Marcelo D. Leites

In this WSCF LAC publication, we intend, from different perspectives, disciplines and contexts, to give some brushstrokes to the silhouette of a Latin America in tension and resistance, crossed by COVID-19 but also beyond it, in order to have some more lucid image. Also, it aims at providing some reflections based on already tangible facts: the emergency of the pandemic and its health consequences, the consequences of the death policies of some governments, the local economies destroyed with a high level of informality and unemployment, the inevitable increase of poverty and inequalities, the serious situation of Human Rights and the risk of its defenders.

Those of us who distrust certain “moral” statements generated by the centers of power also ask ourselves what kind of hegemonic culture will be promoted in order for people to respond to the needs of the market and the so-called “new normal”. I sense that for this, a fertile -and ideological- ground is being worked in the midst of the shock of the consequences of the virus. I would like to mention two elements that in my opinion are part of the “beyond the crisis” that the title refers: the context and the discourse.

The regional context where the pandemic takes place.

Latin America is the most unequal region in the world; inequalities affect women, people of African descent and indigenous peoples much more. The gap between rich and poor exceeds the sub-Saharan Africa region, and 10% of the wealthiest people concentrate 37% of all wealth.[1]

 Taking conservative data into account, by the end of 2020 poverty will reach 34.7% of the region’s population, 214.7 million people; and extreme poverty will increase, which would add 83.4 million people. Almost 300 million people will be in conditions of poverty or extreme poverty in the region.[2]

The exclusion and discrimination against women, Afro-descendant populations, forced migrants, indigenous peoples and LGBTQI + people are also on the rise in what would seem to be a notable regression in national commitments towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The reprimarization and financialization of the economy, with very little investment in Research and Development (R&D) and the regression in the rights agenda in many countries of the region[3], have contributed to these inequalities and exclusion and, to more weakened and dependent democracies, with a high level of symbolic and physical violence. Currently, the region is the most dangerous one for human rights defenders and nature defenders. In 2019 alone, 208 have been killed; 106 of them were in Colombia.[4]

To this, it must be added the political instability of the region. Geopolitical changes have led to the destruction of integration models created more than a decade ago, which, even with errors or successes, managed to generate a space for intra-regional cooperation in economic, social, cultural and conflict resolution matters. These mechanisms were supplanted by new groups of countries mainly those with right-wing governments. Their agendas are very specific and precise, and they maintain a bellicose and latent threat vis-à-vis countries of opposite political signs. To top it all, it is necessary to mention the presence and the very active interference of the United States in the most biodiverse region with most of the natural resources, energy sources, water and food in the world.

On the other hand, the role of the media has been essential to solidify the power struggle of corporate and political interests when battling with social democratic governments, exercising their monopoly power through Lawfare, preaching and condemning everyone who thinks outside the hegemonic culture: meritocracy and neoliberalism. The religious fundamentalisms are not far behind, they have generated large blocks of power through the preaching of prosperity, and in favor of any conservative group that claims the fight against a group of rights that they considered inmoral.

The discourse: “We provoke it”, “we are all guilty”.

They are widely used speeches in the narrative of the combat of the climate crisis. The idea that all humanity is responsible is strengthened and used by different actors: the media, politicians, large NGOs and even in the ecumenical or inter-religious movement. Understood in their literal form, these types of speeches hide historical inequalities and the role of the economic system that caused climate change[5]. Under the auspices of corporations and their new form of environmental responsibility, these ideas appear everywhere: from television commercials to a Coke bottle. These are highly ideological, they propose that we all take charge of it and dilute the guilt and, therefore, accept the consequences. Ok, but who are “we”, “all”? I do not deny the idea that we all have responsibilities, but these are profoundly differentiated.

Following this logic, one of the concepts managed by the media in these moments of pandemic is that, when workers become precarious or dismissed, when those who work day by day can no longer do so, when hunger increases in the peripheries: “we are all sharing the losses”. However, large companies continue to receive subsidies across the continent. This is equal to the rhetoric of adjustment or austerity policies to pay usurious debt, among other examples. So, if in the crisis we share the losses, why didn’t we share the profits before?

The discourse that the virus affects us all equally assumes that the historical, cultural and material conditions are the same for everyone. But they are not. This speech that has been imposing itself under the idea of ​​“the new normal” is at least fallacious; as it is the idea of ​​meritocracy: the individual who strives, triumphs and prospers, and it is poor who does not try hard enough. Both in the case of the Covid-19 or the climatic crises, the speeches start from the idea that the initial conditions – of opportunities and equality – are the same for all people. As they are not, the conclusion that follows is false. But in addition to sharing their logic, these discourses are imposed, managing to convince and subordinate the groups of the middle and lower classes to defend the interests of the elites[6].

Therefore, from different places in our region, there is an urgent need to start talking about those things that happen without much caution, presented as everyday common situations that become the “common senses” accepted from the hegemonic culture.

The prophetic role of the Federation is that under an effort of critical and pedagogical vigilance against this “invisible enemy” we can question the given discourse, question it and make it visible.

To make the post-COVID 19 world fairer, more sustainable and supportive, it is not enough with the applause at 9:00 pm, even if it is a nice gesture. It is necessary to think and act in the long-term field in the practice of solidarity, looking for more than a “new normal” an “Another world is possible”; new narratives and a culture that challenges people in the search for good living and justice for a common house in which we all fit.


[1] Human Development Report 2019: “Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond the present: Inequalities of Human Development in the 21st century”. United Nations Development Program (UNDP), 2019. Accessible at http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/hdr_2019_overview_-_spanish.pdf

[2] The Social Challenge in the Times of Covid 19. Special Report COVID-19 Number 3. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), United Nations. 2020 accessible at https://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/45527/5/S2000325_es.pdf

[3] Second annual report on regional progress and challenges of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), United Nations. 2020.

[4] Human Rights in the Americas, Retrospective 2019. Amnesty International 2020. https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/AMR0113532020SPANISH.PDF

[5] This does not deny that the cause of the climate change is anthropogenic, which is a scientific fact, but rather differs from the degree of participation of people as causes of climate crises.

[6] In Argentina, 4 weeks ago within the framework of quarantine and a sort of agreement to sustain jobs, the largest company in the country decided to lay off 1,400 workers. The government condemned this action and tried to reconcile to stop this action. The next day, under the monopoly and lobbyist media outlets, many residents of the city of Buenos Aires went out to cacerolear in favor of the company and its right to fire workers

Publication in Spanish HERE