by David Marina
“Time was not passing…it was turning in a circle.” These are the words spoken by the famous Colombian Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, words which still resonate strongly when looking at the current situation in Latin America. Although progress has been made regarding vaccine distribution, as many states within the region have crossed the 50% threshold regarding their vaccinated population, the world must continue emphasizing and encouraging healthy democratic growth and economic recovery.
Latin America and the Caribbean have arrived at a crossroads regarding their socioeconomic and political destiny. The historiography of Latin America is dominated by themes of underdevelopment, political instability, and inequality. These themes have presented themselves in various ways, as the region is expected to suffer an 8% GDP decline due to the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with an increase in poverty as the number is expected to climb to above 200 million, a figure not reached since the early 1980s. These figures do not also account for the democratic decline that has been openly taking place in former democratic strongholds, such as in Brazil and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, through various methods such as political repression, intimidation, and targeted violence.
Despite these concerning trends, Latin America and the Caribbean have emerged in the 21st century as regions of deepening democratization, as evidenced by the rapid expansion/inclusion of historically marginalized political groups (including women and those of African descent). However, despite this advancement, Covid-19 continues to remain a threat by potentially expanding inequality, specifically amongst indigenous groups, following an all too familiar pattern within the region.
Health outcomes amongst indigenous groups have recently come under public scrutiny due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With nearly 60 million people belonging to one of over 800 indigenous tribes within this traditionally rigid region, these inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic, as indigenous groups have been indirectly affected by a series of exclusionary actions that include economic, geographical, and social exclusion. All these factors have contributed to producing alarming results for indigenous groups, as some figures have demonstrated indigenous mortality rates being nearly 30% higher in some countries and the threat of cultural and tribal extinction, as famously demonstrated with the rapid decline and extinction of the Juma tribe in Brazil.
Even before this recent global health crisis, indigenous populations within the region consistently scored lower in literacy, access to technology, access to clean water, and formal economic participation, despite some countries having significant indigenous populations, such as Guatemala and Bolivia. (Both have an indigenous population of over 35% of the total.)
Latin America and indigenous communities continue to face an uphill battle when attempting to meet the needs of their constituents due primarily to infrastructural and social barriers. Although numerous health campaigns within the region tackle systemic issues such as obesity, diabetes, anemia, cancer, and HIV/AIDS, indigenous groups remain overrepresented in these statistical groups. This lack of consistent delivery of both knowledge and medical treatment is deeply rooted in a hesitancy of Latin American republics to consolidate and accommodate the needs and account for their indigenous citizenry, as proven by a widening demographic gap between those who live in urban centers and those who live in the rural and less developed countryside.
Although progress has been made regarding vaccine distribution, as many states within the region have crossed the 50% threshold regarding their vaccinated population, the world must continue emphasizing and encouraging healthy democratic growth and economic recovery. The Biden administration has begun to do so by returning to the liberal world order as demonstrated by the U.S. return to the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization; the United States is also emerging as one of the leaders in Covid-19 vaccine distribution. Under the Biden administration, the United States has pledged to donate 1.1 billion vaccines by 2022, with most vaccines allocated to lower-middle and low-income populations globally.
While this first step is positive, it remains but a first step. The United States and other international organizations should adopt a broad financial commitment centered around Covid-19 recovery and strengthening democratic institutions. These commitments can include expansive monitoring mechanisms to identify government corruption, social inequalities, and infrastructural weaknesses, establishing an environment for inclusive and stable economic growth and democratic participation. The U.S. and international order already have established diplomatic tools to assist with this recommendation. Still, they must use the Inter-American Developmental Bank, Organization of American States, and International monetary fund efficiently and effectively to support Latin America in this dire time.