The Deserted Cities – XI

Image: Hamilton Grimaldi


Comments on recent events in international politics

More than fifty million cases and almost 1,3 million deaths worldwide due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On the last November 4th alone, more than nine thousand people lost their lives. An unprecedented number, which surpassed the 8.530 deaths on April 17, and the 7.313 on July 22, the two previous peaks. Almost 250 dead left the pandemic in the United States until Sunday, November 8, when President Donald Trump began his journey towards the end of his government. More than 1.200 daily deaths. He has just over two months left to pass the presidency to Democrat Joe Biden, on January 20th. Although it is difficult to calculate the exact numbers, it does not seem risky to think that it will do so with almost 300 dead in the account. A tragic number that – together with those who have died in Brazil and India – make up almost half of all Covid-19 deaths in the world.

On November 3, Deborah Birx, the White House's scientific adviser, warned that the country was entering a new deadly phase of the pandemic and demanded the urgent adoption of aggressive measures to contain its spread. With a health care system oriented towards profit – not to care for the sick – the United States is not in a position to face a national health crisis, said the distinguished North American journalist Chris Hedges, in an article about the perspectives of his country, published on last November 5th, and titled “america requiem”. Fighting for his reelection, the Trump administration had given up controlling the pandemic to focus its efforts on finding a vaccine or drugs to treat it, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNN on October 25. Lost the election, Meadows also tested positive for the coronavirus.

All around the world

The pandemic has gained new strength around the world, especially in Europe, where it surpassed eleven million cases last week. Austria and Greece have joined the countries with new mobility restrictions. The measures announced by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, unleashed chaos in Paris: a congestion that, in total, reached 730 kilometers. The images showed the streets filled with cars unable to move anywhere. The new quarantine period began last Friday, while France registered 60 daily cases, the highest number in Europe.

Italy approaches 40 daily cases. Poland registers a new record of cases: almost 28 thousand in a single day. There were 25 thousand in England. Germany and Spain, just over 22 thousand. Hungary closes bars and entertainment venues and Prime Minister Viktor Orban announces a midnight curfew. Everyone seeks to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by an avalanche of patients. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte ordered new control measures last week: limiting it to two people gathered in the streets who are not from the same family. Hospitals in the Netherlands and Belgium are under threat in terms of their ability to provide care. In Belgium, they began to send serious Covid-19 patients to be treated in neighboring Germany, some transported connected to artificial respirators. India exceeds 50 daily cases. Brazil super at 23 thousand.

The most extraordinary week

A week of extraordinary political events culminated with the inauguration of Luis Arce as the new president of Bolivia, on Sunday the 8th. of American States (OAS) which suggested that there had been fraud in the October 20 elections. Statements by former Costa Rican foreign minister Manuel González, head of the OAS observer mission, about a fraud that later proved to be non-existent, gave rise to an escalation that ended with the military leadership forcing the resignation of President Evo Morales. For a year, the government was led by Senator Jeanine Áñez, who did not attend the transfer of power on Sunday. The Bolivian parliament recommended opening two lawsuits against her for her responsibility for the deaths of dozens of people in demonstrations that took place in the country after Morales' resignation. Two of Áñez's ministers – the government minister, Arturo Murillo, and the defense minister, Luis Fernando López – are banned from leaving the country by order of a prosecutor who is prosecuting them for corruption.

From November 10, 2019, Bolivia was the scene of an internal war against the people, especially against the most humble sectors. Death, fear and discrimination were sown, said Arce in his inaugural speech. The severe crisis that had taken place since the coup, with the abrupt change in economic policy, deepened with the pandemic. In one year, all the achievements of the Bolivian people were set back, said Arce. “The government in fact leaves an economy with numbers that were not seen even in the worst crises that Bolivia has ever experienced. Our country went from being the leader in economic growth in South America for six years to experiencing the sharpest drop in the economy in almost 40 years. Currently we have a drop in GDP of 11,1%. The programmed fiscal deficit reaches 12,1%”.

The Movement to Socialism (MAS) government, which is led by Arce, will likely resume policies of national control of economic resources, including lithium, of particular importance to the country and for whose control Tesla director Elon Musk has said who is willing to strike anywhere. Arce also defended the integration efforts carried out in the region in the recent past, including “the recovery of Unasur as an integration space and political articulation mechanism in which we all find ourselves, regardless of the political orientation of governments”. Unasur, whose headquarters were in Quito, was dismantled, with the region's conservative governments gradually leaving, including those of Colombia and Brazil, before the government of Ecuador announced the closure of its headquarters. If sectors close to former president Rafael Correa win the elections in that country next February, the institution could recover its functioning.

Well, it's over

Yes, it's over! But this is not about the elections. For Chris Hedges – in the aforementioned article – the United States has become a “failed state”. In his opinion, there are many actors responsible for the death of the open society in this country, including the corporate oligarchy, the courts and the media; the militarists and the war industry, who wasted seven trillion dollars in endless conflicts “that turned the country into an international pariah”; the press, which turned the news into meaningless entertainment. And the intellectuals “who retreated to the universities to preach the moral absolutism of identity politics and multiculturalism, while turning their backs on economic warfare against the working class and the relentless assault on civil liberties.

Biden's victory would not radically transform this situation. Even if Biden wins, said Jonathan Tepperman, editor-in-chief of the magazine Foreign Policy, America belongs to Trump. Many thought the 2016 election result was a fluke. Now, with more than 71 million votes – eight million more than he got at the time – and with 48% of the popular vote given to him, it's impossible to argue like this any longer, says Tepperman. The sentiment is widespread, in the opinion of a large body of prominent authors. Susan B. Glasser, journalist for the The New Yorker, stated: “Biden may win, but Trump remains the president of the red United States”. With the counting of votes only at the beginning, Glasser already envisioned the possibility of Trump ending up with more votes than in 2016. Which actually happened, as we saw.

“Now what?” he asks himself. “We can say something: the anxiety and uncertainty of this electoral stage will continue in the post-election struggle, with potential consequences for our democracy. It goes far beyond the question of how to count the votes,” he said. “Revenge is not the only danger that awaits us. Even defeated, Trump could use his executive powers to do significant additional damage before next January 20th,” which is when Biden will be sworn in. "There are many catastrophic scenarios that we could see, very much in line with what Trump's presidency was like."

still divided

For Martin Kettle, columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian, the message of these elections is that the United States remains divided, that the country is not yet free of the scenario of 2016, nor of the climate created by Trump, with his denial of climate change, growing racism, isolationist policies and initiatives to control the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. White workers in the "rust belt" and Midwestern states who continue to vote for Trump have many reasons to do so, Kettle said: They feel ignored, their jobs and communities have disappeared, they think that others ( including foreigners) are doing good business and want someone to speak for them. For them, that voice is Trump's.

Far from addressing these issues, the Biden campaign has focused on the Trump administration's mishandling of the pandemic. Trump’s good vote showed – adds Kettle – that the determinant was not Covid-19, nor the death of black George Floyd, suffocated by the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis. It was the economy and the trauma caused by the 2008 financial crisis, which was never fully overcome. In any case, these elections were not the watershed that many in the world and at least half of Americans had hoped for. "It wasn't the cathartic rejection that seemed possible in the summer." “Even if Trump loses, Trumpism will have triumphed. Any defeat will be presented as narrow at best and illegitimate at worst.

A North America that seems to no longer exist

It is the same idea defended by the English historian Adam Tooze, professor of history at Yale. Whatever the result of the elections, the truth is that it did not produce a widespread repudiation of Donald Trump. On the contrary, the results proved to be a balanced resettlement of deeply polarized US policy. Even though he lost in the popular vote – as he did in 2016 – Tooze reminds us that Trump continues to have enormous support in small towns and rural areas of the country. Despite his hostility toward immigrants, he has gained strong support among Cubans and Venezuelans, but also among Mexican-Americans in Texas. At this point, no one should have any illusions about what Tooze calls “the nationalist and xenophobic electoral bloc”.

The final result, however, was still pending in the House and Senate. In the first, the Democrats will probably continue with the majority, but more reduced. In the Senate, with 48 senators for each party, the four seats left to decide will be decisive. In any case, a possible tie with 50 senators per party would give the Democrats control of the house, as they would add to the vote for Vice President Kamala Harris.

Biden's formidable foe in Congress will be Senate Republican Leader Mitchel McConnell. Biden announced his willingness to negotiate. But this is an ominous sign, which has Wall Street excited, says Tooze. Nothing McConnell agrees with will allow Biden to address the social crisis of millions of unemployed Americans, or support struggling cities or states.

Anything else. The Biden administration will face the Trump administration's most formidable legacy: courts in the hands of pro-business, anti-regulation judges, the result of appointments Trump made to a quarter of federal judges during his tenure, including, of course, the vast majority. on the Supreme Court. What could President Biden do, asks Edward Luce, in the Financial Times. The short answer, he says, "is to try to find a central North America that seems to no longer exist."

an extraordinary effort

Either way, that's not how Senator Bernie Sanders sees it. In a brief intervention, on Sunday, November 8, the senator from Vermont presented his program for this new stage. First, Sanders reminded Biden that he would not have been successful without the support of the progressive organizations for which he is the main spokesperson. “It is important that the new administration moves forward quickly and aggressively to solve the enormous problems of our country”, he said, announcing the presentation in the coming weeks, in the senate, of an agenda that he would like to see approved in the first 100 days of the new mandate.

An agenda that includes a care package for the unemployed and small businesses affected by Covid-19; put an end to “starvation wages in the United States”; that makes it easier for workers to join unions and offer equal pay for equal work; or that creates good jobs for the reconstruction of “our destroyed infrastructure”. Sanders also proposed that health care be considered a human right, “as we move towards a medicare for all”, and that the exorbitant prices of medicines be reduced; that it be possible for the entire young working class to obtain a university education without having to go into debt; to radically improve “our dysfunctional system of child care”; that the country leads the fight against climate change and transforms the use of fossil fuels into an efficient and sustainable energy model. An agenda in which the richest people and large corporations are required to pay taxes according to their wealth.

And, finally, that he attacks “the racist system that prevails in our country” and transforms the criminal racist judicial system; that includes a reform of immigration policy and grants citizenship to the undocumented. For that, Sanders will count on the formidable team of congresswomen made up of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, known as “the squad”, located on the left of the Democratic Party, all of them re-elected. In an interview with New York Times, Ocasio-Cortez warned that if Biden does not take progressive positions, the party will suffer a major defeat in the mid-term elections, two years from now, and declared the truce with the most conservative sectors of the Democratic Party over.

*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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