Challenges of COVID-19 in Latin America, the most unequal region in the world
Amanda Romero, Diana Figueroa and Marina Novaes (BHRRC) argue Latin America deserves a new opportunity to recover through a human rights-based approach that includes marginalised groups
This piece originally appeared in Open Democracy in 13 May 2020.
A recent article by a Paraguayan journalist cited several people reacting negatively to a viral message on Twitter in which a 14-year old adolescent was captured while stealing food in Asuncion, arguing he was hungry. These people said that stealing food is wrong under any circumstances.
But we live in special circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening millions of people heavily impoverished in Latin America. As the Economic Commission for Latin America & the Caribbean stated, “In the five years prior to the outbreak, between 2014 and 2019, growth had sagged to just 0.4%, its lowest rate since the 1950s”, and said that the pandemic will hit this region hard, even pushing Argentina back into a “default” situation.
While the pandemic arrived after it had already devastated Europe (and now the United States), everybody in the human rights field knew that health and social services in Latin America had been dismantled progressively, mostly via privatisation and the shrinking of public programmes and spending. Hence the pandemic will affect principally the vulnerable people who can’t access basic public services.
At the same time, state reforms focused on economic growth based on the extraction of commodities at the expense of nature and human rights, as well as on low-paying jobs with no social security in export-oriented manufacture and other industries. The rapid increase of wealth in sectors like agribusiness, mining, construction and oil & gas benefitted national elites and transnational corporations, investors and the financial sector. They enhanced their economic and political power while leaving behind millions of people who now see the pandemic deepening older human rights problems like racial, ethnic, gender, class and environmental discriminations. ...