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The pandemic and its consequences hit many countries hard. But it doesn’t hit all the social sectors equally. At these catastrophic times, imperialist capitalism shows us, in wide way and in all its cruelty, the deep and growing inequality created.

By Alejandro Iturbe

Starting with the most basic needs: drinkable tap water, essential for washing hands and periodically drinking, as precautionary measure. On March 22nd, International Water Day, the UN informed that 40% of the global population don’t have access to proper water.

In a article recently published, the biologist and Argentinian investigator Guilhermo Folguera explain some of the causes[1] : a) in the urban zones, especially in the big cities, the poorest sectors, that were part of this urbanization, are in areas where it hasn’t such constructions to provide them and were never carried out later; b) the action of the urban pollution and the industrial waste on water sources and streams, without treatment that makes it not drinkable before consumption; c ) the action of economic activity  (that are encouraged by the bourgeois governments without any checking) like agrobusiness, mega mining, and fracking, that not only use amounts of water resources but also deteriorate their quality and contaminate it, and d ) the imperialist capitalism that stopped considering the water as a essential natural resource, that was supposed to be free and available right, and now consider it a commercial good, a commodity to make profits. As the president of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe expressed: ” it is necessary to privatize water supply”[2].

 

This deep analysis, express itself in many human beings of flesh and bone that are marginalized in slums, miserable villages and others marginal neighborhoods in poor conditions. In those type of neighborhoods, for your conditions, a first case not detected can expand itself really fast. Like in the famous Cidade de Deus in Rio de Janeiro (where the first case of infection have already been detected).[3] or in Cabin 9 (Rosario, Argentine) neighborhood, where the residents must leave the area to get water because the groundwater is contaminated. Yolanda Ruiz, member of neighborhood forums, said: “The only solution to us remains going to the water tank to fill the gallons that we will use to cook and drink. Unfortunately, we expose ourselves to infection since we must form a long line to get water and we can have contact with the at-risk population and the elderly”[4].

The situation is even worse, among the marginals of the marginals: the homeless. José, who lives in the streets of São Paulo, talks about running water: “On the streets there isn’t nothing like that. They say that we have to wash our hands, but where? We get ourselves washed with the water that is collected from the rain” [5]. Not to mention hand sanitizer which is considered an out-of-reach “luxury” except when, very sporadically, it’s offered for some nearby church.

Meanwhile, the “rich and famous” show off their “quarantine” full of luxuries and pleasures in their homes with swimming-pool (using the water that is missing in other places) in the private neighborhoods, surrounded by security that isolates them from the world even though the media display them sordidly.[6]

An extreme case of this exhibitionism was Marcelo Cibelli, Argentine television and sport businessman, who traveled on a private plane and went to spend quarantine with his family in his luxurious Esquel house, in a paradisiacal area in Patagonia, surrounded by lakes and mountains.[7]

 

“The curse of labor”

 

Meanwhile the “rich and famous” live from the exploitation of workers and/or of their interests, many workers are in conflict between the cruel option to go to work and expose themselves or don’t go to work and starve. This contradiction is especially hard for those informal workers who are unable to fight for paid leaves or succeed in making companies guarantee basic health conditions.

It’s the case of the rural pawns, like fruits pickers from the Alto Vale do Rio Negro (in Patagonia, Argentina), an activity that is free from Alberto Fernández’ emergency decree and whose businessmen do not comply with any of the health and sanitation measures, in the face of absence of unions or official regulation. An article about the case shows a picture in which workers are taken to work huddled in a wooden vehicle towed by a tractor [8]. It’s not different at all of their usual work conditions, but now, in the midst of the pandemic, it ends up being a criminal employer attitude.

Those same conditions would be “accepted” by many women from Rosario who can’t leave their houses to their daily informal housework workday with which used to financially support their own families.

Or to thousands of street vendors, which on daily basis, moving around the big cities, selling goods or homemade food. There is no alternative income for them due to customers absence and governments advice to stay at home. “If I don’t die from this virus, I’ll starve”, said José Maria, a homemade ice cream salesman, at a healthcare unity in Lapa, São Paulo.[9]

The same situation takes place in the United States, the richest country in the world and a capitalist “example”. With 140 million people who can’t pay their own bills[10], the country has the most expensive healthcare system for workers and their families. The U.S. also has an education system that teaches in a individualistic framing. The country is about to become the third country in the world to suffer from this pandemic, which New York is the epicenter[11].

 

At the bottom

One or two degrees below the street vendors, are thousands of prisoners that are crowded in Latin America and world’s jails, as an extreme expression of the capitalist decline. Faced with the risk of being infected or even die, the prisoners started some violent riots as those that took place in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, many of them repressed in a bloody way[12]. Some of them fled in large scale[13]. There are news about tension in Egypt and Sri Lanka as well[14]l.

Only the abandoned elderly who died in nursing homes or those who died alone in their own houses could be considered as in a worst situation, as happened in the Spanish State, informed by BBC[15].

More privileges

The wealthy and famous’s privileges are not limited by the conditions they spent quarantine, but also extended to ways of detecting possible infection. For the ordinary people, it’s quite hard to be tested by a reliable test, because governments and public health centers does not invest money on those and do it hardly ever, although it’s considered a indispensable action to stop the pandemic and assure social isolation measures are effective[16]

However, the wealthy and famous does not have this problem. It’s been guaranteed coronavirus tests for NBA basketball players by their own sports companies, while others celebrities, politicians and billionaires have already been tested, buying it from private laboratories[17].

The same privileges are used as a way to escape quarantine, even when they place themselves and many others in unsafe situation. Luca Singerman, an Argentinian young rugby  player, economist and college professor Pablo Singerman’s son, arrived from Holland. At Uruguay, infection symptoms were detected and he was hospitalized at Montevideo, ran away and boarded in a Buquebús company’s ship compelling 500 members of the crew and passengers to stay isolated inside the ship when it arrived at Buenos Aires[18].

Another example is from a Jujuy’s supreme court judge, in Argentina, that arrived in Miami and tried to escape quarantine by presenting an habeas corpus appeal, claiming she was part of a exemption agreement signed by the president Alberto Fernández, that speaks about people who occupy high positions in all three powers of provincial and national states[19].

Preparing for possible social explosions

It’s also true that some social sectors and workers does not comply with the mandatory social isolation. However, at least in Argentina, for those groups military or police force’s repression are applied, including arrests. Thousands of people were arrested in Argentina due to declared state of siege[20].

This situation it’s not about fighting the virus with over precaution. Behind the scene, there is fear that the pandemic situation, the crisis effects’ depth and inequality sacrifice proof combined creates conditions for a social explosion at the most affected areas.

Several mayors predict this scenario and accuse “left-wing segments” of promoting it. The preparation to avoid it includes the formation of the “crisis committees” with the president endorsement that comes up with palliative measures. In case it’s not effective, the government have the real intention of increased repression[21]. This is the current situation in Argentina, and a latent situation in other countries.

Some conclusions

The capitalism’s scourge was not created by the coronavirus pandemic, but it exposes and deepens it. The bourgeoisie and their governments, placed on a rotten system, fight the pandemic in a limited and ineffective way. They also use class criteria, which they protect themselves and their profits and exploitation.

Their actions and speeches are full of hypocrisy. Junior Durski, a Brazilian businessman, owner of a restaurant chain, expressed the true intention of a significant segment when said “5000 or 7000 deaths can’t stop Brazil”[22]. The majority of those deaths will be obviously of workers and the poor.