The Deserted Cities II

Image: Oto Vale


Between betrayal and death


Nine hundred thousand dead all over the world! Nearly 28 million people infected. More than half in just three countries: the United States (which has already reached 200 deaths), India (the country where the pandemic spreads most quickly and which this week surpassed Brazil in the number of cases) and Brazil (with more than four million cases, approaching 130 deaths). In India, last week, more than 80 thousand daily cases were registered. On Friday, it already reached 87.115, also surpassing the 70 daily deaths, for a total of more than 6,5 deaths. Experts predict it could overtake the United States, even though the United States, with nearly 4,5 million cases, far surpasses India's roughly XNUMX million.

The Hindu government tried to downplay the spread of the virus and insisted on the need to revive the economy. This week – indicated the newspaper The Guardian –, a 23,9% drop in GDP was known in the last quarter, the biggest since these data began to be recorded in 1996. With many Hindus working in the informal sector, the figures might not show, in their full dimension, the serious situation in the country, showed the report. In Latin America, after Brazil, Mexico is the country with the highest number of deaths: around 70; followed by Peru, with nearly 30, and Colombia, with around 21.

Latin America: a gloomy panorama

Around 45 million Latin Americans will be pushed into poverty or extreme poverty as a result of this pandemic, estimated a recent study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). More than a third of the population will fall into poverty: 231 million people (out of a population of 630 million), people who will no longer be able to feed themselves adequately.

While Europe invests the equivalent of 40% of GDP to face the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, Latin America invests only 10%. The results can only be catastrophic. Latin American GDP will fall back to levels of a decade ago, said ECLAC's executive secretary, Mexican Alicia Bárcena, in an interview with the magazine Foreign Policy Published last September 4th. “We are going to go back 14 years in terms of the poverty rate” and it will also increase inequality, she added. Eight out of ten people in the region – 491 million people – will live with resources just three times above the poverty line. That is, with less than 500 dollars a month.

ECLAC suggests measures such as establishing an emergency basic income of US$147 for six months for the most disadvantaged sectors; grace periods for indebted micro, small and medium-sized companies; but also fiscal measures, including access to resources on favorable terms. Bárcena mentioned 275 billion dollars that would be available from the IMF. He also suggested capitalizing on international credit institutions, including the IDB and the BCIE [Central American Bank for Economic Integration]. His third proposal is debt renegotiation.

It will be necessary to see what space there is for the application of some of these suggestions from ECLAC's executive secretary. In countries like Costa Rica, for example, the government announced the negotiation of an IMF loan, the terms of which have not yet been disclosed, even though, apparently, they have already been defined. Before announcing them, the government convened various social sectors for a “dialogue”, received with little enthusiasm. The same government stressed that it is not a matter of changing the essence of the negotiation.

What is expected is that the agreement includes severe measures to adjust public spending and the privatization of public companies, a decision that faces serious resistance in the country, which has a relatively efficient public sector in banking, telecommunications, energy, public health and education, among others. Conservative business groups, installed in the presidential palace, and political sectors do not hide their intention to take advantage of the crisis to advance an agenda of privatizations and spending cuts, which could deepen the crisis and make recovery unfeasible.

Bolivia: the best that happened

There is just over a month left for the general elections in Bolivia, which will take place on October 18, after two postponements amid the Covid-19 pandemic. A pandemic that – in the opinion of the former president of the Senate, Adriana Salvatierra, in an interview with the Argentine and Brazilian press, published on September 3 – only highlighted “the characteristics of a government that is not the result of popular will, but at a stroke”.

In addition to cases of corruption in the purchase of health material, the government of Jeanine Áñez had, in nine months, three ministers of health, two ministers of economy and two ministers of planning. “There is tension and a permanent crisis in a cabinet that has no real possibilities to face Covid-19”, said Salvatierra. In view of the elections – in which former president Evo Morales was prevented from participating – he estimated that they will not mean the end of social and political tensions in the country. “There is a much deeper tension and this refers to the radical nature of our process, which affected different interests, at a geopolitical and local level”, such as those of Elon Musk and his company Tesla, recalled Salvatierra. Musk claimed his right to support the coup in defense of his interests in lithium, of which Bolivia is one of the world's main producers.

After rejecting negotiations with Western companies for the exploitation of lithium, for not offering acceptable conditions for the country, the Morales government would sign an agreement with China “which implied an investment of 2,3 billion dollars to industrialize lithium. Tesla has assets of US$76 billion, which the former senator compared to Bolivia's GDP of US$42,5 billion. Musk has in his bank accounts “approximately 34 billion dollars more than all the economic resources we use in our country. This means, in a simple way, that this man has almost two Bolivias in his bank accounts”. We made mistakes – she added – but we are still the best thing that happened in the history of our country”. Salvatierra denounced the report of fraud after the elections of October last year, an “operation in which the OAS participates and the major media converge”.

Then violence erupts against supporters of President Evo Morales. As highlighted by Gabriel Hetland, assistant professor of Latin American studies at the University of Albany, in an article published by The Washington Post, during his nine months in office, Áñez “consolidated a brutal right-wing dictatorship that murdered dozens of civilian demonstrators. He tortured, injured and imprisoned many more. He censored the press”. Salvatierra recalled that “when they saw that the house of Evo's sister, who had recently died, had been burned down; that Patricia Arce, mayor of Vinto, was kidnapped and tortured for hours, had her hair cut and forced to walk barefoot among crowds; or that the sister of Víctor Borda, who was president of the Chamber of Deputies, the fourth in the line of succession, was kidnapped and his house burned down”, I was forced to resign. “If I had assumed the presidency, I would have ended the bloodbath that the opposition was looking for at that moment to support their coup”, he added.

Candidates of the Movement to Socialism (MAS), led by Morales, are favorites again to win the elections. Luis Arce, former Minister of Economy and Public Finance under Morales, is the presidential candidate with former Chancellor David Choquehuanca as vice president. A triumph for the MAS is possible, which, for the most conservative sectors of the region, would be “a political tragedy”. Áñez appears in third place in the polls. Carlos Mesa, who was a candidate in last year's elections, appears in second place in the polls and would go to the second round if Arce does not win an absolute majority in the first round.

Of elections and options

It's not just Bolivia that will go to the polls in the coming months. It will be a semester full of important elections in the region: the constitutional referendum in Chile, on October 25; the general elections in the United States, on November 3; or the legislative elections in Venezuela, on December 6th. In Chile, this is a process whose origin was the great protests of October last year – which took the government by surprise –, and one of the main demands is the reform of the constitution inherited from the dictatorial period led by General Pinochet.

It is, in fact, a long process if – as all the surveys indicate – the constitution of the constituent is approved. The next steps would be the election of its members, probably in April, and then the constitutional debate. Given the seemingly inevitable and insurmountable triumph of the “approval” in October, conservative sectors, former allies of the dictatorship, such as the possible presidential candidate Joaquín Lavín, are betting on defending their interests in the following stages of the process. There are also confusing situations, such as the case of former senator, former minister of the first government of Sebastián Piñera and also presidential aspirant Pablo Longueira, who, after expressing himself in favor of “approving”, seems to have changed his position. “I'm in favor of rejecting it, I want to preserve everything possible from this Constitution… What is the best way to preserve this Constitution, the best that Chile has ever had? Fighting at the convention, to which we all come legitimately, that no one is bound by the 'approval'”, said Longueira.


The debate on the constitutional referendum coincided with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the triumph of Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity (UP) in the September 4, 1970 elections. the importance of these elections and the consequences of the 1973 coup, which ended Allende's life and the experience of Popular Unity, and facilitated the consolidation of military dictatorships in South America. “The historical experience of the Chilean government of Salvador Allende, as a process of transformation, has not yet been surpassed in Latin America”, said the distinguished Mexican intellectual Pablo González Casanova, at the seminar organized by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). “If there was one thing Allende had, it was that he never represented an elitist leadership, he never distanced himself from the masses. The UP government meant, in its thousand days, a deepening of democracy, not only in terms of politics and economics, but also in relation to people's participation”, in the opinion of his granddaughter, Marcia Tambutti Allende, president of the Salvador Allende Foundation .

Francisco Zapata, Chilean, professor at The College of Mexico, recalled Allende’s political trajectory as part of a “long process that began in Chile at the beginning of the 11th century” and that, during his government, he promoted a series of pending tasks, such as deepening agrarian reform, with a prominent role of his minister Jacques Chonchol; the nationalization of copper, through a decree of July 1971, XNUMX, which did not indemnify foreign companies; and the creation of the Social Property Area in the economy. “With the coup, everything was left behind, but not the nationalization of copper, which remains largely in public hands”, recalled Zapata. Finally, journalist and writer Luis Hernández, from the newspaper The Journey, spoke of the figure of Allende in Mexico, highlighting that “on the 50th anniversary of the UP’s triumph, it is essential to remember and pay homage to the worthy man who did not hesitate to choose between betrayal and death”.


In Venezuela, after the call for legislative elections to be held on December 6th, Juan Guaidó, the president in charge appointed by the United States and recognized by several other countries, called for non-participation in the dispute, considering that there were no guarantees. A position later endorsed by those who support him internationally.

An argument that lost support after the government of Venezuela invited the UN and the European Union (but not the OAS) to send election observers. A complicated invitation for Europeans, who recognize Guaidó's "presidency". However, last week, another opposition leader, former presidential candidate Henrique Caprilles, accepted the challenge and announced his participation in the elections. “We are not going to leave people with no option, who have to choose between scorpions or Maduro, between opponents dressed as Maduro and Maduro. We are not going to present the National Assembly to Maduro,” said Capriles. He also valued the invitation to the UN and the European Union. “I haven't done that since 2006,” he said. In this way, Capriles assumes the leadership of an opposition that appears fragmented between those who oppose the elections and between those who agreed to participate, but did not have a wide representation among the opposing groups. The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, after pardoning 111 detained opponents, announced last Friday, September 4, the renewal of his cabinet, with eight ministers assuming parliamentary candidacies.

One more election: IDB

There is, however, one more election in these weeks. On September 12, the shareholders of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) elect its president. This time around, the election provoked mixed reactions after the Trump administration announced its intention to run as candidate Mauricio Claver-Carone, an official of Cuban origin, born in Miami, director for Latin America at the National Security Council of the US government, supporter of of an aggressive policy towards countries like Venezuela and Cuba.

The designation breaks a tradition. The IDB president has always been a Latin American, with an American vice president. “My father was born in Madrid, my mother was born in Havana and I was born in Miami. I speak Spanish as well as any other candidate. What makes us less Latin American than them?” asked Claver-Carone in an interview with Amanda Mars, from the newspaper El País. He also recalled that the current president, Colombian Luis Alberto Moreno, was born in Philadelphia and is a US citizen. Having announced her intention to launch her candidacy for the post in February, the former president of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, decided to withdraw her candidacy last week after failing to negotiate a change of position with the United States. The US decision was criticized by a group of former Latin American presidents of “moderate” positions, who stated that Washington's decision “would not herald good times for the future of the entity”.

Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves



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