If in supposedly “developed” countries like the United States the coronavirus has revealed the deep economic and social divide that skews the lives of communities of color, the effect of the pandemic in countries with weaker economic and social structures like Latin America risks triggering a humanitarian catastrophe.
While the early stages of the pandemic focused attention on Europe and, later, on the outbreak of the epidemic in New York, Latin America was slowly being undermined by cases that, at the dizzying speed of this virus, have far exceeded the capacity of governments to respond.
In Brazil, for example, the number of cases has reached 50,230, under a government that does not believe in prevention protocols, that has fired its health minister, and that refuses to impose quarantine, exceeding 400 deaths per day.
In Peru, the country with the second highest number of cases (20,914 according to figures compiled by Statista), hospitals have already reached the limits of their capacity, according to Democracy Now!
But in Ecuador, the situation is devastating: The New York Times reported last week the terrifying image of a country counting its dead in the streets, piled up, with no possibility of epidemiological control.
Although the government counts some 11,000 cases, the Times estimates that the death rate in Ecuador is 15 times higher, being “one of the worst outbreaks in the world.”
In other countries such as El Salvador, where government control measures have become authoritarian to deal with the outbreak, chronic water shortages, as well as widespread violence in the country, mean that it will be one of the most serious scenarios for unprotected communities.
According to Foreign Policy, the worst blow to the region, however, will be the economic one. In a group of countries with single product economies or dependent on primary commodities such as oil, copper, and zinc, the pandemic now “threatens to destroy the foundation entirely.”
“Foreign investment is heading for the exits. Commodities demand is evaporating as the world economy grinds to a halt. Domestic currencies are losing traction against the dollar, and the cost of imported goods is rising rapidly,” the media explains.
Considering that in recent months Latin America has been the focus of social unrest, with continent-wide demonstrations against governments and economic measures, the stress caused by the pandemic is gradually turning into a time bomb.
Finally, with a thriving informal economy as well as chronic dependence on economic remittances from the United States, Latin American countries are likely to face one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the months ahead.