Maj. Gen. Andrew Croft, the commander of 12th Air Force, wrote on 22 August: “I have seen an increasingly contested strategic space where Beijing and Moscow are aggressively investing time and resources in Latin America to support their authoritarian models of governance. The Air Force must reinforce the strength of our longstanding commitment to the Western Hemisphere. We lose ground when we are unable to commit to spending the time and resources to fly our aircraft south and train alongside our partners.”
In Mexico, the intensity of the Covid-19 pandemic is increasing. With more than 568,600 cases and 61,450 deaths (third largest number of Covid-19 deaths), the country is staggering under the Coronavirus pandemic. While the entire country is experiencing the impact, indigenous communities represent the hardest hit demographic. Data from Coneval, the national government’s social development agency, has shown that the Covid-19 fatality rate in Mexico’s poorest 427 municipalities is 14.1. On the other hand, the fatality rate in the country’s 54 wealthiest municipalities is 8.1, “meaning that people who live in impoverished parts of the country are almost twice as likely to die if they become sick with Covid-19 than those who live in affluent areas.”
On 1 August, 2020, a group of civilians, in complicity with the Chilean national police force or the carabineros and right-wing hoodlums, violently attacked Mapuche community members who were on a hunger strike in front of the Municipality of Victoria, in Araucania. The attack was strategic, organized and preplanned with the occupied town halls of Ercilla and Traiguén also being attacked, Mapuche women and children being beaten and vehicles being set on fire.
Latin America has surpassed more than 5 million Covid-19 cases to overtake North America, with 4.8 million Covid-19 cases, as the region worst-hit by the Coronavirus pandemic. This astronomic increase in Covid-19 cases has been accompanied by a corresponding economic catastrophe of great magnitude. According to a United Nations Policy Brief entitled “The Impact of COVID-19 on Latin America and the Caribbean”, “Parts of Latin America and the Caribbean have become hotspots of the coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic, exacerbated by weak social protection, fragmented health systems and profound inequalities. COVID-19 will result in the worst recession in the region in a century, causing a 9.1% contraction in regional GDP in 2020…This could push the number of poor up by 45 million (to a total of 230 million) and the number of extremely poor by 28 million (to 96 million in total), putting them at risk of undernutrition.” The Policy Brief further states that “The sharp drop in economic activity is expected to lift the unemployment rate from 8.1% in 2019 to 13.5% in 2020. The poverty rate is expected to rise by 7.0 percentage points in 2020, to 37.2%, while extreme poverty is expected to rise by 4.5 percentage points, from 11.0% to 15.5%, which represents an increase of 28 million people.”
On March 11, Peru declared a 90-day national sanitary emergency to deal with the emerging coronavirus crisis. Subsequently, the country announced a total lockdown beginning from March 16. But despite implementing one of the earliest and strictest COVID-19 containment regimes in Latin America, Peru has become trapped in the turmoil of rising COVID-19 cases. With more than 400,000 cases, Peru has become the third-worst hit country in Latin America. It also has one of the highest excess death rates (count of deaths relative to a normal year)—87% more than a normal year for the period from March 16 and May 31.
Amid the current Covid-19 pandemic, the Garifuna community of Honduras is experiencing state-sponsored violence and regulated repression. On July 18, 2020, heavily armed personnel of the Police Investigation Department (DPI) barged into the house of Alberth Sneider Centeno, Garifuna president of the land community of El Triunfo de la Cruz, and abducted him. Later, the same armed group kidnapped Suami Aparicio Mejía García, Gerardo Mizael Rochez Cálix and Milton Joel Martínez Álvarez, members of the OFRANEH (Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras), and a fifth person, Junior Rafael Juárez Mejía. The General Confederation of Labor (CGT) has issued a statement saying “that the kidnapping of these people is motivated by the activity of the Garifuna people in defense of their ancestral lands and the rights of Afro-indigenous and indigenous people in these territories.”
At Cerrejon (Colombia), the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America owned equally by BHP (Australia), Anglo American PLC (United Kingdom) and Glencore (Switzerland), the situation of the indigenous people is progressively worsening. Cerrejon Limited has informed the workers that “all the existing shifts will be unified into a single 7-day work, for three days off.” With the enforcement of the new shifts, “workers would go from working 15 to 21 days and the mine would go from 4 to 3 shifts, leaving at least 25% of the current workforce unemployed.” The new shift pattern is likely to aggravate the health of workers as long working hours increase the number of work-related pathologies. Current work shift arrangements have already led to more than “700 pathologies associated with musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular and ear diseases, among others.” As the level of work becomes more stressful, these occupational diseases will start multiplying.
As Chile gets convulsed by the aggravating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the structural brutality of copper mining is being starkly outlined. At Codelco or the National Copper Corporation of Chile, approximately 3,000 workers have been infected with Coronavirus and El Teniente and Chuquicamata are the hardest hit regions with 1,044 and 636 cases, respectively. In June itself, unionized workers had reported the suspect deaths of 3 workers and had demanded a proper investigation. Codelco peacefully airbrushed these cases by saying that the workers contracted the virus from an outside area. Chile´s Federation of Copper Workers (FTC), in response to the sheer carelessness and profit-mindedness of Codelco, stated that “It is unacceptable that Codelco’s senior management tries to evade its legal responsibilities to protect … the health and safety of its workers.”
In Chile, the Covid-19 pandemic is raging with an unprecedented speed. There are more than 300,000 confirmed cases with one of the highest per capita infection rates of 13,000 cases for every 1 million people. The economy is severely experiencing the repercussions of Coronavirus-caused restrictions and the historically high national unemployment rate of 11.2% is an indicator of such damage. Chileans have took to the street to protest against the malfunctioning right-wing government of the billionaire president Sebastian Pinera and the police force has responded aggressively by shooting dead a young agitator.
With the unabated march of the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic situation of Colombian coffee farmers is rapidly deteriorating. The price of Arabica coffee has reduced to an exceptionally low $0.9 per pound in June. Earlier, coffee production had fallen by 28% in April, 12% in March, 9% in February and 19% in January. Specialty coffee farmers too are experiencing difficulties in the form of shortage of experienced coffee pickers. In specialty coffee, coffee cherries are picked at the peak of ripeness. But with the absence of expert pickers, “Coffee cherries left on the tree will over-ripen or fall to the ground, effectively nullifying all the additional work put into the coffee to achieve the higher quality.” This labor shortage has been partly caused by the pandemic-necessitated closure of Colombia-Venezuela border which has significantly blocked the flow of Venezuelan migrants. 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants reside in Colombia and their contribution to Colombian coffee sector is indispensably important with nine out of ten coffee pickers in Colombia being Venezuelans.