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an ocean of desolations and a resurrection

Hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, South America is heading straight for immense economic difficulties. On a continent weakened by five years of recession, the pandemic has exposed the violence of social inequalities. On the political front, the post-electoral crisis in Bolivia resulted in the return to power of Evo Morales’ party, a surprise resurrection.

Evo Morales’ triumphal march, from the Argentinian border to his bastion of Chaparé, November 2020. RONALDO SCHEMIDT AFP

What if South America had another “lost decade”? This is what Cepalc, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, fears. In a report cited by the EFE agency, the UN regional body thus underlines that “we are the region of the world which will be the most affected. [par la pandémie] with regard to public health and economic development “.

After a “golden decade” (2003-2013) marked by strong economic growth and a reduction in inequalities, the GDP per capita of Latin Americans collapsed to return at the end of 2020 to its level of… 2010.

The Covid-19 crisis has buried hopes for economic recovery in Latin America and leaves destitute populations facing old problems, including “a weak and fragmented social protection system and insufficiently diversified production systems”, according to Alicia Bárcena , the Mexican diplomat who heads the Cepalc.

In Argentina, the longest confinement in the world

A year after the appearance of the virus in the very distant Chinese city of Wuhan, the toll is heavy. According to data collected by AFP from the WHO, Latin America and the Caribbean have recorded nearly half a million deaths, including at least 182,000 in Brazil and 114,000 in Mexico.

If Argentina has more than 40,000 deaths according to its Ministry of Health, the country had nevertheless decided very early on strict containment. Set up on March 20 in the capital, Buenos Aires, it was not completely lifted until November 8, making it the longest confinement in the world.

an ocean of desolations and a resurrection
Avenue 9 de Julio, “the widest in the world” according to Argentines, completely deserted on March 20, 2020. AFP – RONALDO SCHEMIDT

Close the borders and keep the population in maximum social isolation: the ambitious and proactive strategy of the government of Alberto Fernandez has ended in a cruel failure which leaves a bitter taste to many Argentines. The country has made immense sacrifices and “the disappointment is very hard to accept even if ultimately the doctors did not have to choose which patients to intubate, says Mathilde Guillaume, correspondent of France 24 in Argentina. The public health system has despite everything held the shock “.

Nine months after the onset of the health crisis, the country looks like a field of ruins. “We can now see that many businesses will not reopen, one in ten children has dropped out of the school system in the absence of computers and monitoring among the most disadvantaged, a devaluation and an austerity cure dictated by the IMF also threaten the country, continues Mathilde Guillaume. Argentines are now very critical of this drastic confinement even if the support measures for businesses and the most vulnerable have worked. ”

Confusion and carelessness in Brazil

Debates around containment have also been intense in the Brazilian neighbor. Jair Bolsonaro has never ceased to minimize the disease launching from April 28 a famous: “So what? I’m sorry, but you want me to do what? I am the Messiah (his second name, Editor’s note), but I do not work miracles “.

an ocean of desolations and a resurrection
Demonstration against containment and social distancing measures in Rio de Janeiro on April 18, 2020. AFP – MAURO PIMENTEL

The denial of the scale of the crisis and the casualness of the Brazilian president did not prevent each of the 27 states of the federation from adopting containment measures, but in dispersed order, different from one state to another, sometimes from one city to another, and often limited to simple recommendations.

Since March, the response of the Brazilian authorities to the health challenge has been muddled and approximate. In Rio de Janeiro, the mayor decided on December 4 to close schools again while allowing shopping centers to open 24 hours a day so as not to hamper Christmas shopping.

A decision that aims to support an economy in the midst of stagnation and which does not encumber the fate of thousands of poor families who rely on public schools to provide at least one meal a day for their children.

Across the country, public health and education are more neglected than ever, while the epidemic is far from being contained and the country fears the arrival of a second wave.

In Brazil, as in many other Latin American countries, the Covid-19 crisis is causing serious economic and social damage, deepening inequalities and causing concern. Many fear that the political situation will become explosive in 2021, when the “bill” of the epidemic (which has weighed down the debt of States) will be presented to the populations.

The resurrection of MAS in Bolivia

A very dark panorama where Bolivia is a bit of an exception. Heavily affected by the epidemic, the country has however managed to emerge from a political crisis born of the contested presidential election of 2019. Accused of electoral fraud by the opposition, criticized even in his own camp by those who refused his attempting to secure a fourth consecutive term, outgoing left-wing president Evo Morales had been forced into exile. In 2020, the country managed not to sink into authoritarianism or civil war.

On the contrary, a new presidential election was finally held in October, won hands down by Luis Arce, the MAS candidate, the party of Evo Morales. A victory in the first round, with 55% of the vote, recognized by interim president Jeanine Añez, the right-wing opposition and the international community.

In early November, Evo Morales returned from his exile, promising to be content with leading his party. This resurrection is in many ways a happy surprise: the very reactionary government of Jeanine Añez was disowned at the polls and Evo Morales did not ultimately mortgage the future of his political movement.

Indeed, the Bolivians had revolted in 2019 against a president who had ignored a referendum forbidding him to stand for re-election and voted in 2020 for a successor that he himself appointed, in order to continue “the process of change” started in 2005 by Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president. An interesting lesson in politics on a continent violently shaken by the health crisis.


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