In another provocative and essential text, the Bolivian activist María Galindo proposes to think through and act on 5 emergencies that, she says, cannot be justified by the advance of the coronavirus: fascism, colonisation, corruption and state indifference, male violence and hunger; how each of these other “pandemics” plague the Latin American countries that she baptizes Culo del Mundo/Ass of the World, “in the ambiguous sense of a place of pleasure and contempt at the same time.” Fear and hunger as means of control; financial loans as a method of colonisation; the ancestral views of health, closer to people than formal health care; the role of non-institutional, popular kitchens, managed by women; the question of whether the ways out are going to come from broken and corrupt states; sexist violence, the crisis of care and George Floyd’s phrase translated by Galindo: “In the center of the pandemic the movement I CANNOT BREATHE is born, which in Andean code means I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY MORE.”
In the part of the world from where I write, it is urgent to say that we are not facing a pandemic but five, and at the same time. Or, if you prefer, to a pandemic with multiple layers, attached to each other, where the visible and external layer is that of the coronavirus. That layer functions as the obvious surface behind which the five pandemics hide and legitimise themselves, namely:
1) The fascist pandemic that affects democratic structures and freedoms and that mobilises all the prejudices around the disease, contagion and the “protection” of the population.
2) The colonial pandemic that affects North/South relations, and relations with the “souths” of the world present in all societies, the relationship with the knowledge and management of the disease and the over-indebtedness of the entire region for the resurgence of a more severe global colonial contract.
3) The pandemic of corruption and state indifference.
4) The pandemic of male sexist violence that directly affects the place of women and the care crisis.
5) The pandemic of pandemics, which is that of hunger.
There is a game of mirrors between one pandemic and another, a game which confuses and paralyses protest: when you are challenging one pandemic, another one overlaps to deactivate or relativise all arguments of resistance.
Simply put, the coronavirus justifies everything.
As I write this text, a woman has died in her son’s arms. She died of tuberculosis at the door of a hospital where, because of panic, she was not allowed to enter. The mother is so small that she looks like a child snuggled in the arms of an adult, because in addition to tuberculosis, hunger had annihilated her. Was it hunger first and then tuberculosis? Did it also have to do with the coronavirus, such that they could not pass through the door of a hospital or did they use that as a pretext to not receive anyone, because there never was nor is there ever a place for anyone more? Because they want to put order into the causes of death, her televised and transmitted death becomes routine.
What is happening in this south baptised as Latin America but that I have preferred to name as Ass of the World, ass in the ambiguous sense of place of pleasure and contempt at the same time?
Is there any continuity between what is happening today in Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina or Bolivia?
If it is a question of common denominators that cross the entire continent, I dare say that male violence, government corruption and the hand-washing by local oligarchies – who have assumed no responsibility in any country – are the infallible factors, regardless of whether the fascist right or progressive left governs; whether a rigid or a flexible quarantine, or denial, has been chosen.
So I ask your permission to speak in general terms, knowing that depending on which country by chance you are in, that these elements work differently.
Colonialvirus: the colonial density of the pandemic
With permission, I take the title “Colonialvirus” from the Ecuadorian resident in Barcelona, Mafe Moscoso Rosero. This is how she names the pandemic to denounce what is happening in Guayaquil and describe the role of the “exiles of neoliberalism”, exposed as bodies that carry the virus, and the role of the oligarchies.
The colonial layer of the pandemic is neither tangential, nor is it a mere detail; it completely envelops the latter.
Colonial density means that southern countries buy everything from medical supplies, tests, reagents and respirators to medicines in a neoliberal-colonial market and at speculative prices, inaccessible for our economies.
Colonial density involves the preparation by the International Monetary Fund of an accelerated indebtedness process, which takes advantage of the situation of panic for governments to turn their backs on societies, while contracting more debts that pawn the future, the forests, the jungle, the territory, strategic raw materials, such as lithium or even the oxygen from the Amazon. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are willing to make loans to all kinds of governments in times of the pandemic that favor the destruction of the economy because in this context, debt is easily presented as a rescue, when in reality it represents the signing of contracts of colonial dependency, into the future.
A proposal that I raised in an article, published at the beginning of the colonialvirus scourge, on home and ancestral medicine as a response, was scorned. It seems that one must dogmatically believe that this is a problem that will only be solved by corporate research in artificial intelligence laboratories.
The problem is not one of opposing one medicine to another, even less in putting them on a colonial scale of “primitive” versus “developed”. The most important thing is to integrate one with the other and to understand the psychosomatic principles of ancient medicines and their holistic understanding of the functioning of the body. They are concepts that must be urgently integrated into all medicine.
On the other hand, medicine in most of our countries is a recipe book copied without thought or investigation, so that we learn from the BBC and from Canada that the llamas that coexist with us in the Andes may be carriers of an effective antibody, or we learn that in high-altitude cities, such as Quito or La Paz, the incidence of contagion is lower because even the colonialvirus suffers from high altitudes. It is not our medical universities or our laboratories that pursue research because in most of our region there is no research and, when there is, it is under conditions of information extractivism.
Microbiology and artificial intelligence can provide a specific and temporary response to this virus, but let me now laugh a little at those who are looking forward to that response with faith. Where is the independent laboratory not linked to the powers of transnational pharmaceutical companies? What do we really know about the virus from these information centers and what is hidden from us from these same information centers?
For this pharmaceutical power, as inhabitants of the Ass of the World, we have served as bodies for experimentation, as disposable populations, as those who do not matter, and also as a territory for the extraction of knowledge. How long will it take for a vaccine to reach the Argentine Chaco region, the Peruvian or Bolivian Amazon, where today thousands and thousands suffer from dengue? We will literally be the last to receive it. What will be its actual cost? We will not be able to pay its price with money, which is paper, but rather and without a doubt, we will pay the entire bill by pawning our land.
The colonial density is heartrending when we speak of the countless displaced temporary workers who have been left without access to any health services, before whom borders have been closed and declared as outcasts, and with no society recognising them as their own; neither their home societies, where their monthly remittances have guaranteed essential economic income, nor the societies where they have guaranteed essential care services with work that is precarious and without rights.
Europe has gone from closing its national borders to closing its continental borders and finally living out its fascist dream that danger lies with the other. That same day, the voices of hundreds and thousands emerged demanding the immediate regularisation of all those classified as illegal, and until now, only Italy has done so.
Which health system is responsible for curing the infected who arrived in Spain from Guayaquil or Beni in Bolivia, regions where contagion looks very much like genocide?
The virus in its colonial density is a border that divides bodies and populations between those deserving to live and those undeserving to live, between the regions where protocols are elaborated and discussed, and the regions where those protocols are not thought, rather where they are copied.
We go on infecting
Fear and hunger play a deadly game on our streets and in our economies.
Going out to buy food is preparing to visit the hunger room; people go out to beg creatively, with dignity and with originality, they hold your look, they gently cut across your path, they extend their hand or offer you sweets and all kinds of practical inventions to confront life. Yesterday, I bought a needle threader although there are no needles or threads in my house. The vendor’s eyes, his demonstrations, his dignity, his clothing, his breath, his homemade muzzle – all of him was a magnetising cry of dignity.
The varieties of masks, that I prefer to call “muzzles for humans“, abound, for all tastes and budgets, because some also have to survive on that. The universal mask though seems to be of clementine skin. Citrus fruits have invaded the streets and it is with citrus fruits that we will naively defend ourselves here against the pandemic, while we go on spreading the colonialvirus and the desire to live at the same time.
Walking in the popular neighborhoods from time to time, the smell of herbs comes to me, herbs that must have been boiling in worn-out pots that lost their lids decades ago. People have taken refuge in home medicine and the knowledge of their grandmother. Odours come from afar because Amazonian peoples have decided to scare off the pandemic with long rituals.
- They are organised and managed by women, not out of servitude, but because of their know-how.
- They are not organised by the state or any institution, but they are super effective as a social measure against hunger. No one dares to intervene, disqualify, or disable any common kitchen.
Especially disobedient old men and old women banned from going out are on the streets. Not even the police dare to question them. They are there in their 70s, 80s, in search of subsistence. A thousand ways in which the elders of our societies are challenging death itself. They share what they can get with their loved ones and the next day you see them again on the streets, marking the rhythm of a quarantine that is neither the worst nor the hardest thing that they have ever been through.
Perhaps the greatest power of the people of this region lies precisely here. It is not that a crisis has come to us, but that we live in crisis; it is not that we wait for answers but that we continually invent them in an artisanal and intuitive way, using the tools offered by the context itself, and that is what is seen in the region, in every corner. Home remedies, inventions of new ways of earning a living and of throwing oneself to death at the same time. The days have turned into colorful festivals of the end of the world.
The State and the corruption pandemic
Surely when it comes to corruption, the Bolivian government must be one of the most outstanding in the region today. The scandal of buying 500 respirators at 300 percent more than their price is just the tip of the iceberg.
We buy the most expensive tests in the region through intermediaries, but we do the fewest tests in the region. Several capitals of the country do not have a test processing laboratory and the few laboratories that exist have collapsed and are delivering the results late. But in addition, the tests already arrive late at the laboratories as they are transported overland.
Contagion figures are low because there is an enormous under-reporting due to State negligence that functions as a collective lie. The most important function of the State, such as public education, has been suspended and plans to make it virtual are no more than a collective lie.
Military spending has tripled because troop mobilisation is ongoing and the pandemic has been used to legitimise the military presence in cities.
None of the oligarchic sectors linked to transnational corporations or representing the large concentrations of capital in the region have been called to assume even a part of the costs of the pandemic. What’s more, in many cases, they have been the first to pass on their losses and their lists of demands to governments. While the population is losing work, livelihood, education and even life, the oligarchies are washing their hands and giving themselves over to the luxury of doing charity. The recurring image of charitable donations for front pages is grotesque.
Can we then allow ourselves to think that the solutions are going to come from the State? Can we be content with drawing up a list of post-colonialvirus demands, to pass onto governments? Is it just a matter of changing one government for another?
Is it really a solution to give to the State the administration of a universal basic income, which is what the ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America) and the so-called progressive left proposes? How much will each Bolivian peso, each Peruvian sol, each Chilean or Argentine peso cost us to withdraw from a State counter or window?
The ECLAC’s proposal has a great deal to do with a re-indebtedness of our societies and with the containment of the revolt that is cooking in the other common kitchens and pots, pots stewing ideas, anger, pain and frustrations. For a year of basic income, they will sign, in our name, the passive reincorporation of patriarchal/colonial extractive capitalism without objection or debate.
Macho violence and care crisis
The worst that States have done is in addressing the question of children turned into caged birds, with the responsibility for containment having been overwhelmingly unloaded on to the backs of mothers. This is aggravated by the fact that as the wave of quarantine begins to ease, schools are not opened and there are no solutions for children, demonstrating that everything can be foisted on the backs of women, without any limit and even without any logic.
The colonialvirus is a crisis of care as measured by a double yardstick: care is carried out overwhelmingly by overworked and underpaid women, while at the same time, women are the only ones that are really useful in saving lives, containing emotions and building collective meanings.
To close the street to women has been to suppress the historical emancipatory space. It has meant suppressing the other ephemeral city that we inhabit and create every day. It has been a true incarceration in the patriarchal nuclear family that we have been dissolving and in the space where our energies are captured. It has been placing ourselves at the mercy of the frustrations of a male who is in decline and who does not find his own place in the world. Quarantined femicide rates are the proof of what I am saying. The rates of machista violence and sexual violence that break with any romanticised sense of the home are proof of what I am saying. The street is our home and the space outside is the space in which we are building freedom.
This places the family and the State in the same line of outdated institutions, of archaic monsters, that in this crisis have demonstrated their lack of answers, their weight as myth and the impossibility of masking their decadence.
The State is not the entity to be called upon to address what the post-pandemic brings, but instead, organised society, critical voices and those who are increasingly hungry are the ones who will need to elaborate not a list of demands for any government but a framework for the political redefinition of democracy as a radical space for participation and not for electoral marketing, of the economy as a space for the construction of well-being and of the community as the place of affective disorder.
Beneath the hunger, ideas are growing.
Beneath the hunger, dreams continue to flourish.
And while we bury the dead, still warm, they conspire with us to tell us that they did not die of the coronavirus but of capitalism.
In the heart of the pandemic, the movement is born I CAN’T BREATHE which in Andean code means I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE.
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