Viral Politics

COVID-19 exposes social and political weaknesses in most Latin American countries.

COVID-19 has hit Latin America hard – only Paraguay and Uruguay have escaped relatively unscathed, so far. Governments on all sides of the political spectrum with very different strategies have struggled.

Peru and Colombia went into lockdown early and imposed severe restrictions but once these were lifted, the number of infections continued to rise, exposing weak healthcare systems and large informal economies that couldn’t afford to stop going to work. Other countries such as El Salvador, Bolivia and Ecuador had more improvised responses with disproportionate measures and a lack of coordination.

“Congressmen in Peru are proposing magic solutions to problems that they do not understand.”

Peruvian economist and political analyst.

Even Chile, a country most believed to have a first world healthcare system struggled to contain the virus after it spread from the wealthy population with private healthcare to the low-income population reliant upon public healthcare. A strict lockdown and heavy-handed response from the police have led to serious social unrest.

With the poor being particularly hard hit, these countries are starting to see a rise in autocracy and populism, a Peruvian Economist and Political Analyst commented, “Congressmen in Peru are proposing magic solutions to problems that they do not understand, which affect the whole country, particularly the poor.”

It doesn’t seem like populism is the answer though. Especially when left- and right-wing populist governments have not weathered the crisis any better: Brazil and Mexico are amongst the worst hit countries in the world, by any measure.

“These [populist] leaders see democratic checks and balances as instruments used by the elites to control them.”

Ambassador at the Organization of American States.

An Ambassador at the Organization of American States explains, “These [populist] leaders see democratic checks and balances as instruments used by the elites to control them, so they don’t really want to reform the Institutions, but to convert them into mechanisms of their own domination.”

Weak public institutions clearly won’t help during a pandemic, especially when they are ignored, the Ambassador continued, “Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Jair Bolsonaro underestimated the threat of Covid-19 and ignored scientific advice so it’s not surprising that Mexico and Brazil continue on the list of the 10 nations with the most infections worldwide.”

Populism was already on the rise in Latin America, but it seems like the pandemic may well accelerate the political shift.

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