[News] Latin America Under CoronaShock: Social Crisis, Neoliberal Failure, and the People’s Alternatives

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jul 7 19:09:39 EDT 2020

America Under CoronaShock: Social Crisis, Neoliberal Failure, and the
People’s Alternatives
July 7, 2020

*Dossier Nº30*

[image: Herb and spice vendor working (despite the pandemic). Santa Cruz
Street, La Paz, Bolivia, 2020. Carlos Fiengo]

*Herb and spice vendor working (despite the pandemic). Santa Cruz Street,
La Paz, Bolivia, 2020.*
Carlos Fiengo

The first cases of COVID-19 were detected in December 2019 in Wuhan
(China). In early March, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the
rapidly expanding illness a pandemic. With more than ten million people
infected across the world as of late June, the effects of the pandemic on
the world system reach far beyond the realm of public health; indeed, a
reconfiguration of social life is underway. The crisis spread by neoliberal
capitalism is intensifying, as is the increasing necessity for an urgent
transformation of the system along an alternative path (for more on this,
read our dossier no. 28, *CoronaShock: A Virus and the World*
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/dossier-28-coronavirus/>*,* and our
CoronaShock studies <https://www.thetricontinental.org/studies/>). In Latin
America, the first cases of the disease were detected at the end of
February. Four months later, at the end of June, the number of people
infected in Latin America has reached for more than twenty-three per cent
of the global total and twenty-two of daily deaths as the rapid spread of
the virus has turned the region (particularly South America) into the new
global epicentre of the pandemic.

The pandemic has furthered – sometimes dramatically – a series of economic
and social processes that were already underway before the virus emerged.
Capitalism’s crisis of legitimacy and increasingly authoritarian neoliberal
reforms have put these policies and the US-led imperialist offensive into
question (for more on this, read our report no. 6, *From 8M to the
Coronavirus Crisis*
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/es/ba-research/amlatmar20/>*)*. The
expansion of the virus has also shined a light on the dismantling and
privatisation of public healthcare – the result of decades of neoliberalism
– as well as on the increasing precariousness of labour and the living
conditions and quality of life of the people. The pandemic has put on
display the resounding failure of neoliberal policies to effectively combat
the health and social crises. Finally, the current situation puts into
question the effects, actions, and challenges that these processes pose for
people’s movements and the alternatives that they are creating.

[image: Protest in Caracas, Venezuela after US President Donald Trump
called for the imprisonment of President Nicolás Maduro, 28 March 2020
United Socialist Party of Venezuela / Fotos Públicas]

*Protest in Caracas, Venezuela after US President Donald Trump called for
the imprisonment of President Nicolás Maduro, 28 March 2020*
United Socialist Party of Venezuela / Fotos Públicas
*This Crisis is Not Natural*

Numbers of those infected and killed by the virus began to sharply increase
in May 2020. These numbers, threatening to serve as the straw that causes
the collapse of health systems throughout the region, clearly show the
disproportionately impact of the crisis on the poor and the working class.
This is especially true in Brazil, Chile, Peru, Panama, the Dominican
Republic, Ecuador, and Bolivia, where the number of those infected has
(drastically, in some cases) surpassed 2,000 cases per million residents.
At the end of May, Brazil tragically became one of the first places in the
world to reach such a high level of infections; by the end of June, it
became the country with the second-highest number of deaths and infections,
after the United States. Meanwhile, migration from the Dominican Republic
to Haiti has accelerated the rapid spread of infections and is edging
towards a humanitarian tragedy.

This is not about a natural curse; the pandemic was not biologically
predetermined. Its emergence – as is the case with all of the pandemics
that we have experienced throughout the twenty-first century – is linked to
the processes of the industrial production of food and the destruction of
native forests and jungles, which is characteristic of neoliberal
capitalism. In addition, the transformation of the pandemic into a health
and humanitarian crisis is linked to public policies and the approach of
governments as well as other social, institutional, and historic resources
that the people count on.

In the case of Latin America, COVID-19 emerged at a time when people were
already questioning the wave of neoliberal policies that has been
developing in the region since 2015, from structural adjustment to
privatisation and other regressive reforms. Following the defeat of a wave
of progressive governments in much of the region throughout the 2000s, in
the last few years public health budgets were cut across most of these
countries. These policies have resulted in the growth of poverty,
precarisation, and inequality, as well as the dismantling of public health
systems. In Argentina, for example, the Ministry of Health was combined
with the Ministry of Social Health and downgraded
to a secretariat in 2018. This shift was part of the process of structural
adjustment imposed by the International Monetary Fund through its agreement
with former president Mauricio Macri. Such waves of neoliberal policies
have confronted Latin America since the 1970s, never failing to trigger
deleterious social consequences.

The current crisis, therefore, is not an isolated or anomalous event.
Rather, it rests on top of decades of disastrous neoliberal policies and
shines a light on neoliberalism’s failure and inability to combat the
underlying health crisis that it caused through its very own framework. It
was the conditions of neoliberalism that triggered the crisis; not an
inevitable series of external events. It is not a coincidence that the
countries that are suffering the most from the impact of the virus are the
countries whose governments are most closely aligned with the neoliberal
project – the same countries that have ignored the recommendations of the
WHO. The most dramatic case of this has been in Brazil, where the
government, led by President Jair Bolsonaro, has underestimated the
pandemic and created a permanent campaign in favour of maintaining
unrestricted economic activity.

On the other hand, the state of public health is in less dire straits where
progressive governments have respected the recommendations of the WHO.
Argentina, for example, is undergoing an extended quarantine and bolstering
its public health system, including developing tests through its national
public science system. Cuba, which has a public health system that is
well-known for its quality, has adopted policies of selective physical
distancing and testing and is implementing a model of community medicine.
Venezuela has among the lowest rates of infection and deaths per number of
residents – despite the extreme commercial, financial, and media blockade
and the permanent threat of the hybrid war led by the United States. In the
midst of the pandemic, this hybrid war threatens to compound the impacts of
the health crisis with economic difficulties that could be used to justify
external intervention.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has accelerated a deep global economic recession.
The current crisis has compounded the slow economic growth that the region
has experienced over the last seven years and which increased even further
under the harsh neoliberal offensive. Regional and international
organisations anticipate
the worst economic contraction at a regional level since 1930. In April,
the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
(ECLAC) anticipated a 5.4 per cent decrease in the GDP in 2020; by June, an
from the International Monetary Fund predicted that it would fall by 9.4
per cent. The economic crash particularly impacts countries, regions, and
sectors that rely on the export of oil, gas, and minerals (where the fall
in international prices of natural resources has been felt the most
acutely); tourism and remittances from migrants; the flow of global finance
(the Brazilian economy has been among the most deeply impacted by capital
outflows); and participation in global commerce and global production
chains. In addition to the recession and capital outflows, the people have
been adversely affected
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/es/ba-research/katz-confluencia/> by the
devaluation of their currencies, and, in some countries, by bloated
external debt.

This ominous economic reality has disastrous consequences for the majority
of the population. International organisations warn of a substantial
increase in unemployment; according to the Economic Commission for Latin
America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in 2020, unemployment will increase by
at least 3.4 per percent – on top of the 8.1 per cent unemployment rate
recorded in 2019 – placing the unemployment rate at 11.5 per cent in the
region. This means that roughly 37.7 million people or more will be
unemployed. Poverty levels are also expected to increase
by an average of 4.4 per cent according to ECLAC, impacting 34.7 per cent
of the population. This increase in poverty will mean a step backwards
towards the reality that prevailed in the early part of the twenty-first
century before the wave of progressive governments. Along the same lines,
the United Nation’s World Food Programme has warned
that roughly 14 million people across Latin America and the Caribbean may
suffer from hunger and food insecurity this year. This current economic
landscape, managed within a neoliberal policy framework, informs whether or
not – and how many – resources are allocated to confront the pandemic. More
often than not, protecting ‘the economy’ comes before protecting the people.

Throughout 2019, the almost non-existent economic growth at the regional
level, combined with neoliberal reforms, has opened Latin America to
conflicts and to the collapse of the credibility of its governments. While
the public health emergency reinforced presidential authority in many
cases, as time progressed, the gravity of the current crisis and the
profound impact of decades of neoliberal policies have made neoliberalism’s
growing crisis of legitimacy crystal clear

[image: Shoppers at the market pay to be disinfected. Rodríguez Market, La
Paz, Bolivia, 2020. Carlos Fiengo]

*Shoppers at the market pay to be disinfected. Rodríguez Market, La Paz,
Bolivia, 2020.*
Carlos Fiengo
*Neoliberalism’s Use of the Pandemic, Part I: Authoritarian Reinforcement *

The IMF has referred to the global economic crisis unleashed by the
pandemic as the ‘Great Lockdown’, drawing an analogy to the Great
Depression that began in 1929. This reference not only highlights the
similarities between the magnitude of both situations and their impact, but
also attributes the crisis to the restrictive public health measures,
particularly the implementation of physical distancing policies commonly
referred to as ‘quarantine’. There is nothing new in the history of
capitalism – from its very beginning to today – about economic powers
opposing quarantine. The expansion of plagues has long been closely linked
with commercial circuits, its transportation networks, and processes of
capitalist globalisation.

In contrast, the strategies of isolation and physical distancing
recommended by the WHO, as well as by the general dynamic of the crisis
that the pandemic has provoked, have granted a new role to the state in the
areas of health, social, and economic policies. Serious questions are being
asked about the new role of the state under conditions of deep inequalities
produced by neoliberal policies. However, the new role of the state does
not necessarily imply a contradiction with the neoliberal order; during the
financial crisis of 2008, for example, the state intervened to bail out
banks and corporations.

The logic of quarantine and state intervention justified by the crisis has
been used – especially by neoliberal governments in the region – to
reinforce a politics that is increasingly repressive and authoritarian.
This shift was already underway in many of the countries under siege by the
neoliberal offensive – especially in the face of the increasing scrutiny
that this model and its advocates have faced from the public, which has
intensified over the last year.

This has also occurred in most countries throughout Central America. There,
the sparse presence of social and health policies stands in contrast to the
imposition of curfews and a state of emergency, the reinforcement of
militarisation, and increasing punishment of those who disobey isolation
measures, which in many cases has led to new violations of human rights,
especially in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Along the same lines,
the assassination of leaders of social movements and former guerrilleros in
Colombia has increased since the emergence of the pandemic. In Peru, the Police
Protection Act
(bill N° 31012), approved in 2019, has been put into effect, granting
impunity to security forces for repressive actions and brutality. In Chile,
the pandemic has pushed back the referendum to reform the country’s
constitution, giving a breath of air – at least for now – to a government
that has been under scrutiny by sustained protests. Now the government is
raising the possibility of going back on the call for the referendum,
instead strengthening the security apparatus with the purchase of new
equipment, putting the military back on the streets, instituting a curfew,
and continuing to use repression to disperse the protests that are
resurging in this new context.

Surely, the most dramatic example of this deepening of authoritarian logic
is the situation in Bolivia, where a coup in November 2019 removed the
government of the legitimate president, Evo Morales, refused to recognise
the electoral results, and imposed a self-proclaimed ‘transitional’
government led by Jeanine Áñez, a conservative senator from the Department
of the Beni. The de facto government led by Áñez – marked initially by
massacres in Sacaba and Senkata and by the return of neoliberal policies –
has postponed the elections that had been set for 3 May in the context of
the pandemic; it has used the logic of the quarantine to persecute its
critics, attack the primarily indigenous majority, and deepen its policies
of dispossession and corruption.

Among other measures, in May Áñez enacted Supreme Decree 4231, which makes
it criminally punishable
to publish written, printed, or artistic information that generates
‘uncertainty among the population’. This is a serious violation of the
freedom of expression and the right to information. In addition, the
government has responded with repression to protests that are demanding
food, healthcare services, work, and the execution of the postponed

Yet another example of the continuous threats to the last glimmers of
democracy took place in May, when a group of military personnel led by
Carlos Orellana, the Commander in Chief of the Bolivian Armed Forces,
barged into the Plurinational Legislative Assembly with an ultimatum
the ratification – with no changes – of the Armed Forces’ proposal for
promotions. The proposal had been sent by self-proclaimed president Áñez in
February. This is a new level of authoritarianism for a government that is
increasingly dabbling in corruption scandals. Now the government has
attempted to postpone the elections once again, now proposed to take place
in September – perhaps because Luis Arce, the candidate of the Movement for
Socialism (Evo Morales’s party) – is leading in the pre-election polls.

There is an increase in the power of the military in much of the region. In
Bolivia, the military has gained power since the coup. In Brazil, the
military has a substantial presence in Bolsonaro’s government. In countries
throughout the region, the military forces have been empowered to control
security mechanisms and public spaces and have used the pretext of
quarantine to exercise control over the population. The application of
authoritarianism and neoliberal policies have become increasingly
militaristic, using a range of tactics such as lawfare (or judicial
warfare) and the restriction of democratic life. In other words, a
neofascist beltway is emerging in the region.

[image: Social distancing and order during the delivery of food baskets, El
Salvador, 29 April 2020. Casa Presidencial / Fotos Públicas]

*Social distancing and order during the delivery of food baskets, El
Salvador, 29 April 2020.*
Casa Presidencial / Fotos Públicas
*Neoliberalism’s Use of the Pandemic, Part II: Policies of Structural
Adjustment  *

In mid-April, a group of right-wing politicians from Spain and Latin
America – alongside the writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who has turned into a
spokesperson for neoliberalism in recent years – released a declaration
titled ‘The Pandemic Should Not Be a Pretext for Authoritarianism’. In this
declaration, they react to the emergence of state interventionism,
socialism, and populism by accusing ‘many governments’ of taking ‘measures
that indefinitely restrict basic freedoms and rights’. For them, following
the tradition of Hayek and Friedman, liberty is considered only in an
individualistic sense, linked to the protection of economic freedom. They
characterise any policy that restricts the free market as being
authoritarian, even if this policy is instituted by democratic institutions
and governments, and/or by the masses. This same philosophy has been used
to support and justify the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile
(1973-1990). Along the same lines, Brazil’s minister of foreign affairs,
Ernesto Araújo, criticised the policies of the WHO and denounced what he
calls the ‘communavirus’.

Alongside these discourses and policies, many of the region’s neoliberal
governments have taken advantage of the pandemic to advance neoliberal
socioeconomic reforms – many of which were already part of the programme
underway before the emergence of the virus – or to promote aid packages
that benefit the economic powers. For example, in Paraguay, the government
of Mario Abdo announced
<https://nacla.org/news/2020/04/23/covid-19-change-paraguay> a ‘structural
reform of the state’ whose objective is to shrink the state apparatus,
reduce public spending, privatise public sector enterprises, and decrease
salaries and pensions. In Colombia, the government of Iván Duque approved
Decree 444, which takes away economic resources from local governments in
the country in order to subsidise banks and companies. Duque also managed
to approve the Law of Economic Emergency, which gives the government
superpowers to advance neoliberal labour reform and pension reform.
However, he has not yet been able to implement either. Along the same
lines, the dictatorship in Bolivia continues to dismantle the gains won by
the government of Evo Morales and has deregulated the economy, incurred a
new cycle of external debt, and approved transgenic agricultural reform.

Yet another tragic example of a neoliberal structural adjustment policy
that has been implemented in the era of the pandemic is the case of Ecuador
under President Lenín Moreno. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Moreno’s
administration has continued the policies of structural adjustment that
were imposed as part of its agreement
<https://cepr.net/images/stories/reports/ecuador-imf-2019.pdf> with the IMF
(approved in early 2019) despite the massive discontent and protests that
it has faced. Between March and April 2020, in the midst of the pandemic,
Moreno’s administration made significant debt payments in order to receive
new IMF loans. To be able to access these new loans, Moreno’s
administration is required to adhere to even harsher neoliberal policies.
Finally, in May 2020, Moreno’s government obtained parliamentary approval
for two bills: the Organic Law for Humanitarian Support to Combat the
Crisis Derived from COVID-19 and the Organic Law for the Ordering of Public
Finances. These bills advance the state’s structural adjustment policies,
close or privatise public businesses and offices, facilitate the payment of
lower salaries, and worsen the precarious conditions under which the
working class lives and works. The structural adjustment package imposed by
the IMF, and that Moreno’s administration agreed to, also includes
substantial cuts to university budgets, which provoked student protests;
the budget cuts to universities have been temporarily suspended by the
supreme court as a result. This austerity package has been criticized by
large sections of the population and by the political opposition, creating
a situation that could trigger a new crisis.

[image: The Landless Workers’ Movement’s (MST) main acts of solidarity are
geared towards the distribution of food through various formats: food
baskets, farmers’ markets, and lunch boxes. Paraná, Brazil, April 2020.]

*The Landless Workers’ Movement’s (MST) main acts of solidarity are geared
towards the distribution of food through various formats: food baskets,
farmers’ markets, and lunch boxes. Paraná, Brazil, April 2020.*
*Instability and Political Crisis in Brazil *

Brazil has become the regional epicentre of COVID-19 and one of the centres
of the pandemic on a global level. The failure of the federal government to
adopt sufficient measures to combat the pandemic has created a catastrophic
situation that is edging towards a humanitarian tragedy. This inaction by
the federal government is accompanied by President Jair Bolsonaro’s
approach of underestimating, or even denying the problem, and placing
concern for the economy before concern for the people. The gross
underreporting of cases, mainly due to the scarcity of tests being carried
out, does not allow us to have a true grasp of the health crisis underway.
The Imperial College of London estimates that the total number
of active cases of COVID-19 as of the end of June is at least three times
higher than the official count (1.23 million active cases), bringing the
estimate of active cases in the country to at least 3.7 million.

This health crisis is the greatest expression – and one of the causes – of
the political and social instability that faces Bolsonaro’s government.
This government has increased its political isolation, amplifying a
tendency that was already in place. Bolsonaro has picked fights with
legislative and judicial powers and has intensified conflicts with
governors and mayors, breaking with his past allies and pressuring them to
open up the economy (as is the case with the governors of the states of Rio
de Janeiro and São Paulo, for example). On top of this, Minister of Health
Luiz Henrique Mandetta resigned – as did his replacement – due to
differences over the health policy pushed forward by Bolsonaro. Minister of
Justice Sérgio Moro resigned and denounced the president while attempting
to manipulate the federal police to guarantee impunity for his relatives
from a variety of investigations that are underway. All of this has further
isolated Bolsonaro’s government. As a judge, Moro was a main force in
pushing forward the court case known as Lava Jato, which led to former
president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s imprisonment and his exclusion from
the 2018 elections. Moro’s resignation in particular both exemplified and
accelerated the declining support for Bolsonaro’s government by an
important section of the population – particularly the middle class – that
had supported him from the beginning.

While Bolsonaro still has the support of a resistant core that rallies for
him in the streets, carrying out caravans, actions, and encampments, the
president has sought higher approval among low-income sectors. This effort
has been based on two main discourses: the defence of the use of
Chloroquine to treat COVID-19 and a supposed concern about employment. In
the first case – contrary to scientific evidence – Bolsonaro seeks to
instil the idea that there is a quick solution to the disease. In the
second case, he uses a discourse that economic activities should return to
‘normal’, which could garner support from those who are in desperate
situations and have seen their incomes diminish or disappear. In addition,
Bolsonaro has tried to take credit for the economic aid created and
approved by the National Congress (despite having initially opposed it and
then attempted to decrease the amount of the aid package).

Bolsonaro has increasingly attempted to gain more support from the armed
forces, whose members have increasingly been appointed to government
positions. The most extreme example of this is their complete control over
the Ministry of Health following the resignation of two former ministers of
health in the middle of the pandemic. The position of interim head of the
ministry and 40 other strategic positions are occupied by military
personnel who lack training in the arena of health. More than 2,800 members
of the armed forces have been appointed to administrative state roles under
Bolsonaro’s administration.

Faced with efforts to remove Bolsonaro from the presidency, his
administration has established alliances with legislators from parties that
do not have any ideological commitment and who instead sell their votes to
whoever is willing to pay more. This is what is called *centrão*. Leading
the charge in these negotiations are military leaders who are generally
critical of this kind of alliance but who are now seeking it out in
exchange for positions in the civil government (some have been appointed to
high-level positions in Bolsonaro’s cabinet).

It is important to note that the weakening of the government does not
necessarily mean that Bolsonaro will be ousted, though it does allow
society to see the correlation of political forces more clearly. A
political dispute is currently being played out within the establishment
between neofascists – symbolized by the current president – and the
traditional right wing, which is represented by other institutions (such as
the parliament and legal system) and some state governors. In this context,
Bolsonaro’s challenge is to avoid impeachment and to organise a
parliamentary alliance that guarantees him support from the heads of the
Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

The effort to defeat Bolsonaro has taken on an unprecedented central role
and has created awareness among wide-ranging sectors of society: the Left,
institutions (such as the parliament, legal system, and especially the
federal supreme court), intellectuals, public figures, civil society
organisations, and political parties – even those that represent the right
wing. However, such advances bring up debates and challenges within the
Left, such as the difficulty of creating a tactical alliance in defence of
Bolsonaro’s impeachment among the most diverse sectors of society. This is
indicative of the difficulty of bringing forward a left front that is
capable of building a people’s project in Brazil and engaging in a dialogue
with society about an adequate and uniting exit from the crisis.

Political organisations and people’s movements in Brazil have raised two
important initiatives along these lines. The first is the construction
of a Popular
Emergency Plan
in defence of life, health, income, and employment. This platform, in
addition to denouncing the neoliberal and neofascist project that is
underway, is based on the understanding that it is impossible to dissociate
the social mobilisation that is confronting the pandemic from a qualitative
and programmatic government plan. However, the current government – which
is guided by private business interests and acts against scientific
evidence – limits the possibility of state action in the fight against the
crisis and makes it extremely difficult to overcome the challenges that the
country is faced with.

The second initiative of political organisations and people’s movements in
Brazil is the construction of a Politics of Solidarity in Brazil’s major
peripheries, which helps coordinate a platform of people’s movements that
encompasses their diverse initiatives. Based on solidarity, the battle of
ideas, and grassroots work, this process aims to strengthen the
organisation of the masses through a coordinated, popular project and to
strengthen the people’s struggle as a whole. Solidarity in this context
goes hand in hand with the struggle for rights: the right to quarantine
with physical distancing, guaranteed income, and access to water, food, and

A fierce struggle is necessary to win these rights and to gain access to
public resources – and it is people’s organisations that channel this
resistance and seek to embody hope for the people. Fighting for people’s
rights in the context of the pandemic requires putting in the work to
support building this process at all levels – from the local level to the
national level – in a coordinated way. Either the working class will
organise, fight for its life, and prepare for a political struggle, or it
will witness the bourgeoisie pillage the country and bury the corpses of
thousands of predominantly working-class and poor people.

[image: Chess in the time of COVID. Venezuela 2020. Dikó / CacriPhotos]

*Chess in the time of COVID. Venezuela 2020.*
Dikó / CacriPhotos
*Images of Imperialist Intervention *

This alarming public health crisis has not stopped the US from continuing
its aggressive imperialist policies in the region. For many years, Cuba and
Venezuela have been the main targets of the US-led hybrid war, with the
goal of strengthening US domination over what it considers to be its
‘backyard’ (for more on the hybrid war, read our dossier no. 17, *Venezuela
and Hybrid Wars in Latin America*
Today, we are in a key a moment of intense global dispute
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/books-veins-of-the-south> between the US
and other powers, such as China and Russia (Boron 2020).

In Cuba, the policy of Washington’s war hawks – sharpened by US President
Donald Trump – has been to tighten the sanctions, accompanied by a
succession of hostile actions in the diplomatic, political, and economic
arenas. Among these actions, it is worth highlighting the US Department of
State’s re-inclusion of Cuba in the list
of countries that is ‘not cooperating fully with U.S. counterterrorism
efforts in 2019’, making 2020 ‘the first year that Cuba has been certified
as not fully cooperating since 2015’. This selected group of public
enemies, accused of ‘not fully cooperating with U.S. counterterrorism
efforts’, is made up of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, and now Cuba
since May 2020.

In a mix of clumsiness and desperation in the midst of the crisis, the
United States government opted to attack Cuba’s cooperation with countries
around the world to collaborate on public health measures and combat the
crisis. The US State Department openly deployed a pressure campaign against
the rest of the world so that other countries would not ask for help from
Cuba. Despite the fact that the core of the US narrative was amplified by
private mainstream media, their attempt failed: the role of the solidarity
brigades became well-known, and images of white coats and Cuban flags
arriving at airports in countries in crisis spread throughout the world.

Even before the pandemic, members of Cuba’s Henry Reeve International
Medical Brigade were sent to twenty-four countries, including Haiti. The
first country in the Americas to expel European colonialism in 1804, in
recent years Haiti’s dependence on imperialist powers has increased, forced
by coups d’état, foreign military occupation, and humanitarian intervention
by non-profit organisations in the Global North. As a result, Haiti – one
of the most violent experiments of the neoliberal war – has become the
counterpoint of Cuba, robbed of its sovereignty, existing in a state of
general poverty, and faced with a lack of public services and growing
repression. In Haiti, as in other countries, Cuba’s response of solidarity
stands out in contrast with the aggressive policies of the United States,
which prefers instead to deploy troops and further cement its warlike

In the case of Venezuela, the confrontation by the United States has
continued to escalate. With each new confrontation, the United States’ plot
of siege is increasingly exposed. The foiled mercenary incursion in May,
‘Operation Gideon’, is another watershed moment in a long sequence of
attacks that are ignored or justified by international mainstream media.
The operation is representative of the character of the Venezuelan
opposition: completely surrendered to imperialism. One aspect that stands
out is that the operation was established through a contract that formally
linked Washington’s puppet Juan Guaidó to Jordan Goudreau, the head of the
mercenary corporation Silvercorp and a former member of the US Armed Forces
who recently worked in a security operation for a campaign event for US
President Donald Trump. The operation is illustrative of the outsourcing
(real or simulated) of military interventions, which the US has promoted
since the Gulf War (for more on this, read our CoronaShock study no.
2: ‘*CoronaShock
and the Hybrid War Against Venezuela*

The Colombian state, currently in the hands of Iván Duque (former president
Álvaro Úribe’s disciple and staunch *uribista*), has a special role in the
siege against the Venezuelan government. In public settings, Colombia is
one of the main forces in the Lima Group, the diplomatic forum that brings
together right-wing governments across the continent, supposedly to promote
the well-being of the Venezuelan people. At a more clandestine level,
Colombia allows for the establishment of paramilitary training camps
stationed to attack Venezuela.

While this is happening, Colombia is struggling with a spiral of political
violence that has placed the leaders of social movements in its crosshairs.
The police-military machinery unceasingly produces scandals, including
spying on public figures – some in its own government.

The United States has nine military bases in Colombia, as well as others in
the Caribbean, some of which belong to the North Atlantic Treaty
Organisation (NATO). One aspect of the intervention driven by Southern
Command is true army propaganda. For example, much-touted naval bases were
put in place – supposedly to intercept boats carrying illegal drugs – after
the US attorney general accused Nicolás Maduro and other *chavista *leaders
of narco-trafficking and put a bounty on their heads.

The fleet that Southern Command deployed in the Caribbean appeared in the
news when the United States let it be known that it could be used to stop
the Iranian oil tankers that were on their way to Venezuela. Despite this,
the oil tankers arrived in Venezuela, breaking the US embargo. The image of
Iranian tankers in the Caribbean, escorted by the National Bolivarian Armed
Forces’ Sukhoi planes, is symbolic of the shattering of US power. It shed
light on the absurdity of the threats of Trump’s administration, which has
accumulated quite a number of failures in recent months. However, the
military threat remains and should not be downplayed.

It is noteworthy that the US government is promoting conflict at a time
when the country’s death count continues to skyrocket (having reached over
120,000 as of late June, the highest in the world). This reality has
unleashed such chaos that even the US’ well-oiled propaganda machine has
not succeeded in hiding the effects of the pandemic, nor the blunders of
the Trump administration. This stands in sharp contrast to the political
action of other states, such as China and its rapid and comprehensive
response to the pandemic, and Cuba. Just ninety miles south of the US, this
small rebellious island has been able to combat the pandemic despite the US
embargo while simultaneously aiding other people across the world with its
medical solidarity brigades. Meanwhile, the US’ unilateralism has reached a
record level, also demonstrated by its fight with the WHO. It seems that
the pandemic is accelerating
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/books-veins-of-the-south> the global
hegemonic transition (Merino 2020).

On top of this, the streets in the US are on fire once more, a result of
deeply embedded structural racism and police violence. The people’s
response to the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others is
another indication of the level of tension that surges through the United
States; these uprisings chip away at the image of an all-powerful empire
that the country once brandished.

[image: Community kitchens combat hunger in poor areas. Villa Celina,
Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, 2020. Nazareno Roviello / Union of
Workers of the Popular Economy (UTEP)]

*Community kitchens combat hunger in poor areas. Villa Celina, Buenos Aires
Province, Argentina, 2020.*
Nazareno Roviello / Union of Workers of the Popular Economy (UTEP)
*People’s Movements and the Challenges Ahead*

In October 2019, a new wave of struggles spread throughout much of Latin
America in response to the neoliberal offensive. Within just a few months,
the challenges and confines presented by the pandemic would force the
actions and demands of people’s movements in the region to take on a
different shape, each in their own way. But this change in the conditions
of struggle has not meant their disappearance. New forms of organising have
arisen through social media, with Twitter storms and virtual meetings;
*cacerolazos* (the banging of pots and pans in protest, often from
balconies and windows in the era of COVID-19); street demonstrations
adhering to social distancing with protestors wearing masks; and, more
recently, the return of strikes and the blockading of streets and highways.
This new face of people’s protests has become more and more present in the
context of the worsening health, social, and political conditions facing
the poor and the working class.

The effects of the pandemic and its use to further the capitalist agenda
have manifested through a significant increase in layoffs; reductions in
salaries; the increasing precariousness of work, especially in the private
and informal sectors; and a notable advance in the digitalisation of work
(such as the increasingly precarious ‘uberisation’) that capitalists had
already begun to promote before the emergence of the virus. Faced with this
daunting reality, workers in the region have responded with various
actions, including delivery workers’ and other essential workers’ strikes
on both a regional and global level. It is worth paying particular
attention to the conflict and demands of health workers throughout the
region (for more on this read our dossier no. 29, *Health Is a Political
Choice* <https://www.thetricontinental.org/dossier-29-healthcare/>).

The situation is even worse in sectors with precarious or occasional work
that is insufficient for sustaining life. The absence of social policies
has had a disastrous impact, aggravating and triggering plagues of hunger
and illness (to read more about this on a global level, read our twentieth
newsletter (2020), *Hunger Gnaws at the Edges of the World*
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/newsletterissue/20-2020-famine/>). In
this context, people’s movements have carried out heroic work, often in
very difficult situations, organising canteens
for the people; providing food and basic goods that are necessary for
public health; contributing to collective organisation; and demanding
effective solutions from governments. Among these efforts, it is worth
mentioning the distribution of food by organisations in poor neighbourhoods
in Chapare (Bolivia) that have been persecuted by the dictatorship. In
Brazil, more than more than 1,200 tonnes of food were delivered to
shantytowns in cities throughout the country by the Landless Workers’
Movement (MST) and other people’s movements. In Argentina, organisations
linked to the popular economy have led such efforts, demanding food and
measures that guarantee assistance to poor neighbourhoods that are
suffering from the rapidly spreading virus.

In Guatemala, El Salvador, and Ecuador, women hang white flags
along the highway and families hang white flags from their homes to
symbolise widespread hunger and the demand for food. In Panama, the poor
are protesting by blockading the streets and organising *cacerolazos*. In
Santiago, Chile, residents of poor neighbourhoods who have protested and
constructed barricades are being repressed by the same government that only
offers them scraps. In El Alto, La Paz, and elsewhere in Bolivia, workers
and neighbours protest, denouncing the lack of work and food. Similar
events have unfolded in Bogotá (Colombia) and other large urban centres in
the region. The rejection of the neoliberal agenda in Ecuador; *cacerolazos*
and exploding fireworks in the streets of Bolivia demanding elections; and
*panelaços* (*cacerolazos*) in Brazil alongside the chants *Fora Bolsonaro!
*(‘Get out, Bolsonaro!’) seem to indicate the reinvigoration of people’s
struggles under the new conditions raised by the pandemic.

The spread of the virus in poor neighbourhoods threatens to provoke a
social and health catastrophe. This reality is not limited to urban areas
and has been denounced by movements across the region, from the Amazonian
departments in Colombia (among the poorest regions in the country) to
Haiti. Organisations of indigenous peoples have also denounced the dire
situation looming over their homelands; as of late May, there are at least
cases of infection in the Amazon basin according to the Pan American Health
Organization (PAHO).

The pandemic has also exposed and aggravated the traumas of injustice and
the double exploitation, oppression, and violence against women and against
people across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Poor women in particular have been
impacted by the loss of income, the responsibility of domestic caretaking,
and the increase in violence, as seen by the growing numbers of femicides.
In Chile, the* Coordinadora Feminista 8M *has played an important role,
taking a lead in organising collective feminist caretaking for families and
populations in these areas; shedding light on and demanding urgent
attention towards the need for the eradication of intrafamilial violence
and the protection of women, children, and adolescents; and demanding the
right not to leave home to work during the pandemic and the right to
guaranteed income and other emergency health measures.

Feminist women’s movements and other movements with a feminist analysis
have voiced loudly and clearly that caring for human life is worth more
than profits. The International People’s Assembly has called
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/declaration-covid19/> upon the people of
the world to put the preservation of life before the interests of capital
and for an emancipatory exit to the contradiction between health and the
economy that continually emerges within the capitalist framework. The ALBA
movements’ platform in Latin America has called for the condemnation of
neoliberal governments, for the lifting of sanctions, and for the rejection
of imperialist aggressions. The group also called to give life to a
political programme and project from below. Not only has the global reach
of the virus-turned-pandemic aggravated the social suffering caused by
neoliberalism; it has also made very clear the effects of capitalist
globalisation and raised a debate about the global disorder. The resistance
of the people brings up the necessity of building alternatives, which must
strengthen and renew internationalism.

[image: The MST organises the donation of fifty tons of food in the
interior of Paraná, Brazil, April 2020. Wellington Lenon / MST]

*The MST organises the donation of fifty tons of food in the interior of
Paraná, Brazil, April 2020.*
Wellington Lenon / MST
*The Past and the Present *

The expansion of the pandemic in Latin America has revealed the
precariousness of the system of public health and the eroded conditions of
life for the poor, the result of decades of neoliberal policies – as shown
by the failure of these policies to respond to the spread of the disease.
In the face of the crisis that is unfolding, the hegemonic narrative often
raises the urgency to return to the ‘normalcy’ of the past. However, as we
have shown, the past has in essence normalised the economic, social,
migration, environmental, and climate crisis that characterises the
development of neoliberalism. The future cannot simply be reduced to going
back to the past. The building of an effective exit to the crisis must be
centred on a profound transformation of its true causes.
*Suggested Reading *

Boron, Atilio. ‘Notas sobre el imperialismo y la estrategia de seguridad de
los Estados

Unidos’ [‘Notes on the current affairs of imperialism and on US new
national security strategy’]. *Las venas del Sur siguen abiertas. Debates
sobre el imperialismo de nuestro tiempo [The Veins of the South Are Still
Open: Debates around the imperialism of our time’], *edited by López,
Emiliano, LeftWord, 2020.

Katz, Claudio. ‘Confluencia del virus en América Latina’ [‘The Confluence
of the

Virus in Latin America’]. *Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research*,
14 May 2020.

Merino, Gabriel. ‘La reconfiguración imperial de Estados Unidos y las

internas frente al ascenso de China’ [‘The Imperial Reconfiguration of the
United States Against the Rise of China’]. *Las venas del Sur siguen
abiertas. Debates sobre el imperialismo de nuestro tiempo*. *[The Veins of
the South Are Still Open: Debates around the imperialism of our time’], *edited
by López, Emiliano, LeftWord*, *2020.

*This dossier was produced by the Observatory on Latin America and the
Caribbean (OBSAL) and the Buenos Aires and São Paulo offices of
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research with the collaboration of
researchers and activists in the region. Among others, we would like to
thank Ana Maldonado of the Frente Francisco de Miranda de Venezuela.*

[image: Mangoes, plantains, and avocados. Caracas, Venezuela, 2020. Dikó /

*Mangoes, plantains, and avocados. Caracas, Venezuela, 2020.*
Dikó / CacriPhotos
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