The arrival of Covid-19 in Latin America devastated the region. Simultaneous health, economic, and humanitarian crises and catastrophic loss marked communities across Latin America as policies failed them. The pandemic exacerbated pre-existing issues in the region such as gender-based violence, violations of Indigenous rights, and unequal access to information and education. Despite the adversities, the Coronavirus pandemic has also shown the strength and determination of communities struggling for a fairer society. Across the region, there are calls to build a more just economy and society than the one that was left behind.
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The first case of Coronavirus in Latin America was officially registered in São Paulo, Brazil on 26 February, 2020. Cases were confirmed across the region over the following few days. Since then, given the region’s poor health infrastructure, the reliance of some communities’ economies and livelihoods on tourism, and political instability, the situation has escalated into simultaneous health, economic, and humanitarian crises. The region experienced catastrophic loss. Images of coffins on the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador, made global headlines; Peru saw the most Covid-19 related deaths per 100,000 people in the world; and misinformation, minimalization, or denial about Covid became notorious in Brazil, Nicaragua, and Mexico.
The health emergency provided an excuse for increased authoritarianism in some areas of Latin America. In Colombia, Covid-19 monitoring apps threatened the rights and privacy of the most vulnerable, and violations of isolation rules led to harassment, abuse, or violence at the hands of the police. Meanwhile in El Salvador, draconian measures introduced a 30-day detention for anyone breaking the lockdown and there were reports of arbitrary arrests with excessive force. Where the Government did not enforce the lockdown, some armed groups and militias threatened anyone who left their home with baseball bats or guns.
As the virus spread, concerns grew for Latin America’s vulnerable communities. Indigenous peoples, who have historically been decimated by diseases such as measles and who face systematic discrimination, lacked the resources to confront the pandemic. The land-grabbing and invasions of their territories did not halt as the world stopped, but the invaders now brought the second threat of a potentially fatal disease. In a region in which around a quarter of women have experienced intimate-partner violence, quarantines left many women trapped indoors with potentially violent partners and relatives. Trans communities in Panamá, Colombia, and Peru found themselves unable to leave home due to gender-based restrictions. Migrants were forced to return to their homelands after losing work and their homes, while others became migrants, desperately fleeing unliveable situations. With schools closed, and many families lacking access to the internet and internet-enabled devices, Latin American children lost on average almost a year’s education. Across the region some 4.7 million people formerly regarded as middle class slid into poverty, a number only slightly reduced by social transfer programs such as Auxílio Brasil.
Despite the adversities, the Coronavirus pandemic has also shown the strength and determination of communities struggling for a more just society. Many of the issues they faced did not originate with the pandemic. They are long-term, deeply complex and often intersectional problems. Nonetheless, as the pandemic exacerbated many of those issues to catastrophic levels and brought others to the forefront, social leaders were determined to protect and provide for their communities.