A woman holds the Venezuelan flag at a protest over the death in a shipwreck of Venezuelan migrants, on December 17.YURI CORTEZ / AFP
A report by International IDEA, an intergovernmental organization that supports sustainable democracy around the world, has warned that inequality, poverty, political polarization, corruption, high levels of crime and state weakness have deepened in Latin America during the pandemic, although resilience is maintained.
According to the
, released in recent hours, the health crisis "has severely hit" a region "besieged by unresolved structural problems", where some countries suffered from "processes of erosion and democratic backsliding" or from “Democratic fragility and weakness” even before the pandemic broke out in this area of the planet in March.
"Covid-19 has not only killed hundreds of thousands of people, but has further aggravated structural problems such as inequality, poverty, political polarization, corruption, high levels of crime and state weakness", analyzes Daniel Zovatto, regional director International IDEA.
The report highlights that long-delayed political and socioeconomic reforms in Latin America have exacerbated the economic and public health crises caused by the pandemic.
A new factor is added: the restrictive measures to fundamental rights to contain the spread of the coronavirus have increased the risk of consolidating or further exacerbating the worrying trends that democracy presented in the region before the health crisis.
The magnitude of the emergency led to the use of the Armed Forces to reinforce quarantines, transport patients and distribute medical supplies, which came to complement the action of the police.
"But not even that stopped the advances of crime and persistent violence," adds Zovatto.
“In some cases, the same state response contemplated abuses by law enforcement officers, violation of data privacy to track infections (Ecuador) and restrictions on freedom of expression to avoid public alarm (in Mexico, the head of state verbally attacked journalists and media for their coverage), ”adds the regional director of International IDEA.
In at least eight countries in the region, the Armed Forces have been instructed to intervene to manage the pandemic, especially in areas such as logistics, transportation, health services and contact tracing.
But in some countries they have also been granted more controversial powers, such as the maintenance of public order and the implementation of restrictive measures to freedom of movement and assembly, during curfews and states of siege and emergency.
They exemplify with Chile, where curfews and the deployment of the Armed Forces have become common since the riots that began in October 2019. Due to the pandemic, the country has decreed a state of constitutional exception since the end of March, with ban to circulate between midnight and five in the morning, currently.
Not all sectors were equally affected by the pandemic: women, the LGTBI community and indigenous peoples have more than suffered from lack of protection and unequal access to justice, explains Zovatto.
The report indicates that in these months domestic violence and the gaps between men and women have increased: “Gender inequalities have widened during the pandemic, with the closure of schools and confinement measures, which has increased the burden of domestic work by women, to which is added an already unbalanced participation in domestic tasks between men and women in the region ”, points out
According to the study, this is likely to affect women's ability to remain in the labor market, run for public office, and participate on equal terms in the economic and political spheres.
Challenges to democracy in the region during the pandemic include the postponement of electoral processes.
"There was a general postponement of elections of all kinds, for understandable health reasons, but most of them could be held," adds Zovatto.
But despite the negative impacts of the pandemic on democracies, fortunately they continue to be the majority in the region, adds the director of International IDEA, "with the exceptions of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, where the regimes have further deepened their authoritarian nature" .
It is a picture where it is not surprising that the social protests of 2019 are suffering a resurgence that challenges even the sanitary restrictions imposed by the pandemic, as has been seen in Colombia, recently in Argentina and Guatemala. "The frustration in certain sectors, rather than being suspended, seems to have been feeding on new reasons for discontent," says Zovatto, who nevertheless sees possibilities in this crisis. "There is a sense of urgency that can be used positively to carry out long-postponed reforms to optimize democratic governance and defuse the prevailing climate of frustration, the one that was expressed in the 2019 protests and that opens the door to populisms of different kinds" , analyzes the Argentine political scientist.