May 21, 2020

Quick Take on the corona virus pandameic from Dr. Alexandre Kalache

COVID-Related Strikes Hit Washington’s Apple Sheds

Demands for safer working conditions and extra hourly hazard pay during the pandemic are powering a strike wave in the Yakima Valley. 

By David Bacon, Originally published by Capital & Main


This week the COVID-related strike in Washington state’s Yakima Valley quadrupled in size, as workers walked out at three more apple packinghouses. More than a hundred stopped work on May 7 at Allan Brothers Fruit, a large apple growing, packing and shipping company in Naches, in Central Washington. On May 12 they were joined by 200 more workers, who walked off the job at the Jack Frost Fruit Co. in Yakima, and at the Matson Fruit Co. in Selah. The next day another 100 workers walked out at the Monson Fruit packing shed, also in Selah.

At the center of the stoppages are two main demands for those who decide to continue working during the pandemic: safer working conditions and an extra $2 an hour in hazard pay.

Apple sheds line the industrial streets of Yakima Valley’s small towns. Inside these huge concrete buildings, hundreds of people labor shoulder-to-shoulder, sorting and packing fruit.  If someone gets sick, it can potentially spread through the workers on the lines, and from them into the surrounding towns.  Although packinghouse laborers are almost entirely immigrants from Mexico, their families comprise the stable heart of these areas. Most have lived here for years. Jobs in the sheds are a step up from the fields, with year-round work at 40 hours per week.

This part of agribusiness is by far Central Washington’s largest employer, and the industry has successfully fought off unions for many years. The virus may change that, however, if the strike wave becomes the spark for creating a permanent organization among these workers. It is undoubtedly what the companies fear when they see workers stop the lines, and even more so, when they see farmworker union organizers helping to sustain the walkouts.

*   *   *

“The most important demand for us is that we have a healthy workplace and protection from the virus,” said Agustin Lopez, one of the strike leaders at Allan Brothers. “Fourteen people have left work over the last month because they have the COVID-19. So far as we know, the company isn’t paying them. We need protections at work, like adequate masks, and we want tests. How do we even know if any of us have been infected if there are no tests?” (Allan Brothers Fruit did not respond to phone and email requests for comment for this story.)

He charges that Allan Brothers didn’t disinfect the plant and stop production when the workers got sick. One worker, Jennifer Garton, told the Yakima Herald, “They are not doing what they’re saying they’re doing,” and that workers only heard about the cases of COVID-19 in the plant through their own conversations.

According to Lopez, at the end of April the workers sent an email to company managers, asking for better conditions, extra pay, and the right to take off work. “People were taking their vacations or sick leave or anything they could to stay home. The company said that if we had worked for five weeks we could stay home, but they wouldn’t pay us. We’re only making minimum wage, so how could we do that? And we have no guarantee we would even have our jobs back if we don’t come in to work now.”

In response to the demands, he says the company offered to buy the workers lunch. Over a hundred workers rejected that and struck the company.

The shed of another Yakima packer, Roche Fruit Company, did stop work in April to disinfect the plant, after two workers had become infected. Roche employees then also demanded hazard pay in a message to managers. When the company offered an additional $200 per month, the laborers stopped work after lunch on May 11. After an hour of bargaining, the company offered them $100 per week instead, and they went back to work. Operations manager Alfonso Pineda said the company had already planned to give workers “gratitude pay” for working in difficult circumstances.

“At the heart of the dissatisfaction of all these workers is the fact they are essential workers, but their pay does not reflect that,” says Edgar Franks, the political director of the new union for Washington farm workers, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. He explains that workers from both Roche and Allan Brothers got in touch with them when they were getting ready to strike. “The walkouts then started after management refused to raise their wages. At Roche, when union organizers and leadership arrived, management quickly relented. This is the power of the presence of the union.”

  *   *   *

But fear is driving the strikes, even more than wages. After walking out of the packing plant, workers at Jack Frost stood in a big circle six feet apart while Claudia, a striker, explained that they were fighting for the health of their whole community. “We want everyone to have a health examination, including our children and other people possibly affected,” she declared.  “We want it for our whole family, because we know the virus doesn’t just stay in the plant. It’s outside too.”

At the rally in front of the Allan Brothers packinghouse, another woman said the same thing: that the biggest question was whether they could work without getting sick. “We have people who have been affected in this shed,” she told Yakima city councilwoman Dulce Gutierrez. “We want the company to guarantee that there are no more people who have the virus here at work, so that we can protect ourselves and our families.”

The working conditions themselves are responsible for much of the danger, and Franks says the companies have not been responsive. “Ever since the governor’s order [mandating physical distancing and safe conditions], a lot of the safety measures haven’t reached the workers inside.  The workers are elbow-to-elbow on the line, packing the fruit going through there.  Workers got sick, and they’re concerned that no one is looking after them or the wellbeing of their family and friends still inside.”

Agustin Lopez has lived in the Yakima Valley and worked in its sheds since 1985. His experience has made him cautious, therefore, about predicting whether workers will decide if a permanent union is the answer to their problems. But when he looks at the waves of people leaving the apple sheds, each company encouraging the next one, he thinks change is not just possible, but happening around him. “This connection between us is something new,” he says, “and there are people out here from lots of the plants. Maybe we are actually a federation.” The answer will be determined by the strike, he believes. “If the companies are willing to negotiate, we’ll listen to what they have to say. And if not, then we will continue with our strike.”

Will a Failed Plot in Venezuela Strengthen Maduro?

by Steve Ellner

Originally published in Latin America Advisor of the Inter-American Dialogue
May 19, 2020


Every aspect of the recent attempt to topple the Maduro government points to Juan Guaidó's lack of leadership capacity. The incident cuts into his support among both the radical opposition that supports the use of force and the majority of Venezuelans, who, according to polls, favor concrete proposals to solve pressing immediate problems over regime-change strategies. In the first place, Guaidó's signature on the contract with the Florida-based Silvercorp USA disregards the history of operations of this sort in which planners go to length to ensure the credibility of a Plan B consisting of denial of involvement in case of failure. In the second place, Guaidó s commitment of 213 million dollars to Silvercorp raises questions about the origins of such a large sum of money. In the third place, even those favoring a military solution are criticizing the use of foreign mercenaries. In the fourth place, the plan envisioned one of two scenarios, one naive and the other questionable on ethical grounds. The choice of Macuto, with a strong navy presence nearby, for landing implied that the Venezuelan armed forces would spontaneously turn against Maduro, contrary to its behavior throughout 2019. On the other hand, the contract implied a possible drawn-out bloody confrontation with specified human targets including those close to Maduro and Diosdado Cabello.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the incident has “buoyed” Maduro. During his rule, Chávez counted on the backing of a sizable majority of voters. It is unlikely that most of them would support an opposition that incident after incident becomes branded "Made in the USA." Some of this sentiment gets translated into support for Maduro, even among Venezuelans who fervently oppose his policies.

Steve Ellner, who holds a Ph.D. in Latin American history, is author of over a dozen books on Latin American history and politics and is an Associate Managing Editor of Latin American Perspectives.

May 20, 2020

Employers' Organizations and Quarantine Policies in Ibero-America: A Brief Reflection on the Chilean and Spanish Case


By Alejandro Osorio Rauld and José Reig Cuañes

The Covid-19 pandemic has tested the strength, logistics, and leadership of states around the world. In order to face the health emergency, the governments have had to implement several degrees of confinement and “social distancing” that, lately, have saved millions of lives, albeit at a very high cost in terms of economic activity

The debate on the appropriate harmony between health protection and economic safeguard allows us to analyze an interesting aspect of political systems: the relationship between business elites and State power. Most of the policies that the pandemic has faced have been legitimized by the intervention of validated actors such as experts, technicians, advisers and also politicians of different persuasions. Their advice has contributed to protect citizens from what in biopolitical terms we could call a “letting die”, which was the dominant choice at first in several of the countries with leaders fit in with the commonly named “conservative populism” (USA, Brazil, UK). However, other social groups attempt to influence State decisions: this is the case of business elites and their organizations, acting as “pressure groups” that mobilize powerful resources in favor of their interests. Indeed, although the decisions of democratic States are supposedly sovereign, they are also influenced by demands from different social groups, such as workers, students, and, of course, those who conduct economic activity.


As the sociologist Philippe Schmitter (1991) reminds us, this is not necessarily negative. On the contrary, political systems need connection mechanisms between decision makers and society. It is, in fact, a game of balances between interests in part, expressed through participation mechanisms, and politically crystallized general interests. This is the way that those who exercise governance have plenty of authority to make independence decisions, putting the “general interest” before the requirements of groups that seek to influence the distribution of power.


Obviously, the “autonomy” of the State against pressure groups does not always and everywhere happens in the same way. The quarantine declaration against the threat of the pandemic, offers an extreme example that allows to analyze the behavior of the Chilean and Spanish business elites in the face of a decision that entails severe economic effects and that has been faced differently in both countries.


Indeed, in the face of the quarantine, the Chilean and Spanish employers' organizations have played a major role, with repeated public interventions by their leaders and official statements by the organizations. These statements and reactions show, however, differences in the way they influence political decisions. A good part of these differences can be explained in terms of “political culture” and seem to have to do with the different trajectory of both organizations during the transition to democracy and, of course, with the type of public space resulting from these transitions: more neoliberal in the Chilean case, more formally committed to a “European” type of “social State of law” in the Spanish case.


Since the transition to democracy until today, Spanish employers have accumulated experience of agreements with other actors, such as trade unions (UGT, CC.OO) and also political forces, establishing a “triangulation of power” very typical of social agreements in countries with Welfare States. The call by the President of the Government, Pedro Sanchez, to re-edit “Los Pactos de la Moncloa” between all political and social forces, in order to face the socio-economic reconstruction of Spain after the impact of the Covid-19, evokes the memory of this constituent milestone of Spanish democracy. It is also an indication of that experience that the negotiating attitude of the employers' association has been maintained, regardless of the discourse of the conservative opposition and the parliamentary battle that it undertook in the midst of the health and economic crisis.


But none of this is happening in Chile, since the model of democracy and development, which, of course, includes the role of the state and social actors, has not been discussed sovereignly by the citizens, until very recently and in the midst of a social explosion that has not yet had an institutional translation. In this sense, the maintenance of a "restricted democracy" with a radical neoliberal economy by the post-authoritarian governments has made it impossible to question the institutional rules and revise the role of the State and social actors in the public space. This was one of Philippe Schmitter's fears when he uneasily condemned neoliberalism as the enemy of social concertation. The Chilean case would be a perfect example of this situation, since the employers' associations, since the 1988 plebiscite until today, have never acted as a subordinate actor to politics as an activity that watches over the "general interest". On the contrary, the public development of Chilean employers has always consisted of exerting pressure on a weak state that does not have the constitutional tools to subordinate private interest to the "common good".


 Both in Chile (revolts in autumn 2019) and in Spain (15-M and its aftermath in the party system), the constitutional framework has recently been subjected to pressure and questioning with a strong social content and it is not to be ruled out that popular movements in the same direction will continue to take place. This challenge has not yet had an adequate institutional fit, either in Chile or in Spain, and it remains to be seen how the sphere of public intervention by the economic powers and their corporate organizations will be redefined in this scenario. Coming from different traditions in relation to public space, it is almost certain that they will also reach different places, something that only time will clarify.




Alejandro Osorio Rauld: Doctor en
sociología por la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Investigador en el GESP UCM-UNED. Correo electrónico: nelsonos@ucm.es

José Reig Cuañes Doctor en historia por la Universidad de Alicante. Profesor de la Universidad Castilla-La Mancha. Correo electrónico: Jose.Reig@uclm.es

May 18, 2020

Austeridad Republicana and Contradictions in Mexico’s Response to COVID-19

By Andrew R. Smolski, Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at North Carolina State University and member of the Latin American Perspectives editorial collective
 

On May 3rd, 2020, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) published “Algunas lecciones de la pandemia COVID-19”. In this brief document, the President of Mexico makes clear that neoliberal policies, such as privatization and austerity for public universities, have led to a crisis in public health exacerbated by the pandemic. AMLO has consistently pointed to four decades of neoliberalization as creating many of the ills Mexico confronts, from a majority of the population employed in the informal sector to almost a majority of the country living in poverty. And he is not wrong. 

For instance, in public health neoliberalization has had a major negative impact. Since the late 1990s, Mexican public health institutions, like the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS), have seen market reforms that reduced the amount and quality of care. This is the case, even while healthcare expenditures increased in Mexico since 2000. So, you have reductions in care with increasing costs and poorer outcomes. In 2006, a year before the drug war began in earnest, life expectancy stalled, a trend continuing to the present. That ended more than four decades of increasing life expectancy.

AMLO’s administration has sought to reverse that trend through a reinvigoration of the universal right to healthcare, itself enshrined in Article 4 of the Mexican Constitution.  The major policy has been the Instituto de Salud para el Bienestar (Insabi), which is meant to augment public health by covering people not covered by IMSS or the Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado (ISSSTE). Through an increase in public provisioning of medical services and pharmaceuticals and a rollback of market reforms, Insabi could reverse the neoliberalization of public health and return Mexico to a positive trend for life expectancy. 

“Algunas lecciones de la pandemia COVID-19” also develops an alter-modernist vision, one that is strikingly reminiscent of liberation scholars. AMLO writes “that the bottom, marginalized, and scorned…are in reality filled with solutions.” This bottom-up vision is also reflected in the administration’s response to COVID-19. On April 5th, AMLO unveiled an economic package in the National Palace to confront the adverse effects of COVID-19 on the economy. That package largely focused on small businesses (microempresas) and the informal economy. In response to critics of the package, AMLO stated that “there is not going to be a rescue for big companies, banks, much less the biggest.” Such a statement would have been anathema to any of the previous administrations, wedded as they were to a vision of corporate Mexico.

Yet, there are contradictions in the Fourth Transformation (4T), the label AMLO and MORENA have given to the administration’s policies. While the public health policy is rhetorically about the universal right to healthcare, the budget has not reflected a sufficient economic investment to provide such a right. Although, it’s important to note, that in theory no one in Mexico will have to go into debt for treatment, unlike in the United States. But this may be of little consolation if there is little to no healthcare facilities to access. Furthermore, the years of hollowing out from neoliberalization have left the public system without a sufficient number of hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients. This fact led to a voluntary agreement with private hospitals on the part of the government. The agreement will have the government cover costs at private hospitals for treatment, which will mean the government becomes a source of profit for those entities that in pre-COVID-19 times excluded the majority from healthcare.

Additionally, the economic response to COVID-19 crisis in Mexico does not lend itself to a Keynesian conception of counter-cyclical spending. The creditos solidarios of 25,000 pesos for up to a million micro-businesses are relatively small, although they do not have to be paid back. The other micro-credits the government is dispensing reproduce a neoliberal policy that was popular with NGOs. Businesses that receive these small loans will have to pay them back within three years, even though there is no clear indication that they will keep businesses afloat or out of a cycle of debt. Even more, the refusal to raise taxes or create new taxes means that the government will have limited fiscal options to expand programs without accumulating debt, also rejected by AMLO.

Much of these contradictions arise from AMLO’s “austeridad republicana”. That has involved cutting government salaries, moves against corruption, and at times, reductions in budgets to certain agencies. It is based on a not incorrect belief that the state misallocates funds, because the neoliberal state had become a support for businesses, rather than the public good. It is from this idea that debt rejection arises, whether private or from international institutions like the International Monetary Fund, as a vehicle for funding government programs. And, this is understandable, as debt has been a primary way that privatization was pushed, just as corruption has been an endemic problem for Mexico. But, it also means that AMLO’s transformation of Mexico away from neoliberalism takes place within a state already constrained by four decades of neoliberalism.

It is not clear that what is entailed in the 4T is a transformation of Mexico’s political economy, or that it will be sufficient to address the COVID-19 crisis. Or, possibly better put, there is a lack of confrontation with the entrenched oligarchy, ever ready to use capital strike, capital flight, and other measures to stall the economy and harm the chances of a Left-led revitalization. One can only speculate as to why AMLO and his administration do not act more aggressively, whether it is current international conditions, too much emphasis on corruption and not enough on class struggle, or a general philosophy of “doing more with less”.

Of course, AMLO is constrained, as Mexico can’t just print money like the US, and there isn’t a commodity boom to finance the expansion of a welfare state. Actually, there is the exact opposite, an oil crash harming a state that receives large amounts of its funding from the sale of oil. As well, AMLO is constantly attacked in national and international media outlets, with his administration’s move under a magnifying glass to make claims about authoritarianism. Plus, the peso has been consistently devalued over the past decade eroding purchasing power, with an ever-present threat of inflation cutting purchasing power even more. Thus, there are clear reasons that AMLO and his administration seek a route that seeks to re-orient the state within current coordinates, as opposed to a more frontal challenge to Mexico’s class structure and entrenched corporate power.

AMLO and his administration are correct in noting the corrosive effects of neoliberalization on Mexico and human dignity. And many moves should be commended, such as Insabi. And, there is the expanded role of the Fondo de Cultura Economica in supplying discounted books to the populous under the directorship of Paco Ignacio Taibo II. That is, AMLO and his administration have produced an ideological space that provides real opportunities for 4T, for a political economy to transition away from neoliberalization and for a general education of the populous about demands that should be made on the state. But for now, with austeridad republicana the policy driving this transition, 4T is much less than promised. And that will be more than problematic, as the COVID dead mount and 4T stalls.

May 17, 2020

The Preventable Death of an ICE Detainee Amid a Pandemic Speaks to a Crisis of Civilization

By Alfonso Gonzales Toribio, Associate Professor and Director of Latin American Studies at the University of California Riverside. 


The death of 57-year-old Salvadoran national and ICE detainee Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejía was preventable and tragic. As a diabetic with an amputated foot, he was especially at risk of being infected with COVID-19 and was on a list to be potentially released from the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego—with at least 140 confirmed cases, it is the epicenter of COVID-19 infections among ICE detainees.

His untimely death underscores the humanitarian crisis before the migration control apparatus, and points to a deeper crisis of civilization. Will we be a society governed by constitutional and human rights, compassion, and fairness, or by a cruel desire to punish those deemed unworthy of living?

Escobar Mejía was tragically the first to die, but he won’t be the last unless migrants are released quickly from detention centers. As of May 9, ICE has tested just 1,804 detainees nationwide for COVID-19, 965 of whom have been positive. A group of scientists with a forthcoming article in the Journal of Urban Health estimates that under the best circumstances, over 70% of ICE’s 27,908 detainees will become infected over a 90-day period unless drastic measures are taken.

The death of Escobar Mejía could have been avoided, as well as the one of Óscar López Acosta, who died of COVID-19 after being suddenly released from an ICE detention center in Ohio. In the case of Escobar Mejía, ICE refused to diligently comply with the preliminary injunction issued by Federal District Judge Jesus Vernal on April 20, ordering the agency to “promptly assess medically vulnerable people for COVID-19 risk factors and either immediately implement medically necessary precautions consistent with CDC standards of care, or release them.”

Under CDC guidelines, Escobar Mejía should have been released. But ICE was only trying to create the appearance of compliance rather than actually fulfill the spirit of the court’s injunction.

President Donald Trump’s administration is hard-set on keeping the migration control apparatus in full operation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, despite health and ethical concerns. In late April, Carl J. Nichols, a federal district judge appointed by Trump, rejected a request made by advocates to suspend hearings —including those involving children— during the pandemic.  This decision and others like it have empowered the president and his allies to further disregard the lives of migrants.

Such blatant disregard for the sanctity of Latino and Black migrants’ lives is consistent with the ideology of Trump’s immigration advisors, many of whom were plucked directly from the ranks of the Center for Immigration Studies and Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Largely considered hate groups, these organizations once operated on the margins of society under the leadership of their neo-eugenicist founder, John Tanton, who warned of a “Latin onslaught” and took money from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation that promotes research on “race betterment.” Neo-eugenicists like Tanton and his followers favor immigration policies that curb “third-world” migration and promote a so-called “merit-based system” that prioritizes European migrants.

Neo-eugenicist ideology is what has allowed the president and his advisors to systematically deny asylum to Latin Americans, to separate thousands of families, and to keep children in cages. Today, amid the worst pandemic in 100 years, it’s also what enables them to hold an unknown number of people in a vast and shady network of ICE detention facilities and government shelters, and to deport thousands of potentially infected people to Mexico, Central America, and Haiti.

In line with this neo-eugenicist ideology, Trump, and his allies perceive the virus as primarily targeting the weak, elderly, Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and apparently distant nations like Ecuador—and they act accordingly. Armed with a skepticism of science and cult-like veneration of Trump, they now feel emboldened and anxious to get the economy “back to where it was,” even if it requires an executive order sacrificing thousands of meatpackers and attacks on democratic institutions like the media, courts, and state governments.

Trump and the right-wing bloc are bringing us to the brink of a civilizational crisis. Civilizations are supposed to be advanced societies that muster wealth, technologies, and systems of governance to create harmony and resolve conflict in a fair, moral, and compassionate manner.

The last major crisis of civilization of the 20th century happened amid the rise of fascism and the outbreak of World War II, which saw 55–60 million people die. Despite its contradictions, the post-WWII order restored a sense of human decency and led to a consensus that there should be a social safety net, multilateralism, and human rights for all people, regardless of race, gender, religion, or ethnicity. Governments and racists resisted, but the era opened the door for the Refugee Convention and civil rights legislation, as well as for decolonization movements and the discrediting of racist eugenicist ideologies like apartheid globally.

Trump, with his talk of Mexican “rapists,” Central American “animals,” and “shithole countries,” has brought a particularly  insidious brand of American neo-eugenics back into the mainstream and into the commanding heights of the White House. His administration seeks to destroy the post-WWII order by undermining the constitution, the Refugee Convention, and the World Health Organization, and with them the social safety net, labor rights, and environmental protections.

We are not doomed to repeat history. But keeping the deportation-detention machinery running and sacrificing the life of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejía and potentially millions more is disturbing. It is this type of disregard for human life that brings us one step closer to a 21st-century collapse of civilization.

***

This piece was originally published by Latino Rebels and can be found here: https://www.latinorebels.com/2020/05/15/preventabledeath/

May 16, 2020

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: COVID 19 Blog

Latin American Perspectives would like to invite its readers, editors, and authors to submit short reflections and or photographs to our blog about how communities in Latin America and Latinx communities in the US are confronting the COVID-19 crisis. Blog posts should run between 200 to 1000 words and can be in English, Spanish or Portuguese.

Please send your submissions to lap.outreach@gmail.com, subject line “COVID-19 Blog”

While social distancing and quarantine protocols are necessary to stem the spread of the virus, we are witnessing ways in which these measures can also reinforce economic and social inequalities and hurt working-class families across the Americas. LAP has a rich history of questioning the empty promises of social mobility and progress that often go hand-in-hand with neoliberalism, neo-colonialism, imperialism, and globalization, and we feel the need to be on alert as military forces take on more predominant roles and as governments threaten to institutionalize draconian austerity measures.

The COVID-19 virus exposes the weaknesses of the capitalist market to provide health care, food security, safety and education to millions of Latinx in a crisis. It also puts women in dangerous situations when asked to remain at home with potential abusers. Colombia has seen a 79% increase in calls of help due to intra-familial violence or sexual abuse.

LAP has always been committed to document and reflect on the critical work of social movements, grassroots organizations to pressure local governments to ensure the well-being of vulnerable communities, for example, prison populations or the elderly. This pandemic is a heavy blow to the pathos of globalization and Latin Americans will have to ascertain radical ways to rebuild infrastructures, support impacted communities and foster a culture of solidarity and collective prosperity.

We invite LAP readers to use this space on the blog to share their experiences, fears, and hopes for the near future and strategies to transform political goodwill into action. We can all learn from each other and our research to prepare for whatever tasks lie ahead. Please be aware that blog entries are often reposted in LAP’s social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter).

May 6, 2020

Three things you should know about Anita

By Monserrat Sepúlveda, Santiago, Chile 



This coronavirus pandemic seems to be showing all of us just how vulnerable people are. Here at home in Chile, I think about one person in particular: Anita. She works as a housekeeper and there is so much about her I wish you knew. We could have a 6-hour zoom chat just to talk about her extraordinary life and it wouldn’t be enough. But there are three things ,in particular, you should definitely know about Anita.

The first thing is that Anita will continue talking to you even if you are gone from the room. I’ve tested it many times. Some weeks ago, Anita was talking to me about the price of sugar in her neighborhood store. I left the room for at least fifteen minutes and when I came back, lo and behold, she was still talking as if I had never left.

The second thing you should know is that she’s 75 years old so if she tells you she wants to watch her novela, you better run and buy her a TV. Mind you, she won’t like it if it’s a flat modern TV, no sire. You will need to get her an old heavy TV with five buttons and no remote.

The third thing you should know about Anita is that no one, during the 59 years she’s worked as a housekeeper, made sure she signed a contract. She has always worked informally so Anita has no retirement savings and almost no safety net except for the $110 USD a month she receives from the government. She simply cannot afford to retire or take time off when she is sick. She also cannot stay at home for her own safety during this COVID-19 pandemic and will insist on going to work.

That is who I worry about the most these days. I bet we all have an Anita in our lives; someone who is in such a difficult situation, they might have to expose themselves to the virus even though they know that’s a big risk to take. Perhaps, in your life that person is you. If so, please know that I and many others are thinking of you and sending all our love.

In Chile, people like my friend Anita have very few options. Many of our elderly receive the $100 USD minimum pension that Anita does, which isn’t enough, so they are dependent on their work to make it through the month. In this scenario, our government is distributing $65 USD as relief funds to the most vulnerable 60% of the population but that amount won’t last for very long at all. In any case, because of a loophole in the law, Anita won’t be receiving those funds.

I spoke to Anita some days ago. I want you to know that so far she is doing well and, in spite of everything, she is still as joyful and talkative as ever. She was was worried though about three of her friends who are also in their 70s. They recently lost their jobs and had to move in together to save some money. As a result, a homeless family moved into one of their empty homes. Her friend cannot afford to hire a lawyer so she’s resigned herself to losing her home. Anita accompanied her friend back to the house to see if she could get some of her things back. The family that is now living there was very apologetic. They knew that what they had done was not ok but, what option did they have? With two kids and a baby on the way that was the only option they had in the midst of a pandemic. They handed Anita’s friend her family photos through the window.

Anita told me she feels lucky because her employer insisted she stay at home while continuing to pay her wages. Her friends did not have that option. She owns the property where she lives, and has the support of her family. Although she worries that her daughter, who has had to continue going to work, might infect her, she knows that it’s a necessary risk if they want to continue providing Anita’s grandchildren with a good life.

Now more than even we need to remember that in these times of need people like Anita will need extra support. We cannot abandon each other when we need it the most and there are too many people who need that extra help. For now, the best we can all do is stay at home so that Anita may soon go back to work to provide for her family, watch her novela in the old giant TV and talk to you endlessly into the night.

May 5, 2020

Trump’s disregard for immigrant life amid the pandemic bring us closer to a collapse of civilization



By Alfonso Gonzales Toribio
Director of the Latin American Studies Program and Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside

The battle over Trump’s immigration policies in the middle of the pandemic is reaching a boiling point. 

At the core of all of his polices is a desire to accumulate wealth at all costs and a blatant disregard for human life that endangers a basic sense of right and wrong needed for a civilized world to function.

The President is forcing tens of thousands of meatpacking workers, many of them immigrants whom he ordered immigration raids on last August, back to the factory lines despite massive plant closures and at least 20 deaths and as many as 5,000 infections of meat workers nationwide according to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.


This was the logic used by, Carl J. Nichols, a Federal District Judge, appointed by Trump, to reject a request made by the National Lawyers Guild, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Immigration Justice Campaign on behalf of detained clients asking for a suspension of all immigration court proceedings, including those involving children, during the pandemic.  

Advocates filled the suit citing due process and public health concerns to no avail. The decision means that Administration should be able to continue with its detained immigration court practices because it has taking sufficient measures to protect respondents in court.

Judge Nichols’s decision will have major implications for legal battles and activist demands for the release of thousands of detainees and a moratorium on immigration court hearings and deportations amid the pandemic. This is a setback for advocates who won a case on April 21, 2020 when Judge Jesus Bernal issued a temporary injunction on the continued detention of vulnerable detainees if ICE could not implement social distancing and protective measures amid the pandemic. This administration and its allies will feel empowered to continue with their immigration policies even as new ICE data reveals disturbing rates of infection in its detention facilities.

The same day of Judge Nichols decision, ICE revealed that out of the 705 people that it tested in detention, 425 have tested positive for COVID-19.  Another 92 ICE employees have also tested positive.

The actual number of people infected in its detention facilities is probably much higher considering that, like for most of us, so few have been tested.

ICE statistics do not include the thousands of children in immigration shelters, which are under the Office of Refugee Resettlement. There are already 42 confirmed cases of minors who have tested positive for COVID-19 in a South Chicago shelter and likely hundreds, maybe thousands  more that have not been tested yet.


Most of Trump’s policies are all long standing policy proposals inspired his advisors, many of whom were recruited from the ranks of Center for Immigration Studies and Federation for American Immigration Reform. These are controversial organizations founded by eugenicist John Tanton, a man who warned of a “Latin onslaught” and the need for a “Euromerican majority.”

Trump and has allies have weaponized the pandemic to push through a series cruel policy.

Among these are his April 22 ban on new green cards for 60 days, excluding undocumented people and U.S. citizens married to undocumented people that filed joint tax returns from receiving stimulus support.

On April 21 the Department of Education announced that it would exclude undocumented students from its $6 billion aid package designed to help students affected by the virus. This will make as many as 450,000 undocumented students even more vulnerable during the pandemic.


The deportation and detention machinery are also in full operation.

From March 27 to April 2, there were at least 7,000 deportations to Mexico, including those of 377 children, according to Reuters. Among the 14 cases of COVID-19 include children that have been traced back to a deportee in the border town Nuevo Laredo. In Guatemala, at least 50 deportees have tested positive.

Though ICE claims that there are only 2 people on strike in the Adelanto Detention Center, advocates say that hundreds of inmates have been on hunger strikes to protest conditions related to the virus in Otay Mesa, Bakersfield and in Adelanto detention centers all based in California.

Trump and his hardline supporters are fighting tooth and nail to keep immigration courts open along with the detention and deportation machinery, and to exclude immigrants from public policies designed to help people survive the pandemic.

Attorney General Barr has threatened to sue state governments on behalf of plaintiffs for overstepping COVID-19 restrictions. The rightwing non-profit the Center for American Liberty is also suing the State of California for making an improper gift to undocumented people with tax payer money.  

Trump and his supporters are using the pandemic as the latest front in a culture war that pits his base against their perceived enemies. For them the virus mostly impacts the elderly, blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and apparently distant nations like Ecuador. This coupled with their skepticism of science, and cult-like veneration for Trump makes them emboldened and anxious to get the economy back to where it was even if it requires an executive order sacrificing meatpackers and attacks on democratic institutions like the media, courts, and federalism.  
Trump and his supporters will use any means twitter, law suits, intimidation, and armed protests to make their case.

This is an assault, not just on immigrants and Latinos, but on the post-WWII order with its social safety net, public health institutions, labor, civil and human rights, the Refugee Convention, and a spirit of multilateralism that restored a sense of human decency after the rise of Fascism and the death of 200,000 million people

Though we are certainly not doomed to repeat history, keeping the deportation-detention machinery running and rushing to reopen the economy — even if it means sacrificing the health of millions — is disturbing. It is the type of disregard for human life that brings us one step closer to a 21st-century collapse not just of liberal democracy but of civilization.  

April 28, 2020

“The Measles from the Time of My Grandfather”: Amazonian Ethnocide Memories in Times of Covid-19

By Carlos Fausto

Professor of Anthropology at the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


“Kanari Kuikuro shows me a pot full of winged leafcutter ants he has just collected”.  November, 2002. Xingu Indigenous Land, Brazil. Photo by Carlos Fausto

Two weeks ago, Kanari Kuikuro called me from Canarana, a small town in the Brazilian Amazon, where he now lives with his wife and many children. He is originally from the Xingu Indigenous Land, which lies up north and is one of the most culturally rich multiethnic constellation of South America. Kanari was apprehensive.
– Pamü (cousin), we’re afraid. We wanted to go back to the village, but now our Land is closed.
– Pamü, don’t risk it. You can only go back if you go into quarantine. It’s a serious disease.
– I know, pamü, it’s like the measles from the time of my grandfather Agatsipá.
When I met Agatsipá he was quite old, but his mind was still keen, his eyes bright. He was a brilliant storyteller, and lived a long life. He survived the multiple outbreaks and epidemics that struck the population of the Upper Xingu during the 20th century. The 1954 measles epidemic is the most remembered to this day. It was brutal and quick, scything through whole families at once, leaving no time to properly bury the dead. With all those around falling sick, there was nobody left to provide for food, much less see to the bodies. Vultures swarmed and people scattered, carrying the disease elsewhere. 
Indigenous peoples know the story well. Since the start of the colonization process, they have learned in their flesh what epidemics are. Smallpox, measles, chickenpox, flu. One often came on the heels of the last, never giving survivors a chance to recover. The Jesuit José de Anchieta wrote that in 1562, an epidemic killed 30,000 Tupi Indians around Todos os Santos Bay; the next year, smallpox carried off many survivors, and hunger decimated the rest of the population. Plague by plague, the bay was depopulated. In 1580, Anchieta wrote: “the number of people that have been wasted [in Bahia] over the last twenty years is scarcely believable; no one imagined that so many could be consumed at once, much less in so short a time.”  
The same story repeated itself many times across different regions of what would come to be Brazil. A few were preserved in written memory. Father João Bettendorf, for example, recounts an outbreak of “pox” in Pará, in 1695, which was followed by a torrent of other diseases: “Once the pox was entirely gone, there came terrible colds, of which many Indians died […] and there also came some sort of measles which killed many and lasted for months upon months.” 
Most of these health crises, however, raged far from the eyes and the quills of missionaries, travelers, and colonial administrators. When we look at the archaeological record in the Upper Xingu, where the Kuikuro and other Indigenous peoples live, we can observe a break, starting in the 17th century. The many large, fortified villages that existed at the time slide into a clear decline. The Indigenous population in the region may have been 10 or 20 times larger than it is today, standing at some 50,000 to 100,000 people. However, in the early 17th century, something happened, and the large villages were abandoned. The most reasonable hypothesis posits a demographic crisis sparked by a series of epidemics, smallpox chief among them. Not only is smallpox exceptionally lethal, but its window of transmission is also broad. Asymptomatic bearers fled from death in contaminated villages, carrying what the chroniclers called “the pestilential ill” deeper into the countryside. That way, smallpox must have made it to the Upper Xingu many decades before the first Indian slave-hunters arrived in the 18th century.
These epidemics were followed by others, many of them recounted today by those who live in the Xingu in the form of narratives that weave between history and myth but are invariably tragic. The 1954 measles epidemic, however, is unquestionably the 1954 measles epidemic. The Xinguanos know very well what happened, and they know that if medical aid, and, above all, food, had arrived earlier, lives would have been spared. But resources were scarce, communication was patchy, and obstacles were myriad. And, as in the pandemic we face today, there was no vaccine. 
It was vaccination programs that, starting in 1970, began to slowly invert the curve of Indigenous population decline. Their numbers rose haltingly after over four centuries of demographic losses. The key was threefold: vaccines, medical treatment, and the preservation of territory. Demarcation of Indigenous lands after the 1988 Constitution and the creation of Indigenous Sanitary Districts in 1999 are key landmarks in this struggle for life.
All of that is imperiled today: not only because we have no vaccine and no viable treatment against this new virus, but also because we lack a government fit for the challenge. The Brazilian government seems to be flirting with death, ignoring the obvious. “It’s like the measles from the time of my grandfather,” as Kanari Kuikuro reminds us. Unburied bodies in the streets, endless deaths in the villages. We must take urgent health measures to defend Indigenous peoples and their lands. We cannot see another genocide. 
Kanu, one of the greatest singers in the Upper Xingu and the main character in our documentary The Hyper Women, sends me a voice message: “We’re afraid, but we’re all right. The disease hasn’t made it here yet.” One more day of relief. For how long?

This piece was originally published by Somatosphere and can be found here:

Versão em Português:


Carlos Fausto é professor de antropologia do Museu Nacional, da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, e Global Scholar da Universidade de Princeton.

Há duas semanas Kanari Kuikuro me ligou de Canarana, pequena cidade ao sul da Terra Indígena do Xingu, onde mora com mulher e muitos filhos:

— Oi, pamü (primo), estamos com medo. Queríamos voltar para aldeia, mas agora está tudo fechado.

— Pamü, não pode arriscar, vocês só podem voltar se fizerem quarentena. É uma doença grave.

— Eu sei, pamü, é como o sarampo do tempo de meu avô Agatsipá.

Conheci Agatsipá já bastante idoso, mas ainda com inteligência viva e os olhos brilhantes. Era um grande narrador de mitos e memórias. Teve vida longa. Sobreviveu a vários surtos e epidemias que vitimaram a população do Alto Xingu durante o século 20. A epidemia de sarampo de 1954 é a mais lembrada dentre elas. Foi aguda e veloz, vitimando famílias inteiras, sem que houvesse tempo para enterrar direito os mortos. Quando todos estavam doentes, não havia quem pudesse providenciar a comida, muito menos dispor dos corpos. É nessa hora que os urubus se aglomeram e as pessoas se espalham, levando a doença para outras partes.

Os povos indígenas conhecem bem essa história. Desde o início da colonização, tiveram que aprender em seus corpos o que é uma epidemia. Varíola, sarampo, varicela, gripe. Muitas vezes, uma se seguia à outra, sem que os sobreviventes tivessem tempo para se recuperar. Anchieta conta que, em 1562, uma epidemia matou 30 mil índios tupi na Baía de Todos os Santos; no ano seguinte, a varíola consumiu muitos sobreviventes, enquanto a fome acabou por dizimar o resto da população. E assim a Baía foi sendo despovoada, a ponto de Anchieta escrever em 1580, “a gente que de 20 anos a esta parte é gastada […] parece cousa, que se não pode crer; porque nunca ninguém cuidou, que tanta gente se gastasse nunca, quanto mais em tão pouco tempo”.

Essa mesma história se repetiu muitas vezes em diferentes partes do que viria a ser o Brasil. De alguns episódios, restou memória escrita. O Padre João Betendorf, por exemplo, conta-nos sobre um “andaço de bexigas” (varíola) que grassou no Pará, em 1695, ao qual se sucederam outras tantas doenças: “Acabadas já, de todo, as bexigas, entraram uns terríveis catarros, dos quais morreram muitos índios [...]; entrou também uma casta de sarampo que matou a muitos e durou meses e meses”.

A maioria dessas crises sanitárias, contudo, ocorreu longe dos olhos e da pena de missionários, viajantes e administradores coloniais. Quando olhamos o registro arqueológico do Alto Xingu, onde vivem os Kuikuro e vários outros povos indígenas, notamos uma descontinuidade ocorrer a partir do século 17. Há um claro declínio das grandes e numerosas aldeias fortificadas que lá existiam. A população indígena na região era possivelmente 10 a 20 vezes maior do que a atual, somando 50 a 100 mil pessoas. Contudo, no início do século 17, algo aconteceu que levou as grandes aldeias a serem abandonadas. A hipótese mais razoável: uma crise demográfica causada por uma sequência de epidemias, com a varíola ocupando lugar de destaque. Isso não apenas porque o vírus da varíola é extremamente letal, mas também porque a sua “janela” de transmissão era ampla. Os doentes ainda sem sintomas fugiam da morte nas aldeias contaminadas, levando consigo, como escrevem os cronistas, o “mal pestilencial” para o interior. A varíola deve ter, assim, chegado ao Alto Xingu muitas décadas antes de lá aparecerem os primeiros escravizadores de índios, já no século 18.

A essas primeiras epidemias seguiram-se outras, muitas delas descritas hoje pelos Xinguanos na forma de narrativas meio históricas, meio míticas, mas sempre trágicas. O sarampo de 1954, contudo, é definitivamente o sarampo de 1954. Os Xinguanos sabem bem o que ocorreu, sabem também que se a ajuda médica e, sobretudo, alimentar tivesse chegado mais rápido, vidas teriam sido poupadas. Mas os recursos eram escassos, a comunicação era precária e as dificuldades eram várias. E, como hoje, não havia vacina.

Foram os programas de vacinação que, a partir de 1970, levaram à inversão progressiva da curva demográfica descendente dos povos indígenas. A população começou timidamente a crescer após mais de quatro séculos de perda demográfica. A chave para o crescimento foi o tripé vacina, atendimento médico e preservação do território. A demarcação das terras indígenas após a Constituição de 1988 e a criação dos Distritos Sanitários Indígenas em 1999 são marcos fundamentais nessa luta pela vida.

Tudo isso está hoje em risco, não só porque não temos vacina nem remédio contra o novo vírus, como também porque não temos um governo à altura do desafio. O governo brasileiro parece flertar com a morte, sem perceber o óbvio. “É como o sarampo do tempo de meu avô.” Corpos insepultos nas ruas, mortes sem fim nas aldeias. Medidas sanitárias urgentes precisam ser tomadas em defesa dos povos indígenas e de suas terras. Não podemos ter um novo genocídio.

Kanu, uma das maiores cantoras do Alto Xingu e protagonista de nosso filme “As Hiper Mulheres”, me manda uma mensagem de áudio: “estamos com medo, mas estamos bem, a doença não chegou por aqui”. Mais um dia de alívio. Por quanto tempo?


Esta peça foi publicada originalmente pela Somatosphere e pode ser encontrada aqui:

http://somatosphere.net/2020/the-measles-from-the-time-of-my-grandfather-amazonian-ethnocide-memories-in-times-of-covid-19.html/