Choosing Between Life and Capital in Latin America

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2097 ... May 20, 2020

Choosing Between Life and Capital in Latin America

As in most parts of the world, Latin America is struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic with confirmed cases and deaths still escalating. In some countries, notably Brazil and Ecuador, the situation is grim, while in Mexico and Peru the setting remains anxious, and no country is insulated from the threat of a deadly virus with no known vaccine. The outbreak is unfolding in a context where health systems have been vastly under-supplied and run-down for decades, scarcely being improved in the period of the ‘pink tide’ of ‘progressive’ governments. The states of Latin America continue to bear the weight of decades on neoliberal globalization and social polarization, along many axes of inequality. The impact of the current severe global economic downturn, from a policy-induced shutdown and the end of what was a very weak expansion after the 2008-10 ‘great financial crisis’, has made for a compounded crisis of unusual depth, breadth, and unknown duration across the continent. To observe that there will be significant political consequences is... an easy judgement. The sources, forms, terrains, and sharpness of political struggles from the working classes, social movements, and the myriad of parties that constitute the Latin American left is, well, a far more thorny set of questions to assess. But the dual crisis of healthcare provisioning and economic crash leave ample space for an anti-capitalist politics to re-assert its presence.

Jeffery R. Webber teaches in the Department of Politics at York University, Toronto. Webber’s latest book is The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left. He was interviewed for Marxist Left Review by Róbert Nárai.

Róbert Nárai (RN): Let’s start at an epidemiological level. How has the virus impacted the region so far?

Jeffery R. Webber (JW): In terms of the sheer number of cases and fatalities, all existing official numbers provided by states in the region are highly dubious. But you still have some discernible trends. In the future, the most reliable data -- as elsewhere -- will be the distinction between average death rates over the last several years and death rates during the pandemic period. Such death-rate analysis is particularly revealing both because these figures are more difficult for states to conceal or fudge, and because it captures deaths both from COVID-19 and those excess indirect deaths caused by people with other ailments who were not able to access necessary medical attention due to saturated capacity in the health system.

The full extent of this information will only be known fully some distance into the future, and perhaps never fully in the most under-resourced states. Nonetheless, there are already some initial studies focused on this kind of death rate comparison of select cities in the region, and the results are alarming; the high numbers also stand in stark contrast to the lack of attention paid to the Latin America scenario by the dominant international media compared to the coverage of Europe and North America.

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