Why are these three presidents downplaying coronavirus warnings?

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters in front of the Planalto Palace on March 15.

Mexico City (CNN)Brazilians have been tricked by the media over a "little flu," according to president Jair Bolsonaro. Families should still go out to eat despite coronavirus fears, says Mexico's president Andres Manuél Lopez Obrador. And Nicaragua's leader Daniel Ortega has all but disappeared, while political marches and rallies continue.

As global leaders race to contain the brutal threat of a growing pandemic, a triumvirate of denial has emerged in Latin America, with the leaders of Brazil, Mexico and Nicaragua downplaying the danger of a looming outbreak.


In the beginning, Obrador dismissed the threat posed by the novel coronavirus and "this idea that you can't hug," telling reporters on March 4, "You have to hug. Nothing happens." Ten days later, he posted a video of himself surrounded by supporters, hugging them and kissing a child. Two days after that, he held up two amulets and told reporters they would protect him from the virus.
    As confirmed cases have surged in recent days, AMLO, as the president is often called, has shown more concern, encouraging people to stay home. He said his cabinet will be working on ways to help vulnerable populations, providing relief to small businesses and banning gatherings of 100 people or more.
    But as recently as Sunday, he posted a video encouraging people to continue to go out to eat, urging Mexicans to limit any damage to the economy. "We do nothing good and we don't help if we're paralyzed, if we act in an exaggerated way," he said in the video. "Let's continue living life normally."
    People enjoy a day at the beach in Cancun, Mexico, over the weekend, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
    Then, he insisted Tuesday that fighting the virus starts at home. "It is a fact that daughters take care of parents," he said at a press conference. "Men can be more detached but daughters are always tending to their mothers, their fathers. So, men and women, take care of our elderly," he concluded, going on to say multiple times that Mexico is prepared to handle the crisis.
    To date, Mexico has registered 405 confirmed cases. An additional 1,219 others are suspected of having the virus and five people have died so far. Experts have told CNN given the paltry level of testing in the country, the true count could be much higher.
    Two doctors who are on the frontline of the fight warn that Mexico could be a disaster waiting to happen. "I do not think Mexico is prepared for this," said one veteran physician at a leading hospital in Mexico City, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to media. "We aren't testing enough because there aren't enough tests, and we do not remotely have enough beds, enough ventilators, not even enough facemasks to treat this epidemic."
    Another doctor at a leading private hospital in Mexico City who was not authorized to speak publicly told CNN that he feared hospitals will soon reach their maximum capacity. "Given that during this epidemic the number of cases will inevitably rise exponentially, hospitals in Mexico would collapse within a matter of days should that happen," he said.
    In the absence of a large federal response, the fight against the virus has largely fallen to Mexico's states, municipalities, and even private businesses. On Monday, Mexico City forced all bars, nightclubs, and movie theaters to close and banned gatherings of 50 people or more (though CNN witnessed lots of people still out on city streets Monday).
    Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (left) speaks at a press conference on March 4.
    Although restaurants in Mexico City are exempt from Monday's new policy, many chose to close anyway. Meroma, an extremely popular high-end restaurant in Mexico City, closed last week. "We have decided to be a step ahead of the authorities and close...It is a very hard decision for us but we want you all to be safe...," read a sign at its entrance.
    Across the country, schools have elected to shutter and many large businesses told employees to work from home, despite there being no clear federal mandate to do so.


    When news emerged on March 12 that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's press secretary had tested positive for the virus, some hoped the president who described the novel coronavirus as "overrated" would take the viral threat more seriously.
    But he's only doubled down since then, calling the virus "a little flu" in a television interview on Sunday. "The people will soon see that they were tricked by these governors and by the large part of the media when it comes to coronavirus," he told Brazilian network Record TV, referring to the states of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, where governors have declared states of emergency.