By Marc Vandepitte
June 8, 2021
A remarkable finding that of all countries of the Americas the ones that are hit by heavy economic sanctions imposed by the US are doing much better in the fight against COVID-19. One thing for sure is that the pandemic has exposed the crisis of the neoliberal and capitalist model.
The real number of covid deaths
Like Europe, the American continent has been hit very hard by the corona crisis. The number of covid deaths per inhabitant is 6 times higher than in the rest of the world. However, three countries have done very well: Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. They stand head and shoulders above the rest of the continent.
For the figures on the number of covid deaths, we do not base ourselves on the numbers reported by the national authorities, because these often underestimate the real number. Instead, we use a large-scale study by the Institute for Health Statistics and Evaluation(IMHE) at the University of Washington.
They calculate the total number of covid deaths by comparing the expected number of all-cause deaths based on pre-pandemic trends with the actual number of all-cause deaths during the pandemic. This excess mortality is corrected by eliminating deaths that can be indirectly attributed to the pandemic (postponement of urgent interventions due to lack of ICU beds) or deaths that are avoided by the pandemic (e.g., fewer traffic deaths due to reduced mobility).
This results in the number of deaths directly caused by COVID-19, covid deaths in other words. For the Americas, the differences between countries are considerable. The graph above leaves little to the imagination.
There are at least three reasons for the remarkably good score of Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela: swift and decisive action, well-organized health care and mobilization of the population.
Swift and decisive action
Many countries have acted very lax or late. Both Trump and Bolsonaro dismissed COVID-19 as a harmless flu or even a hoax. Both presidents even opposed safety measures such as wearing mouth masks. In recent months Chile has been easing far too quickly so that the country is now being hit by a fourth wave.
‘The motive for this lax action is: guaranteeing the privileges of the economic elite. To secure the profits, security measures such as lockdowns, social distancing and the mandatory wearing of mouth masks are implemented as minimally as possible. This is the case, for example, in Guatemala, but also in Brazil and the US.
A quite different situation in Nicaragua. There, the focus is on caring for the population, not on the pursuit of profit by the economic elite. Already in late January, when most Western countries were still dismissing the likelihood of a pandemic, Nicaragua prepared wards in almost 20 hospitals to receive COVID; it put health checks in place at points of entry to the country with mandatory quarantines, and it began a program to combat disinformation being purveyed via social media. Nine days after the first three cases were identified in Cuba, the country went into lockdown. The same happened in Venezuela.
Well organized healthcare
Forty years of neoliberal rule have proved disastrous to healthcare in most countries of the Americas, including the US. For a large part of the population, medical care is not affordable. In addition, the quality of medical care has also deteriorated sharply. This inadequate and inaccessible health care largely explains the high number of covid deaths in the continent.
This is in sharp contrast to the situation in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. In those countries a lot is invested in health care and medical care is free or very cheap. In the three countries, prevention is an essential part of health care and in times of pandemic, this is crucial.
Mobilization of the Population
A pandemic is a many-headed monster and to defeat it you need the support of the people. Quarantine and other security measures will only work if the population is prepared to respect them.
Cuba has a solid social network that is well-oiled by hurricane disaster plans and that combines all the forces of the community: family doctor-and-nurse teams, schools, workplaces, neighborhood committees and mass organizations. This network was mobilized during the corona crisis.
Thousands of brigades have been deployed in both Venezuela and Nicaragua to fight the pandemic locally and in a decentralized way. This approach made it possible to reach the entire population.
From the start of the corona crisis, awareness campaigns were launched in the three countries through social and traditional media to properly inform the population and warn them against COVID-19-related fake news.
Bankruptcy of the neoliberal and capitalist model
Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua opt for a socialist model and therefore face heavy economic sanctions from the US. Despite those sanctions While they score head and shoulders better than the rest of the continent.
The pandemic has exposed the crisis of the neoliberal and capitalist model. That model prioritizes profit and not people. Forty years of austerity policies have eroded health care and the model is also unable to mobilize the population when needed.
It is high time we put this model behind us. Socialismo o muerte. ¡Venceremos!