The protests will go on “every day, until they give up.” Under this slogan, the Paraguayan people have been mobilizing for a week against the incompetent management of the COVID emergency by the government of Mario Abdo Benítez. And the ministerial changes made by the president—son of the right-hand man of dictator Alfredo Stroessner—in the hope of appeasing the anger of the population, as well as the resignation of Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni, under attack by the Parliament and the health workers’ unions, have been of no use.
Concerned about the increase in contagions, the absence of vaccines and the collapse of an almost non-existent public health system, but also exasperated by the prevailing corruption, impunity and economic crisis, the population is demanding the resignation of the weak and inadequate “Husband,” as the president is nicknamed, and the entire governmental team.
“The president is governing as if there were no pandemic,” said former president Fernando Lugo, overthrown by a parliamentary coup in 2012. “The priority today is the lives of the people, and Abdo continues to inaugurate roads and bridges. The patience of the people is over.” Thus, the fate of the president seems to be hanging by a thread, in the face of the threat of an impeachment process supported not only by the opposition but also by members of his own Partido Colorado.
But while the health crisis in the country—which as of Thursday had more than 174,000 infections and 3,387 deaths for a population of about 7 million inhabitants—has already caused the resignation of the Health Minister, the Paraguayan case is not isolated in Latin America, where, in the face of the 700,000 deaths and almost 22.5 million cases, there is no shortage of scandals and protests.
In just one month, three other Ministers of Health have had to resign from office, all three for irregularities that occurred in the vaccination campaign. The first to resign, on February 12, was the Peruvian minister Pilar Mazzetti, felled by “vacunagate,” the scandal involving nearly 500 senior officials, including former president Martín Vizcarra, who were vaccinated against COVID in secret weeks before health personnel and the most at-risk segments of the population.
A week later, the same fate befell the Argentinean minister Ginés González García, guilty of having reserved thousands of doses of Sputnik in order to preferentially guarantee the vaccination of his political allies. It was a case that also indelibly tarnished the image of journalist Horacio Verbitsky (famous for his implacable opposition to the military dictatorship and for his criticism of the conduct of Bergoglio at the time): ironically, he himself caused the scandal to blow up, revealing, in a radio broadcast, that he’d had access to the vaccine thanks to a favor from his “old friend” García.
Finally, on February 26, it was the turn of the Ecuadorian Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos, forced to resign after the publication of the news that he and his family had already been vaccinated at the end of January, even before medical personnel.
On the other hand, the Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello is still in office, and seems shockingly impervious to everything: both the fiery criticism against the incompetence he has shown since his inauguration—with famous lines such as when he said the Ministry of Health was not “a machine to manufacture solutions”—the investigation into the omissions related to the collapse of the health system in Manaus, and even his inaction in the face of the new heavy wave that has hit the country, bringing the number of deaths to more than 270,000, with a record 2,286 deaths recorded on Wednesday.