People of Paraguay and other Latin American countries protest mishandling of corona pandemic

Paraguay, a small Latin American country has of late drawn world-wide attention because of the way suffering people there are demonstrating in thousands against the most callous, if not inhuman, handling of the steeply rising Covid-19 pandemic by the bourgeois government under Mario Abdo Benitez of the conservative Colorado Party. Of late, Covid infections in Paraguay have hit a record level. The death rate has gone up most alarmingly and the public healthcare system is on the verge of collapse. There have been as many as 1,83, 000 confirmed cases of infection and 3,554 deaths in a country populated by a mere 70 million people. Ill-equipped hospitals are unable to accommodate the rapidly increasing Covid cases. Many people are compelled to opt for private medical facilities that cost them dearly. In extreme cases they have had to sell or mortgage their household assets to meet the expenses. Initial lockdown, imposition of restriction on entry to and exit out of the country and quarantining those having come into contact with the Covid patients have been of no avail. After one year, the restrictions were lifted on the pretext of salvaging the sagging economy. In fact, the government compromised people’s life to bend before the wish of the ruling capitalist class which wanted tourism, mining and construction industry to reopen so that its profiteering is no more disturbed. Now the situation has come to such a pass that even preventive vaccines are in abysmal short supply. A paltry 4,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and another 20,000 doses of China’s Sinovac donated by Chile is all that has so far been at the disposal of the hospitals there to vaccinate people. In the words of a demonstrator “There are so many deaths and it is all the fault of the thieves who run our corrupt institutions”! With Covid-19 attacking with virulence, Paraguayan people already assailed by rising poverty, soaring inequality, mounting unemployment and all-pervasive corruption at all levels of public procurement have burst into protest. Even doctors, nurses other health workers and institutional heads of health sector have joined in the protests in large number.

Like all other despotic governments, the Paraguayan government has also been using its coercive machinery to brutally crush the legitimate protest. On 5 March last, there was a massive gathering at the capital city of Asuncion where the police pounced upon the demonstrators with teargas and rubber bullets, regardless of the fact that there were a large number of women and children among the protesters. One demonstrator was killed and several grievously injured. The participation of people was so overwhelming that eventually the police had to relent and show the white flag. Following this President Mario Abdo made an attempt to mend matters by having first his Health Minister followed by two other ministers resign. Lately, when public unrest has taken a desperate turn, Euclides Acevedo, the Foreign Minister of the country was reported to have said that “Paraguay is determined to obtain vaccines from anywhere by any means” and “everyone needs to get vaccinated and for free which is the intention of the government”. But the protesting Paraguayan people were not pacified and wanted nothing more to do with the Abdo Government. Young Paraguayans on protest were reported saying that they “have waited long enough for decent governance”!

Covid 19 pandemic has exposed the entire capitalist world. It has ripped apart all garbs of democracy, welfare for people or inclusiveness. It has shown how fragile capitalist system of different countries has made their public healthcare systems, how subservient to the profit-greedy, inhuman monopolists and their corporate houses, the governments have become Like anywhere else in the capitalist world. the pandemic has been wreaking havoc in Latin America also. And the despotism of the governments in most of the countries particularly those who are not having a background of consistent anti-imperialist anti-capitalist movements has worsened the predicament of the common oppressed people. As everyone knows, Brazil is continuing to be among the topmost countries recording the greatest number of cases. Already over 3.5 lakh people have died there and around 1.35 crore people have been tested positive. In fact, Brazil has become the epicenter of the pandemic in the entire Latin American region. Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian President, had criminally downplayed the threat of the coronavirus arguing that the economic and emotional impacts of shutdowns would harm more Brazilians than the pandemic. He had at times bristled at the checks and balances from other branches of government and has repeatedly criticized the country’s Supreme Court for upholding the power of governors and mayors to establish restrictions on economic and personal activity during the pandemic. Of late, a Brazilian Supreme Court justice has ordered the Senate to investigate the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and the full court ruled that churches can be barred from reopening during the pandemic, threatening to further strain tensions between President Bolsonaro and the judiciary. “Brazil, which was once a role model in public health, in immunization campaigns, is today in this highly embarrassing situation,” commented one Supreme Court judge. Thousands began joining anti-government protests in Argentina as confirmed coronavirus infections continued to rise passing 900,000 mark in last December. They continue to oppose to the government’s handling of the pandemic and demand revival of an ailing economy as well as investigation into corruption cases.

“They’re leaving us to die’ alleged the Ecuadorians while pleading for help as the virus blazed a deadly trail in that country as well: dead bodies kept in homes or dumped on roadsides with authorities and hospitals overwhelmed by Covid-19 in Ecuador. The response to COVID-19 has revealed the fundamental shortcomings of health systems to react through public health measures, including epidemiological surveillance, analysis, and control. Police in Guayaquil, Ecuador – the heart of the country’s coronavirus epidemic – used apparent excessive force to break up a peaceful protest last year by civil society groups, beating and injuring demonstrators. Chile, with national health services dating back as early as 1952 that was claimed to have evolved into a solid national public health system, saw massive protests against its persistent inequalities and barriers to medical attention in October of last year.”This pandemic is taking away our wise men,” an indigenous leader of Peru, another Latin American country, said in a broken voice last August. Peru is among the top 10 countries with the highest number of coronavirus infections. Peru has reported more cases than most European countries, despite the fact that testing for coronavirus cases has been relatively low. Experts say Peru’s healthcare system was underprepared, leading to more deaths, but several other social and economic factors can help explain why Peru is struggling to contain the outbreak. The regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at World Neighbours, said that during a public health emergency like a pandemic, the Peruvian government should allocate health resources to those who need it most. But some private hospitals are charging exorbitantly for coronavirus care. And the government is unable to afford to subsidize the entire cost of public care when someone needs hospitalization. “The whole health system has collapsed in Peru — the whole public system. And the few beds that are lying empty in private clinics are controlled by the corporations that want a huge amount of money. The government doesn’t have the power to negotiate with the clinics because of the clinic associations”, he added. Healthcare workers took to the street outside the Ministry of Health and at one of the largest hospitals of Lima, Peruvian capital, in last August to protest poor working conditions during the pandemic. Thousands of people in last November staged a massive protest yet against Guatemalan President fuelled by anger over cuts in the 2021 budget that cut educational and health spending and that too during the pandemic. The protesters said the budget has prioritized big infrastructure projects over spending on health, which, they argued, was badly needed at a time when the country continues to battle the spread of the coronavirus. Despite the lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on May 18, hundreds of Haitians took to the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince to demand the resignation of US-backed president Jovenel Moïse. They denounced Moïse and his government for the mismanagement of health and economic emergencies caused by the novel coronavirus. Social organizations denounced the police repression and the arrest of grassroots leaders as well as leaders of left-wing organizations.

The protests in turn at Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Haiti etc. have been a source of inspiration for the people of Paraguay too. The demand “Down with capitalism” is coming up through their battle. But apparently, not only in Paraguay, but in other countries also, correct revolutionary leadership which can take these surging protests to their logical culmination is found absent. Without such a leadership, these erupting protests against the mishandling of coronavirus pandemic, poor health system, corruption, inequality and all other aberrations and malaises stemming from the obsolete, ruthlessly oppressive, inhuman and totally reactionary capitalist system, cannot be sustained and transformed into desired anti-capitalist revolutionary movement. So the struggling people of Latin America need to develop such leadership in right earnest.

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