Not even political leaders can escape COVID-19 in Latin America. After Bolsonaro, the number two of Venezuela’s regime, Diosdado Cabello, and the de facto president of Bolivia, Jeanine Áñez, have tested positive, both in self-isolation and both in good condition.
The same thing happened to the Bolivian Health Minister, Eidy Roca, temporarily replaced by Defense Minister Luis Fernando Lopez. In his first speech as interim minister, the latter appealed to the population to maintain order and scrupulous compliance with the safety regulations: “100% discipline,” he demanded. “We won’t take a single step back in the effort to save lives, but that won’t be enough if everyone doesn’t do their part.”
It’s a pity that the coup-installed government he is a member of has not been doing its part. Their incompetence in the fight against the pandemic has already provoked countless protests and complaints. The Áñez administration has been discredited on this count, partly due to the scandal of the purchase of 17 Spanish-made respirators at almost four times the normal cost, for which former Health Minister Marcelo Navajas ended up under arrest.
One of the country’s most prominent and esteemed social leaders, the leader of the water wars, Óscar Olivera, who also tested positive for COVID, has denounced the seriousness of the situation. As reported by the Uruguayan sociologist, writer and activist Raul Zibechi in an article that gained wide circulation online, Olivera could not find a bed at any hospital and had to isolate himself at home with his family on the outskirts of Cochabamba.
In a telephone conversation with his Uruguayan friend, Olivera gave a moving description of the state of his city: “There are sick people who go to four or five hospitals without finding a bed and who then die in front of the entrance. And there are the dead who cannot be buried because the cemetery services have collapsed. Nobody knows what they died of, there is no investigation. And people are dying in the streets.” As Zibechi stresses, powerlessness, anger and loneliness are dominant among the 600,000 inhabitants of the city. “The only thing we have left is the solidarity of the comrades,” Olivera said.
The Bolivian social leader has nothing but harsh words about the government, and doesn’t spare the opposition of the MaS—the Movimiento al Socialismo of Evo Morales—either, from which he has been distancing himself over the years: los de arriba (“those at the top”) “are incompetent and engaged in looting and blackmail. Both the government and the opposition aim only to exploit the tragedy for their own electoral purposes, abandoning the population to its fate.”
Those who have to take action are “those at the bottom,” los de abajo, who are taking charge of the situation as best they can, through the community canteens, the so-called ollas comunes, natural medicines and the improvised spaces organized by solidarity.
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