[News] Your Privileges Are Not Universal

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Thu Feb 25 11:26:46 EST 2021


thetricontinental.org
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/newsletterissue/8-healthcare-crisis/> Your
Privileges Are Not Universal: The Eighth Newsletter (2021)
Vijay Prashad - February 25, 2021
------------------------------

[image: José Balmes (Chile), Lota el Silencio, 2007.]

José Balmes (Chile), Lota el Silencio, 2007.

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
<https://thetricontinental.org/>.

Stencilled in red on the walls of Santiago, Chile is a statement of fact:
‘your privileges are not universal’ (*tus privilegios no son universales*).
This is a factual declaration because the privileges of power and property
are not shared across the gaping class divide. Consider the fact that
before the pandemic struck last year, over 3 billion people – or half the
world’s population – had no access
<https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/259817/9789241513555-eng.pdf;jsessionid=B55B934A37FD9CB4E831B94F0A08D1FB?sequence=1>
to health care. This data appears in a 2017 World Health Organisation (WHO)
report
<https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/259817/9789241513555-eng.pdf;jsessionid=B55B934A37FD9CB4E831B94F0A08D1FB?sequence=1>
that tracks important matters such as access to basic household sanitation
(lacked by 2.3 billion people) and medical care for uncontrolled
hypertension (suffered by 1 billion people).

An Oxfam report
<https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/621149/bp-the-inequality-virus-250121-en.pdf>
from 25 January 2021 called *The Inequality Virus* points out that ‘the
pandemic could cause the biggest increase in inequality since records
began, as it precipitates a simultaneous and substantial rise across many
countries’. Before the pandemic, the World Bank calculated
<https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/34496/9781464816024.pdf>
that about 2 billion people ‘remain in poverty, that is, living below the
standards their own societies have set for a dignified life’. Because of
the pandemic-triggered jobs crisis, it is likely – the United Nations notes
<https://www.wider.unu.edu/publication/estimates-impact-covid-19-global-poverty>
– that half a billion more people will sink into poverty by the end of the
decade; World Bank numbers concur
<https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/10/07/covid-19-to-add-as-many-as-150-million-extreme-poor-by-2021>
.

‘And with the pandemic’, write the World Bank analysts, ‘the newly poor are
more likely to live in congested urban settings and to work in the sectors
most affected by lockdowns and mobility restrictions; many are engaged in
informal services and not reached by existing social safety nets’. These
are the billions who will slide deeper into debt and despair, with
education and healthcare slipping away from them as hunger rates rise.

[image: Aleksandr Deyneka (USSR), Unemployed in Berlin, 1932.]

Aleksandr Deyneka (USSR), Unemployed in Berlin, 1932.

Nothing of what is written above is an exaggeration. All of it comes from
researchers and analysts at mainstream organisations such as the World
Health Organisation and the World Bank, neither of whom are known to
inflate the ill-effects of capitalist policy. If anything, these
organisations have a tendency to minimise the perils of privatisation and
corporate-based policies, urging on further cuts to public systems. During
the tenure of Gro Harlem Brundtland at the helm of the WHO (1998-2003), the
organisation encouraged
<https://www.southcentre.int/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/RP49_PPPs-and-PDPs-in-Health-rev_EN.pdf>
the creation of Private-Public Partnerships (PPPs) and Product Development
Partnerships (PDPs). The WHO’s emphasis on the private sector – alongside
pressure from the International Monetary Fund to cut public sector funding
– accelerated the haemorrhaging of public health systems in many of the
poorer countries.

When the WHO should have led the fight to deepen public health systems and
to create regional and national pharmaceutical production systems, the
agency produced PPP platforms such as the underfunded Global Alliance for
Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI); along with other agencies, GAVI is now
spluttering
<https://www.un.org/en/un-chronicle/protecting%20lower-income%20countries%20with%20covid-19%20vaccines%20requires%20global%20solidarity>
forward to provide COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries. The people
who produced global austerity, a desert of possibilities, only now
recognise the perils of the inequality virus.

[image: Hugo Gellert (USA), Comrade Gulliver, 1935.]

Hugo Gellert (USA), Comrade Gulliver, 1935.

To be anxious about inequality is insufficient. A range of possible,
common-sense reforms are being demanded by people’s organisations across
the world, which include:

   1. *Free Universal Healthcare.* This has been achieved in poorer
   countries like Costa Rica
   <https://www.who.int/healthsystems/topics/financing/healthreport/CostaRicaNo11.pdf>
   and Thailand
   <https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/325504/PMC6560367.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y>
   as well as in socialist states and should, therefore, be the objective of
   every country on the planet.
   2. *A People’s Vaccine.* Momentum toward the availability of a people’s
   vaccine is growing, which should include not only open access to all
   patents for the COVID-19 vaccine but also the creation of pharmaceutical
   production facilities in the low-income states and in the public sector.

These two basic measures could be easily financed by the money now exported
to service odious debts. But such logical solutions that would provide
immediate relief to people are set aside. Despite the strong words about
the problems posed by austerity, more austerity will be demanded, and more
social disorder will be produced.

Rather than focus attention on the actual problems that face the planet’s
people and acknowledge the democratic demands coming from people’s
organisations and manifestations, government after government has taken
refuge in undemocratic behaviour. For example, the farmers and agricultural
workers in India continue their months-long protest
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/newsletterissue/3-farmers-strike-india/>
against three anti-farmer laws pushed through by the extreme right Indian
government. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi knows that its
commitment to big capital – personified in the wealthy Adani and Ambani
families – prevents it from any serious negotiation with the farmers and
agricultural workers. Instead, the government has tried
<https://www.newsclick.in/Resistance-Face-Repression-Stories-Protesting-Farmers-Delhi-Border>
to portray the farmers and agricultural workers as terrorists and as
anti-national.

When this did not work, the government went after reporters and media
houses that amplified the farmers’ struggle. Many who have reported
<https://www.newsclick.in/need-bring-out-what-those-power-want-hide-mandeep-punia>
on, participated
<https://www.newsclick.in/Investigation-Was-Activist-Nodeep-Kaur-Sexually-Assaulted-Police-Custody>
in, or shown solidarity
<https://www.newsclick.in/21-Year-Old-Climate-Activist-Arrested-in-Bengaluru-for-Sharing-Greta-Thunberg%27s-%27Toolkit%27>
with protestors have been arrested – such as in the cases of journalist Mandeep
Punia
<https://www.newsclick.in/need-bring-out-what-those-power-want-hide-mandeep-punia>,
worker rights activist Nodeep Kaur
<https://www.newsclick.in/Investigation-Was-Activist-Nodeep-Kaur-Sexually-Assaulted-Police-Custody>
and activist Disha Ravi
<https://www.newsclick.in/if-highlighting-farmers-protest-sedition-it-better-be-jail-disha-ravi>,
who created and shared a toolkit to support the farmers. Finally, in an act
of lawfare, the government conducted a 113-hour raid
<https://www.newsclick.in/Raid-Selective-Leaks-are-Attempt-at-Disrupting-Journalism-of-NewsClick-PUCL>
against NewsClick <https://www.newsclick.in/>, one of the key media houses
to cover the protests; accusations of money-laundering tried to sully the
name of NewsClick, which has earned the trust of millions of readers and
viewers with its frontline reporting that lifted up the sentiments and
demands of the agriculturalists.

[image: Jagdish Swaminathan (India), Untitled, 1974.]

Jagdish Swaminathan (India), Untitled, 1974.

Meanwhile, India’s Ministry of Education released an order on 15 January
that required
<https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/education-ministrys-notification-on-virtual-seminars-unenforceable-say-academics/article33804918.ece>
any online conference or webinar that might discuss India’s ‘internal
matters’ and those that receive foreign sponsorship to seek prior
government approval. Similarly, the French government started a process
<https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2021/02/21/islamo-gauchisme-frederique-vidal-denonce-un-proces-d-intention-a-son-egard_6070688_3224.html>
to investigate academic research that promotes ‘Islamo-leftist’ ideas and
thereby, according to the Minister of Higher Education, ‘corrupts society’.
In the name of Order, freedom of speech is easily set aside and the
fragility of the formal nature of democracy is exposed. The attack on
NewsClick, alongside the investigation of academics in France, reveals the
yawning gap between democratic ideals and the practice of statecraft.

Despite the $364 billion *prêt garanti par l’État* (PGE) programme
<https://www.economie.gouv.fr/covid19-soutien-entreprises/pret-garanti-par-letat>
to provide relief for the French population, there is a serious long-term
problem of inequality and joblessness. Rather than focus on this, the
French government has whipped around to fight an illusionary adversary:
Islamo-leftists. In the same way, faced with mass dislocation and social
suffering deepened by the pandemic, the Indian government is prosecuting a
war against farmers and media platforms that are sensitive to the issues
raised by the farmers. Both these formal democracies retain their
constitutions and their laws, their elections and their public hearings –
all part of the panoply of modern democracies. They fail, however, to
actually listen to the suffering of the people, let alone the demands made
by the people; they remain insensitive to the possibility of a more viable
future for our societies.

During the period of the military dictatorship in Pakistan, the communist
poet Habib Jalib sang:

*Kahin gas ka dhuan hae kahin golian ki baarish*
*Shab-e-ehd-e-kum nigahi tujhay kis tarah sarahein*

Teargas smoke is in the air, bullets are raining around.
How can I praise you, the night of the period of myopia?

Your privileges are not universal, since your privileges earn you – the few
– the vast bulk of social wealth; when the people put forward our views,
you fire teargas and bullets. You believe that your myopia will allow your
night-time to last forever. We praise the hopes and struggles of the
people, whose desire to advance history will cut through your repression.

Warmly,

Vijay


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