‘New wave of volatility’: Covid stirs up grievances in Latin America | Coronavirus
For Filipe da Silva, taking to the streets was staying alive.
“Unfortunately, Brazil elected a murderer,” the 28-year-old said as he and thousands of other protesters walked through the seaside town of Fortaleza last month to denounce the president’s mess of an epidemic of Covid which has killed more than half a million people.
For Eduardo Ramos, joining the biggest protests in Cuba’s post-revolutionary history was to demand political freedom and to express his anger at the difficulties created by the pandemic.
“Millions of people like me have lost their youth,” complained the 18-year-old Cuban, who scratches himself peddling avocados and mangoes after Covid robs him of his $ 20 a week (£ 14) job to collect bus tickets.
Silva and Ramos marched against systems from different sides: the far-right administration of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and the Communist dictatorship in Cuba.
But both are expressions of what many suspect is a new wave of Covid-fueled social and political turmoil starting to sweep the region in response to the ravages of a pandemic that has officially killed nearly 1.4 million people. people in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“People are pissed off and they don’t have a lot of options,” said Christopher Sabatini, senior researcher for Latin America at Chatham House Think Tank. “As people’s quality of life deteriorates, political stability deteriorates as well. “
Sylvia Colombo, Brazilian correspondent who covers the region from Argentina for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, said she was preparing for “transformations and new tensions” in the months to come.
During last year’s lockdown in Buenos Aires, Colombo wrote a book about the atypical upheavals that had befallen the region on the eve of the pandemic, from Venezuela and Bolivia to Chile. She called 2019 Latin America’s “year of anger”.
Covid, which first hit Latin America in February 2020, has largely quelled that outrage as countries halted and protesters retreated. But now he’s back, with protests also erupting in Paraguay, Guatemala and Colombia, where at least 44 protesters have been killed since the unrest began in April.
“Everything suggests that there will be a new wave [of volatility]. We are already seeing ripples, ”said Colombo, who believed Covid exposed“ pre-existing conditions in Latin America ”- including weak health and social protection systems, deep inequalities and a workforce informal huge and vulnerable.
“If on the one hand the pandemic has forced people off the streets, on the other hand, it has exacerbated all these problems,” Colombo said of a region which has 8.4% of the world’s population. but suffered 32% of Covid deaths.
The most unexpected convulsion so far has occurred in Cuba, where thousands of people took to the streets on July 11 for the most widespread protests since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. are mobilized in every city and every province, had a mishmash of grievances, including the lack of political freedoms under the one-party regime. But many were in part motivated by the human impact of Cuba’s worst economic slump since the early 1990s, when the disintegration of the Soviet Union plunged it into a “special period” of hunger and deprivation.
When Cuba confirmed its first cases of the coronavirus in March last year, the Caribbean island was already reeling from Donald Trump’s decision to reverse Barack Obama’s easing of the trade embargo and strengthen punishments. Coupled with Covid, which has decimated the local tourism industry, these supercharged sanctions caused the economy to contract 11% last year and cost the state billions of dollars in annual revenue. The drop in imports created by this cash crunch led to unimaginable realities a few years ago: Last weekend Ramos spent five hours queuing for two packs of hot dogs. Standing in line for hours or even days has become a part of life for millions of Cubans. “Things were better before because food wasn’t scarce and the lines weren’t like that,” Ramos said.
In Brazil, there is also widespread anger over the battered economy of Covid, the 8 million jobs lost during the pandemic and the resurgence of hunger. “This is a humanitarian crisis,” said Júlio Lancellotti, a Catholic priest who fights to feed undernourished citizens on the streets of the country’s richest city, São Paulo.
Public outrage was amplified by the scale of the death toll, just behind that of the United States, allegations of vaccine corruption and the denial response from a president who refused to be vaccinated and called the “little flu” coronavirus.
“He’s indecent. He is immoral. It is incompatible with civilization. It’s a scandal, ”fulminated Alfredo Marques, a 62-year-old lawyer who joined the recent anti-Bolsonaro rally in Fortaleza, tearing off his face mask to castigate the far-right leader of his country.
It is still unclear what, if any, the long-term political consequences of this burgeoning outbreak of dissent will be.
Hundreds of Cuban objectors have reportedly been arrested as the government fights to prevent repeated protests and maintain control. In Brazil, Bolsonaro’s ratings have plummeted and hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets several times since the end of May. But the country should not choose its next leader before October 2022, when the political and economic landscape may have radically changed.
The most tangible political impact of the pandemic has come in Peru, which has been deeply traumatized by the coronavirus and suffered by far the highest per capita death rate in the world.
The epidemic has exacerbated an already deep political crisis in Peru and fueled a dramatic increase in poverty as a strict lockdown left millions unemployed, forcing thousands in the coastal capital to migrate, some on foot, to their towns and villages of origin in the Andes and the Amazon. As Covid ravaged the country, killing nearly 200,000, some citizens were forced to buy overpriced oxygen tanks to suffocate loved ones as the chronically underfunded health system, made worse by corruption, was overwhelmed.
As this year’s elections approach, overwhelmed and angry Peruvians disappointed with their incumbent centrist leaders have opted, sometimes out of desperation, for candidates with more extreme and anti-systemic messages, in a fragmented political arena. In June Pedro Castillo, a leftist teacher who had never held public office, was elected president – a political earthquake many suspect would not have happened without Covid.
“All the [past] the presidents made promises and in the end they got rich themselves and they took the wealth of Peru to sell it to other countries, ”said Elizabeth Altamirano Campos, one of the rural voters who contributed to propel Castillo to power.
Javier Torres, editor of news site Noticias Ser, said the pandemic had exacerbated Peru’s underlying political crisis and deep inequalities, paving the way for shock elections.
“Castillo is a product of this,” Torres said, adding that the far right could also easily have won as voters rebelled. “The ground we are playing on is no longer suitable for our needs,” said Torres. “People are looking for something different – in the extreme.”
Filipe da Silva, artist and LGBTQ+ Activist of the United Black Movement of Brazil, said he was not sure what the future of his country held. He feared that the “complicity” of many members of Congress meant that the protesters’ main demand – the impeachment of Bolsonaro – was far from guaranteed.
But as protesters across Latin America braced for their next mobilization, the civil rights activist has vowed to stay on the streets to fight a health emergency that has disproportionately affected black Brazilians.
“We have lost so many people. It’s heartbreaking, ”said Silva. “This death plan must be stopped.”