Latin America is seething with anger. Problems of people, in all aspects of their lives, are increasing manifold. These problems are not arising due to Covid 19 pandemic alone. Even before the arrival of this deadly virus, this region was facing slowdown in economy affecting millions of common people. These problems in fact led to mass protests last year which shook the entire Latin America. This year the problems are even graver and in reaction to it, larger number of suffering people are hitting the streets.
Though protests are taking place cantering round this or that issue, the fact is that it is an outcome of people’s accumulated discontent against the mounting problems wreaking havoc in their life. Unemployment, price rise, social and economic inequality, rape and murder of women, corruption, scandals, high handedness of police -administration, human rights violation etc. are prompting the people to take to the streets.
Through devious methods, different bourgeois governments in the region are trying to curb the right of people to protest. Using corona pandemic as an excuse, they are trying to stifle democratic institutions and prevent social movements. Police are unleashing a spate of violence in the name of protecting law and order. Some of the Latin American countries have the highest rates of police killings in the world. The levels of violence and extra-judicial killings are shocking to say the least. Levels of crime against women in Latin American countries are also among the highest in the world. Instead of criminal courts, military tribunals deal with the cases of crimes by police.
Amidst all these odds the silver lining in the dark clouds of vitiating socio-political atmosphere has been the spurt in people’s protests. Students and youth are playing commendable role in the street battles. Another matter of immense significance is the ever-increasing number of women participating in these movements.
In Chile, lockdown protests escalated to street demonstrations in defiance of quarantine in mid-July. There were multiple grievances: poor administration of the “Food for Chile” initiative, a buckling health care system, and demands that people be allowed to withdraw part of their pensions (to which the government had formally agreed). The Chilean security forces are again being criticized for human rights violations. They raped, tortured, blinded and run over people and threw a protestor off the bridge into a river. These were the same police force responsible for human rights violations following mass protests in 2019, which left 30 people dead and more than 100 blinded by rubber bullets. Chile and Columbia, which are confronted with the problem of increasing economic inequality, are raising the demand, which range from pension reforms to health care reforms.
In Brazil, over 3000 reportedly died in police operations during the first half of 2020. A metro fare hike, which has since been cancelled, sparked nationwide protests last week which have left hundreds injured. More than 1,400 people have been arrested — 614 in Santiago and 848 in the rest of the country. This protest snowballed into a greater movement against government austerity drive to cut down spending for people’s welfare. The government’s dismissive attitude toward Covid-19 has sharpened already polarized environment. A survey showed that protests were up by one third in the first three months of the pandemic compared to the preceding quarter.
In Colombia, similar police brutality leading to death of several protestors sparked outrage. Students at the National Pedagogical University in Bogotá had occupied university campus demanding cancellation of university fees. Most used to work in the informal economy to make ends meet.
In Mexico, hundreds of women hit the streets on International Women’s Day protesting violence against women and demanding right to life without being abused and decriminalization of abortion. In Mexico around 10 women are laying down their life every day on an average confronting police brutality. Systemic killing of women is happening since several decades and it has been so severe that it led to the coining of the word feminicide as a socio-legal term for the deliberate killing of women, and its codification as a serious crime.
Panama saw a wave of protests few months ago, largely by the poor and jobless complaining that income support promised by the government was not reaching them. Medical workers there protested shortages of staff and equipment, as they did in Mexico.
The deep recession in Argentina with a debt of more than 100 billion dollars foreign debt has sparked peoples uproar. In October 2019, thousands of people rallied in Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, France, Spain, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Honduras, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Costa Rica in solidarity with the street protests in Argentina demanding an end to the killing of women, misogyny and sexual violence.
In Ecuador last year, left-leaning students and common people successively pressurized their government to restore gasoline subsidies. Recently, defying lockdown, people marched in protest against government’s cut to jobs and salaries. Last year, 4 out of 10 people had a full employment. Now with the pandemic the job market has collapsed.
Last month, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the World Health Organization projected the regional economy would contract by 9% this year — adding 18 million people to unemployment rolls.
“The fallout from the pandemic is going to worsen basic inequalities and act as a catalyst for further unrest,” the group’s Latin American analysts wrote in June. “An escalation of unrest is inevitable, while the question over its intensity lingers on.”
It is a positive sign that people are realizing that their governments are not trustworthy when it comes to protecting their interest. But at the same time they should also realize that these protests can be taken to its logical culmination only when these are led on the anti-capitalist lines by a correct revolutionary leadership.