Coronavirus: state of emergency in Latin America

Latin American countries have declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak of Coronavirus. What does this mean?

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In Latin America, quarantines and curfews have been implemented to prevent the spread of the virus in the region. / Photo: Unsplash

LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Suárez

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Leer en español: Coronavirus: estado de emergencia en América Latina

Covid-19 arrived in Latin America at least three months after the outbreak began in China, so the leaders had extra time to start planning step by step for what would be the next few days.

Despite this, the time was not enough and the measures have been overshadowed by the speed at which Coronavirus cases increase in the region. For this reason, some countries have decided to close their borders, prevent the arrival of international flights, declare quarantine, and curfews.

In addition to these, the presidents of Peru, Brazil, Chile, Panama, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, among others in the region, decided to decree a state of emergency to combat the health situation. This state, also of 'exception' or 'catastrophe' can last between 30 and 90 days and gives the President of the Nation powers to enact the necessary laws during those days.

In general in the constitutions of the countries, the state of emergency is decreed with the intention of avoiding economic, social or ecological damage in a situation of great magnitude (other than, generally, internal shocks or wars, since most of the Constitutions they have different articles for these cases), which includes the current health emergency. Although it changes from time to time in each country, in general it affirms that in these cases “the President, with the signature of all the ministers, may declare a state of emergency for periods of up to thirty days in each case, which together cannot exceed ninety days. in the calendar year ”(Article 215 of the Colombian Constitution).

Also read: Latin America against Coronavirus

This measure, therefore, gives the president and his cabinet high legislative power during the emergency, since he can make instant laws without the need to go through the legislative body. Hence, for many the concern arises that leaders use this state of emergency to pass other laws that are "in their pocket" and are automatically approved. This is prohibited in the Constitutions since it is affirmed that the laws that are passed during the period must be closely linked with the emergency. However, some fear that some laws of particular administrative interest are disguised to be passed as measures in the face of the crisis.

In the midst of the Covid-19 emergency, the presidents of the region could, in addition to obligatorily declare curfews, border closings and quarantines, which are the basic measures that most countries have already taken, decree taxes or alleviate economic burdens to companies that are being affected by the outbreak, among other things. Despite being a different process and that grants powers to the leaders, the decrees must first go through the review of the Constitutional Courts so that they are aligned with the Constitutions of each country.

The states of emergency, exception or catastrophe in this case of the virus also seek to soften the impacts in hospitals and in the health sector. It can also limit certain constitutional rights such as free transit and prevent more people from entering the country.

Also read: The COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic has a natural origin

These decisions would only be transitory during the 30 to 90 days that the state of emergency lasts. After that, the legislative body is in charge of reviewing the president's decisions during those days.

The governments have affirmed that they are in constant meeting of the total or partial cabinet to determine the necessary actions to contain the crisis in all areas. The main decisions with this declaration have been to prevent the arrival of flights, to prevent traffic on the streets of the city, to postpone events, to close restaurants and other places of leisure, to do extensive cleaning days on public transport for those who must continue working and put fines and penalties on those who fail to comply with the isolation measures, among other actions that change in each country.