The region is one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than 200,000 deaths and worsening poverty. But neither should it return to the pre-Covid-19 ‘normality’ created by the neoliberal model, so harmful and contrary to Latin American identities.
According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), between 2002 and 2013 progressive governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela managed to reduce the Gini coefficient to below 0.50.
It was a significant decline in a continent marked by inequality. But today the situation is different, if not to say catastrophic. The region is one of the worst hit by the pandemic, with more than 200,000 deaths. This situation coincides with the presence of neoliberal governments, which are synonymous with a threat to populations that need greater social protection in order to face the situation.
It is a real and ongoing economic, social and democratic setback. ECLAC’s forecasts are worrying. The GDP will experience a fall of 9.1% by 2020, the increase in poverty will be at the level of 7% and 4.5% for extreme poverty.
The lockdown ordered by most of the countries shows the flaws, vulnerabilities and degree of neoliberal savagery. Millions of people were without social protection and the ability to save money to get through this new reality.
This, along with prevalent financial speculation and precarious intra-regional trade systems (only 25% of exchanges are made in the region), translates into a structural problem and a dependency on the Northern powers.
The signs of the collapse of the neoliberal model are so numerous that a return to a pre-Covid-19 normality cannot be defended, a “normality” so harmful and contrary to Latin American identities and to current and future challenges.
In the region, the richest 10% possess a concentration of more than 70% of the total wealth, but pay taxes on only 5.4% of their income.
This laxness in taxation does not allow the States to invest enough in areas such as education, health, housing, food security, gender equality, or infrastructure development.
As an aggravating factor, threats to democracy are increasing in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Colombia.
The Brazilian president has repeatedly announced his contempt for indigenous peoples, the black population, women and the LGBTI community, along with his sanction of the accelerated deforestation of the Amazon, his intentions to influence justice and even to limit the powers of Congress.
Colombia continues to lead the sad list of countries with the most murders of social leaders. In Bolivia, the essential elections for political and democratic stability are being postponed once again. In Chile, President Piñera is appointing supporters of the Pinochet dictatorship to key government positions, while the repression of protesters and the Mapuche people continues in an extremely polarised climate two months before the referendum that should open the way for a new constitution, thanks to the popular uprising of October 2019.
Some figures in the Chilean parliament are trying to avoid any possibility of a constituent assembly.
Conveniently, the pandemic is becoming an easy pretext for Latin American right-wingers to thwart ongoing democratic processes.
The current management of Covid-19 and the post-pandemic implies the enormous challenge of guaranteeing a welfare state through direct aid to the most vulnerable, a universal minimum income, the right of everyone to healthcare, the renegotiation of debt, regional agreements to promote long-term international cooperation and the implementation of anti-cyclical policies.
The tax on large fortunes is one of the imperatives to move away from the capitalist logic of wealth accumulation and replace it with equitable redistribution. The situation of the region, difficult for a great majority, should constitute an opportunity to build a social agreement with a common denominator that lies in respect for human rights and the strengthening of democracy. (PL)
* Lebret is a French political scientist, an expert in international cooperation. Jaramillo is a professor at the Universidad del Rosario, Colombia.