A Mexican nurse became the first person in Latin America to receive a coronavirus jab when her country began its vaccination programme on Thursday.
Mexico has received an initial shipment of 3,000 doses of the US-German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The country has one of the highest pandemic death tolls in the world, behind only the US, Brazil and India.
A short time later on Thursday, Chile and Costa Rica also began administering Pfizer-BioNTech.
Argentina also plans to start inoculations in the next few days but has chosen the Russian-produced vaccine Sputnik V for its initial phase, with a delivery of 300,000 doses arriving in the capital Buenos Aires on Thursday morning.
Brazil, which has recorded the highest number of deaths in the region, is not due to start until mid-February despite a recent surge in the number of cases.
President Jair Bolsonaro says he is not planning to be inoculated. He believes he has developed immunity against coronavirus as he tested positive earlier this year.
‘We have to move on’
In Mexico, María Irene Ramirez, 59, the head of the intensive care unit at Ruben Leñero Hospital in Mexico City, was the first to volunteer to be vaccinated.
“We are afraid, but we have to move on… and I want to stay in the line of fire,” she said afterwards, according to El Universal newspaper.
The first 3,000 doses – of 34 million purchased – arrived in Mexico on Wednesday from Belgium, where they are being manufactured.
Footage of the launch was broadcast during President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s televised morning news conference.
The Mexican government says it wants to vaccinate all health workers fighting the pandemic by the end of the first quarter of 2021.
The country has recorded more than 1.3 million infections so far, with at least 121,000 Covid-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins university.
Chile has had nearly 600,000 confirmed cases and more than 16,300 deaths; Costa Rica – nearly 163,000 cases and over 2,000 deaths; and Argentina – nearly 1.6 million cases and more than 42,300 deaths.
Chile’s President, Sebastian Piñera, described the start of his country’s national coronavirus immunisation programme as a moment of hope and excitement.
Why is Argentina getting a Russian vaccine?
Argentina’s health authorities earlier this week had given Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine “emergency” authorisation – the first Latin American nation to do so.
On Thursday, the first 300,000 doses were flown in from Moscow to Buenos Aires.
Argentine President Alberto Fernández has pledged to get a Sputnik V jab to prove the vaccine is safe after criticism in the West and in Russia itself that it was registered even before large-scale clinical trials.
“There was some scepticism, but as we always say we do not want to get entangled in any type of discussion other than preserving the health of Argentines,” said cabinet minister Santiago Cafiero.
Russia has rejected the criticism, accusing the West of attempting to get rid of a rival on the world’s lucrative vaccine market.
Argentina has so far reported more than 1.5 million infections, with more than 42,000 deaths.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55440940
Honduras election: Opposition candidate Castro in the lead
bbc– Honduran opposition candidate Xiomara Castro has a commanding lead in the country’s presidential election, preliminary results suggest.
With half of the votes counted, the left-wing candidate is ahead of the governing party’s Nasry Asfura by almost 20 percentage points.
However, Mr Asfura has not yet conceded defeat.
If she wins, Ms Castro will become the the first female president of the Central American nation.
If her win is confirmed, her presidency will put an end to 12 years in power of the right-wing National Party.
The National Party won the presidential election in November 2009, just months after Ms Castro’s husband, Mel Zelaya, was ousted in a military coup.
Honduras has been led by National Party politicians ever since, first by Porfirio Lobo from 2010 to 2014, followed by Juan Orlando Hernández, whose re-election in 2018 was marred by widespread allegations of fraud.
While President Hernández did not run in Sunday’s election, he and his party gave their backing to the mayor of Tegucigalpa, Nasry Asfura.
The National Party appeared certain of victory before the electoral authorities had even announced the first official results, and convened its supporters to a “victory rally” in the capital.
Later on, Mr Asfura urged his supporters in a tweet to be patient but stopped short of admitting defeat.
There was jubilation at the headquarters of the left-wing opposition Libre (Free) Party, where supporters danced and cheered as Xiomara Castro’s lead was announced.
Writing on Twitter, Ms Castro thanked Hondurans for voting for her and said she would “transform 12 years of tears and pain into joy”.
In a reference to President Juan Orlando Hernández, who has been dogged by allegations of ties to the drugs trade after his brother Antonio was jailed for trafficking in the United States, Ms Castro promised during her campaign to “pull Honduras out of the abyss” of “a narco-dictatorship and corruption”.
While President Hernández has denied any wrongdoing, corruption ranked high in the concerns of voters, only surpassed by Honduras’ high unemployment rate.
If she is confirmed as the winner, voters will look to Ms Castro, who describes herself as “a democratic socialist”, to tackle these issues quickly.
Ecuador prison and armed forces chiefs resign after riots
bbc– The head of Ecuador’s prison system and the country’s armed forces chief have resigned following a fresh gang fight which left 68 inmates dead in a jail in the city of Guayaquil.
The deadly fight happened at the same prison where 119 inmates were killed in September, also in gang warfare.
It took 900 police officers to restore order after the latest incident.
The spike in prison violence has cast a shadow over the first six months in office of President Guillermo Lasso.
In a BBC interview earlier this month, President Lasso said that prison guards needed to be armed in order to be able to confront highly organised gang members.
“There is no way that prison guards who only carry batons can confront mafias which have drones and explosives,” he said.
- Ecuador president speaks out about deadly jail riot
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The most recent incident happened during a 60-day state of emergency the president had declared inside the prison system.
The state of emergency means that extra funds can be allocated to fight violence inside the jails and also allows the military to assist guards and police in securing the prisons.
Despite the extra measures in place, another deadly fight broke out in the Litoral Penitentiary on Friday night.
Analysts have blamed the spike in prison homicides on the infiltration of Ecuadorean gangs by powerful transnational crime cartels.
They say that the acts of extreme violence – such as decapitations and the use of explosives – seen at Litoral Penitentiary were inspired by the tactics used by Mexican criminal organisations such as the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels.
The local governor said that the most recent fight was triggered by the release of a gang leader which prompted members of a rival gang to try to seize control of one of the prison wings.
“As this section of the prison was without a ringleader after he had been freed by a judge, other gangs tried to surround the wing to carry out a total massacre,” Governor Pablo Arose Mena said.
According to police, the inmates were armed with guns and explosives.
Footage shared on social media appeared to show inmates kicking and burning bodies.
Some of the relatives of those killed said that while the fight may have been triggered by gang rivalry, many of the victims were serving sentences for minor crimes and were not hardened criminals.
Nicaragua vote: Ortega tightens grip on power in ‘pantomime election’
bbc– Preliminary results from the Nicaraguan general election suggest that incumbent President Daniel Ortega has won by a landslide.
With almost all the votes counted, Mr Ortega has secured close to 76% of the vote. But as the BBC’s Central America Correspondent Will Grant reports, the result hardly comes as a surprise.
As the Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, stepped back from casting his ballot, his supporters lining the polling station broke into supposedly spontaneous applause.
Holding his thumb in the air to show off the voting ink, he and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, drank in the noise for the state television cameras before being whisked away in a silver Mercedes-Benz.
He might as well have declared himself the victor there and then.
This was an election in which the result was never in question. In fact, the outcome in Nicaragua was decided months before a vote was even cast or counted.
From the moment on 2 June when police appeared at the home of his main rival, Cristiana Chamorro, and placed her under house arrest for alleged money-laundering, it was clear that President Ortega would be re-elected for another five-year term.
In the following days and weeks, there was a slew of further detentions of presidential hopefuls – seven of them in total – including a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the US, Arturo Cruz Jr, and Cristiana Chamorro’s cousin, Juan Sebastián Chamorro. Even her brother, Pedro Joaquín, a journalist in his 70s, was arrested for merely voicing interest in running during an interview.
Three hours after uttering those words, the police arrived at his door too.
The clampdown has shocked Latin America for its speed and ruthlessness. Most of the detained candidates and many other Ortega critics have been charged under a controversial treason law.
Addressing the nation after voting, Mr Ortega again likened the round-up of his opponents to the trials in the United States of those who stormed the Capitol on 6 January.
“They have as much right as we do to open trials against terrorists,” he said, adding that the “immense majority of Nicaraguans voted for peace and not terrorism or war”.
Unsurprisingly, the president’s claims did not wash with the exiled Nicaraguans who turned out to protest in Costa Rica’s capital, San José. Instead they urged their compatriots to boycott the election in an effort to further delegitimise the vote.
“This is a consummate fraud, and all Nicaraguans are aware of it,” said Alexa Zamora of the National Blue-and-White Unity group, an opposition alliance.
“We’re calling on the international community not to recognise this vote and on Nicaraguan citizens still inside the country to stay away from the voting stations,” she yelled above the chanting and bullhorns.
Even before polls had closed, the White House issued the kind of statement the protesters were hoping for, calling the vote “a pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic”.
A vote, then, with no meaningful rivals, no independent election observers or foreign media. At a Costa Rican border crossing of Peñas Blancas, several international journalists, including from the BBC, were denied permission to enter the country to cover the vote.
But while we could not get in, thousands are desperate to leave. Droves of Nicaraguans have fled the Ortega government since the crackdown began, often crossing into Costa Rica via blind spots along the jungled border.
Lionel Hernández charges the migrants a handful of dollars to make the illegal journey across his land. A Nicaraguan, Mr Hernández said he intended to cross back into the country to cast his ballot but was resigned over the outcome.
“Every country in the world has corrupt elections, even the United States. And only God can remove a king,” he shrugs.
For those who no longer want to live as subjects under the reign of Daniel Ortega and his courtiers, their options are limited. Hundreds of Nicaraguans are currently making their way through southern Mexico as part of a migrant caravan slowing heading north.
Among them is Carla – not her real name – who used to work for the Sandinista government. When she became disillusioned and tried to leave the party, she was intimidated by armed pro-Ortega radicals who turned up at her house.
“It’s getting worse and worse,” she said under a thatched roof of a temporary shelter.
“Murders are going up, there are paramilitary groups who kill people. You can hardly go out, you can’t express yourself. If you do, you’ll be killed. Everyone knows these groups are controlled by the government.”
Daniel Ortega is perhaps the last Cold War warrior. As Washington’s nemesis during the Reagan Administration, he was second only to the late Cuban leader, Fidel Castro.
Following Mr Ortega’s return to power in 2007, he has thrown off all the vestiges of his leftist guerrilla past. Behind a façade of pseudo-evangelical language, particularly from Rosario Murillo, there is an iron ruthlessness to the couple’s will to remain in power until the bitter end.
Their supporters will claim another five-year term is somehow the will of the majority of Nicaraguan people. In reality, President Ortega’s rule is increasingly repressive, autocratic and dynastic – and this controversial vote only further consolidates his control over his fiefdom.
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