The Deserted Cities – IX

Image: Hamilton Grimaldi
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By GILBERTO LOPES*

Comments on recent events in international politics

“If we stay at 29 dead, we will have done a great job,” said US President Donald Trump on March 130. “It is very likely that the peak of the disease will occur within two weeks,” he added. The United States had, at that time, just over 2.300 cases and 19 deaths from Covid-XNUMX.

Seven months later, on the eve of the November 3 elections, the scenario is very different. Daily deaths approach 1.000 (India, with around 700 deaths, and Brazil, with nearly 600, follow in this macabre tragedy). The total death toll from the pandemic in the United States exceeds 230 and the country is heading towards nine million cases. It is one of the countries with the most deaths per million inhabitants in the world.

A history that makes it difficult to maintain that they are “turning the page”, as the president recently said. "This is gone," Trump said. “Let's leave her behind. It's on its way." It seems like a speech repeated since March. It is inevitable: someday the pandemic, at least, will subside. There are those who say that it will never completely end. Vaccines will also emerge. More and more effective. But this is something else, different from a reiterated optimism, without any respite from reality. No sustenance.

How to face it just ten days before the elections? “Whoever is responsible for so many deaths should not continue to be president of the United States,” said Joe Biden at the election debate last October 22 in Nashville. By then, around 48 million people had already cast their ballots by mail or other instruments in the United States. Polls and commentators indicated there were few undecided voters left, while speculation about the final results of the vote intensified.

The pandemic numbers

The number of deaths from Covid-19 grew rapidly in April, when it had already started to increase in the previous month. It was the first wave, which broke the record of 8.515 deaths in one day, on April 17. Then it seemed to subside. From May onwards, the number of deaths dropped to less than 22 daily in early June. Then the number started to go up again. On July 7.309, it reached XNUMX. Then it started to drop again, reaching six thousand cases in the first weeks of October.

And the current new escalation began, which took us to almost seven thousand daily deaths at the end of October. And that has alarmed all of Europe, where closure and quarantine measures are taking place. Spain reaches one million contagions and the government decrees a night curfew. Similar measures follow one another in France, England, the Netherlands, and other states. With about 500 daily cases, the world approaches, this week, 45 million cases and almost 1,2 million deaths. In October, the IMF published its updated economic outlook: around 85% of the world economy is at a standstill. “The Great Lockdown”, as the IMF calls it. Without central banks having yet recovered from the 2008 global financial crisis, governments provided an estimated twelve trillion dollars of fiscal support to households and businesses.

But the way forward remains unclear, extraordinarily uncertain, adds the IMF. For the United States and the European Union, the crisis is particularly painful. Their savings have fallen this year by 4,3% and 7,6% respectively, according to IMF estimates. China, on the contrary, will grow little, but it will grow: 1,9%. Even if the forecasts are for growth for the next year (3,1% for the United States; 5% for the European Union and 8,2% for China), the IMF warns that things could get worse if the new wave of infections keep growing.

Risks remain high, with some financial markets overvalued, with threats of crashes and unemployment and a rise in public debt, which the IMF expects could reach 100% of global GDP, the result of fiscal stimulus to try to keep economies afloat. O The Economist, warns that policies must contemplate the response of governments to structural changes and the “creative destruction that the pandemic is causing”. And these adjustments – he adds – “will be immense”, with less globalized, more digitized and less egalitarian economies.

It's a very chaotic time

Perhaps because of all this, the former Vice President of Bolivia, Álvaro García Linera, stated that this is “a very chaotic time for the whole world”. “It is a time that has not written its destiny. I believe that these times will be like this, very turbulent ones”. This is a long interview published by the magazine Crisis, from Buenos Aires, on October 22nd. He talks about the October 18 election results. From the surprising victory of the Movement to Socialism (MAS), with 55% of the votes conquered by Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca, practically doubling the 29% of Carlos Meza, his closest opponent. García Linera sees it from the Bolivian perspective, but with obvious regional repercussions. “The meaning, for Bolivia, is that the national-popular project proposed by the MAS continues to be the insurmountable horizon of this time”, he evaluated. And for the continent – ​​he added – “the lesson is that if you bet on processes that fundamentally benefit the simplest, most needy people, you are not failing. You may have problems, difficulties, setbacks... but it's a gamble that goes in the direction of history”.

García Linera also talks about the crisis of neoliberalism. Democracy presents itself more and more as a hindrance to conservative forces. In the eighties and nineties, they sold the idea that democracy and the free market economy project came together. Now it presents itself as a hindrance. We didn't see that clearly enough in 2016, he adds. “This authoritarian regression of neoliberalism, this neoliberalism 2.0, more enraged, violent, ready – without any kind of moral limit or remorse – to resort to violence, coup d'état, massacre, in order to impose itself”.

He defended the role of the State in the economy, public investment, debt renegotiation, redistributive policy via wages. A progressive government cannot allow economic power to rest entirely with the private sector. “This is dangerous,” he said. “You have to establish a relationship between equals, or top-down with the business sector, without having to fight with it”.

The return of Unasur

He also highlighted the importance of the regional scenario. “In 2008 we had a similar situation, even more radicalized by the conservatives. But there was a police and military neutrality, greatly influenced by the continental context that ensured that the rule of law was neither transgressed nor ignored. And it was enough, despite the money that must have been circulating at that time among military commanders”.

Now it was different. “With Unasur in force, the coup in 2019 would not have occurred,” he assured. But Unasur is no longer in force. In March last year, the president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, announced his withdrawal from the organization, which had been created in 2008 in Brazil. It was not just any resignation, as the organization had its headquarters in Quito. The headquarters building had the name of the former Argentine president, Néstor Kirchner, and the monument that remembered him, Moreno also had removed. The conservative government of Colombia had already left the organization, whose last general secretary had been, precisely, the former Colombian president Ernesto Samper.

The triumph of the MAS – said former Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim – “is very important”. It is a rescue of democracy, with the defeat of the coup orchestrated with the participation of the OAS that, in his opinion, returned to being, “in an even more crude way than in the past, a ministry of colonies” of the United States. The OAS, emphasized Amorim, “was the agent of the coup in Bolivia”. He also highlighted Bolivia's strategic location in the region, in the center of Latin America. The MAS triumph "helps alleviate Argentina's isolation." It allows building a new political reality in the region.

On Sunday the 25th, a plebiscite was held in Chile to put an end to the 1980 constitution, dating back to the civil-military dictatorship, and in February there will also be elections in Ecuador. The president-elect of Bolivia, Luis Arce, has already announced that he will restore relations with Venezuela and Cuba, severed by the coup government. “Other things will happen”, stated Amorim. “We can think about the resurrection of Unasur. We cannot leave it in the hands of the OAS, subject to the unique arguments coming from Washington”.

New airs in Washington?

Amorim also spoke in an interview with the magazine Fórum, from the prospects of the US elections. There is a difference between Democrats and Republicans, he said. Nixon staged the coup in Chile in 1973. His successor, Jimmy Carter, took a different stance. “The fundamental interests are the same, but there are nuances”. A Biden victory makes the difference, he indicated.

Eight days before the election, all polls point to Trump's defeat. Some speculate on the possibility of a sweeping Democratic victory, including the Senate recovery, now in Republican hands. But everyone also remembers a similar situation in 2016, when the favorite was Hilary Clinton. And so they shade an exaggerated optimism. “Democrats see changing states like Texas and Georgia as the key to a possible landslide victory; Texas has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976 and Georgia has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992,” said journalist Astead W. Herndon in the New York Times. “A second Trump administration could spell the end of the post-war liberal international order and alliance system,” said Thomas Wright, a non-resident research fellow at the Lowy Institut of Australia, in a lengthy article entitled “The Point of No Return: The Election 2020 and the US foreign policy crisis”.

In his first administration, Trump rejected the principles on which American leadership was founded since World War II, which, for Wright, included a system of alliances in Europe and Asia, free trade, an open international economy and support for democracy and human rights. If Trump is re-elected – he added – the world will understand that the United States has changed and that the period of post-war leadership is over. On the other hand, he sees Biden as an enthusiastic supporter of alliances and the old American style of leadership.

After a phase of accommodation in his presidency, Trump was finally confronted with the great crisis of a pandemic, which provoked an economic collapse similar to that of the great depression of the 30s. The following months were a horror, as cases and deaths increased. For the first time since World War II, the United States did not play a leading role in a major international emergency. An eventual second period – said Wright – does not offer us any evidence that it will be more moderate, as is the tradition in republican governments. Quoting former Trump adviser John Bolton in his recent book on the current administration, he assesses that, in this second period, the president will be much less constrained by politics than he was in the first.

Although Biden represents a return to traditional US policy – ​​he will return to the Paris Agreement on climate change, he will try to revive the nuclear agreement with Iran and rebuild relations with traditional allies –, in many other matters of international politics " Biden is an enigma.” His policy towards China, among other things, could be particularly harsh, as he exposed when he was vice president, at a conference at the same Lowy Institute, in Sydney, shortly before the end of Obama's government.

There are no major references to Latin America in Wright's study. But, as former Brazilian Chancellor Celso Amorim indicated in the aforementioned interview, “for many members of the US government and capital, of deep power, Latin America must continue to be their backyard”. And he exemplified with the coup given in Brazil against President Dilma Rousseff, which ended with Jair Bolsonaro in the presidency of the republic. The coup against Brazil – he said – is mainly related to two issues. With the enormous pre-salt oil reserves and an independent foreign policy, such as the one that spurred the formation of Unasur. That Brazil has decided to keep control of the pre-salt layer in the hands of its oil company, Petrobras, “is something that US geopolitics does not accept”. And something that the Bolsonaro government has been reversing.

looking inside

An inward look lays bare the false foundations of American foreign policy. “Seven harsh criticisms of the United States for the extreme poverty that exists in the richest country in the world (and which the Trump administration rejects)”, was the title of his article in BBC Mundo by journalist Ángel Bermúdez. An enormous wealth that “shockingly” contrasts with the conditions in which many of its citizens live: around 40 million in poverty; 18,5 million in extreme poverty.

He cites the case of the company Walmart, the largest employer in the United States, which is referred to in the report by the rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights of the United Nations, Philip G. Alston. “Many of your workers cannot survive having a full-time job if they don't get food stamps. This fits into a broader trend: the percentage of households that, while still having income, also received food assistance, increased from 19,6% in 1989 to 31,8% in 2015”. Perhaps more illustrative, however, is the long report by journalist Jessica Bruder, published in the book entitled “País nomad” (Nomadland: surviving America in the twenty-first century, in its original version).

In a note published in the newspaper La Vanguardia, from Barcelona, ​​Domingo Marchena points out that Bruder dedicated three years of his life to this work, covering more than 24 kilometers, from coast to coast and from border to border. He lived with what he calls “survivors of the XNUMXst century”. He met women and men who rented their workforce from here to there. From picking raspberries in Vermont to apples in Washington or blueberries in Kentucky. They take care of forests, guard fish farms, control road entrances or access to Texas oil fields. One day they sell hamburgers at Cactus League baseball games in Phoenix, Arizona, and the next week they're servicing booths at rodeos and the Super Bowl.” They are receptionists at campsites and caravan parks. “Wages are low and the work is exhausting. They work overtime that is not counted and at any time they can be fired”. “When that happens, back behind the wheel and on the road in search of something else to play”. They are the worn out promises of the “American dream” that neoliberal policies have sold the world since World War II. Who do they serve today?

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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