, connecting farmers to restaurants and consumers for a more direct food supply chain. With the firm operating in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, Upegui Echavarría compares on-the-ground scenarios for business owners in the three countries. He also notes how behavioral changes in consumption are benefitting “dark kitchens” that specialize in delivery and takeout, forcing businesses to cut costs, shifting buying of produce away from large open markets, and reducing the cash payments that used to account for over 90 percent of transactions.

Technological adoption has played a role at every stage, and those changes are here to stay, says Upegui Echavarría, adding: “We were going in that direction, and this was just a catalyst in the process, and we’re not going to go back.” 

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Katie Hopkins produced this episode. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at musicoftheamericas.org.

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