No quarantine will hold in the face of hunger. So, if COVID-19 had so far managed to rid the streets of Latin America of anti-government protests, everything indicates that the cauldron is about to boil over once again.
The pressure is ratcheting up in Ecuador, where on Monday groups of workers and students violated the restrictive measures adopted against the pandemic in protest against President Lenin Moreno’s announcement of a cut of more than $4 billion to public spending.
Not even the threats put out by the president’s secretary-general, Juan Sebastián Roldán, stressing the “serious criminal responsibility” that would be incurred for any failure to “respect the law and health regulations,” were enough to intimidate the protesters.
In defiance of the repression, they took to the streets in various regions of the country against the cuts in education, the slashing of the salaries of civil servants, the closure of state-owned companies, and also against the so-called “Humanitarian Law,” approved on May 15 with the alleged aim of saving jobs, but in reality aimed at shifting the burden of the economic crisis onto workers.
“With this law, which is far from humanitarian, we will all be slaves again,” denounced the president of the Frente Unitaria de Trabajadores, Mesías Tatamuez, demanding a halt to the payment of foreign debt to manage the emergency.
The powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE), the protagonist of last October’s uprising, has chosen to remain on the sidelines. It has decided, “for now,” to focus on protecting communities, while sending an explicit message to the government: “In due course, we will take to the streets to demand exemptions from those decrees from the president.”
Signs of a resumption of street mobilizations are also being seen in Chile, where COVID-19 has forced the revolt against Piñera that broke out on Oct. 18 to go into standby. Several demonstrations have been taking place in recent days in Santiago, where on Tuesday people took to the streets once again to protest against the abandonment of the most vulnerable groups and the delays in the aid promised by the government to deal with the crisis.
However, the only response that the demonstrators got was the only one Piñera seems capable of: repression by the carabineros, with fire hoses and tear gas and a condemnation from Prefect Felipe Guevara, according to whom the mere lack of food “does not justify” the violation of the quarantine.
However, in the country with the highest number of infections per million inhabitants, the so-called “hunger protests” are not going to go away: while the health system is close to collapse, the notorious “Employment Protection Law” has resulted in the suspension of employment contracts for at least 600,000 people.
Protests and roadblocks have also resumed in Bolivia, where in La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and other places, demonstrations against the management of the pandemic by Jeanine Añez’s government and against the delay in the general elections (which were supposed to take place on May 3) are becoming increasingly frequent.
In the tug-of-war between the Congress, dominated by the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), which set the final deadline for the elections as Aug. 2, and the coup-installed government, interested in postponing the electoral process as much as possible, the vice-president of MAS, Gerardo García, put out a clear ultimatum: if the electoral body does not set the date for the vote by May 31 at the latest, “we will no longer be able to contain the base.”