Friday. 10/4/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Hug or pray

It would be tempting to divide the reactions of Latin American heads of state to the coronavirus pandemic into binary categories: populist or non-populist. The reality is far more nuanced but the virus is exposing governments’ starkly different approaches to dealing with it; ones that could have repercussions at the polls.

Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has played the contrarian-in-chief, taking an openly cynical view on social distancing (one poll says that 28 per cent of Brazilians are currently ignoring regulations). He also is wooing evangelicals by issuing calls for prayer to help rid the country of the disease. And yet, despite a spike in cases this week, a recent poll from Datafolha shows that 59 per cent of Brazilians do not want the former military man to step down.

Further north, Mexico’s outspoken president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (better known as Amlo) once had sky-high approval ratings; no longer. His coronavirus reaction has been shaky at best: as well as telling Mexicans that they should continue to hug each other, he shook hands with the mother of renowned drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán during a visit to her hometown – before finally relenting and supporting social distancing. Much of the burden has fallen to the health department’s deputy secretary, who is now seen by many Mexicans as more trustworthy than Amlo.

One populist government (or one with populist elements, thanks to its vice president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) that seems to have got it right is Argentina. It was relatively quick to react and recently extended its rigorous lockdown until mid-April. President Alberto Fernández (pictured) has managed to unite the country’s traditionally warring factions and has a real opportunity to build on his successes. Can they remain united? It will make for interesting viewing.

Conflicts / Yemen

Glimmer of hope

Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen began a unilateral two-week ceasefire yesterday in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s an unprecedented break in a five-year conflict that the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Could it pave the way to a more lasting resolution? Coalition spokespeople have suggested that the break might be extended, providing that Yemen’s Houthi rebels play ball. “The Houthis aren’t on their last legs by a long shot,” says Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at the University of Bradford. Even before the Saudi ceasefire, Houthi forces had penned a comprehensive list of requests to the UN, including the withdrawal of all foreign troops and an end to all blockades on Yemen. “It’s probably more than the Saudis will give,” says Rogers. But it’s a starting point. Let’s hope that this marks the beginning of the end of this long and devastating war.

Design / Nepal

Natural healthcare

While the world’s attention has been on urban hospitals during the pandemic, a new model for rural healthcare has emerged in a remote region of Nepal. The new Bayalpata Hospital (pictured), which opened this week, is a smart upgrade on an old, rundown centre. Designed by New York-based Sharon Davis Design, it draws upon natural local materials for its rammed-earth walls, and stone foundations and paths, presenting resourceful solutions that could be easily replicated in other outlying communities. “We see this project as a model of how rammed earth and other vernacular materials can be utilised to create modern architecture,” says its architect, Sharon Davis. As we come out of the epidemic, focus around the world will no doubt turn to improving the efficiency and safety of urban hospitals. But this rural design points to a clever, low-cost option for bringing isolated medical outposts up to scratch.

Culture / USA

Critical mass

The New York Historical Society, the city’s oldest museum, possesses artefacts that range from a camp bed used by George Washington to banners from the Occupy Wall Street movement. Earlier this week the institution announced plans to begin collecting materials relating to the coronavirus pandemic as part of its History Responds initiative. Launched in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the scheme aims to catalogue history as it unfolds and has previously worked to preserve items from the Black Lives Matter protests and the climate strikes. The museum has issued an open call for New Yorkers to contribute articles and objects that will chronicle the pandemic as well as inviting children to share diary entries that describe their experiences. The importance of these initiatives cannot be understated – not only to remember the plight of victims and the hard work of healthcare professionals but to celebrate how creativity and community spirit can pull cities through the hardest of times.

Fashion / Belgium

Behind the lines

During more than 20 years of working in the fashion industry, Martin Margiela never did an interview, took a bow or posed for a photo. So the fact that the Belgian designer stars in a documentary that’s released today is staggering. Margiela, who ran Maison Martin Margiela in Paris from 1988 to 2009, offered a counterpoint to 1980s glamour with his pioneering deconstructed designs (pictured) – raw hems, garments flipped inside-out – and created an aura of mystique around himself and his brand. In some ways his anonymity is preserved by the documentary: we don’t see his face. But we do hear his powerful musings. “I always wanted to have my name linked to the product I created, not to the face I have,” he says at one point. It’s a striking message for our social-media obsessed times, when everything and everyone can feel overexposed. Martin Margiela: In His Own Words is available on Apple TV from today.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Onwards

Businesses big and small are facing a world of uncertainty but there’s no time like the present to rethink your company mission and retool for the future. Guests include SeedLegals on fundraising, fashion designer Christopher Raeburn on defining your purpose and Headspace co-founder Richard Pierson on navigating uncertainty.

Monocle Films / Global

Seamless moves

When it comes to moving people effortlessly through and between cities, who is getting it right? And how do we make cities where mobility works for young and old alike?

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