In the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the contradictions of capitalism within healthcare are on full display. Scarcity is becoming a clear reality for many working class and oppressed people. The stock market has seen record plummets. In addition, there are massive shortages of medical supplies (such as test kits and ventilators), sick people are being turned away from hospitals, and employers continue to withhold sick leave and fail to provide proper safety equipment for workers in dangerous positions. If bold action isn’t taken by the working class, the results can soon become catastrophic.
The conditions look even more dire for imperialized nations. For example, in Ghana imperialist tools like the IMF have had damaging effects. As one Ghanian resident says, “We won’t go to the IMF again; Ghana will no longer be troubled by the conditionalities of the IMF.” High interest rates on national debt have kept Ghana’s economy strictly under the IMF’s thumb.
Similarly to other countries burdened with IMF loans, Ghana implemented large-scale austerity measures and redirected national funds to pay off the debt, leading to the privatization of social services. This economic burden has played a major role in Ghana’s economic depreciation. Ghana experienced little relief when payments were renegotiated. As a result, the country isn’t nearly equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, especially while imperialist presence is still very much extant.
The coronavirus is rapidly spreading across Latin America and extreme measures are already being taken. With 301 cases in Argentina as I write this, the country has completely closed its borders as of March 15th and imposed a nationwide lockdown enforced by the police as of March 20th. But measures like these won’t stop the spread of the virus alone. Even now, during the state-imposed quarantine, many sectors of the working class (such as call center workers) are forced to continue working. In order to effectively contain the pandemic, the government must expand medical infrastructure, give workers paid time off so as to limit social interactions, and place a moratorium on rents, mortgages, credit card payments, and other expenses.
However, decades of neoliberal austerity measures have torn apart the economies of Latin America and inhibit these countries from responding effectively. Countries like Argentina are crippled by the debt to the IMF and private contractors. Austerity measures that target the working working class are put in place to pay off the debt. For example, there was an increase on the retirement age for public sector workers and a tripling in the cost of bus fares. These austerity measures are being implemented in order to redirect funds to imperialist centers like the U.S. making it impossible to coordinate a response to fight the outbreak.
Scarcity of medical supplies and infrastructure in Latin American countries will only become more evident as the virus spreads in the region. Although Argentina has a public healthcare system, the hospitals are already strained. Stairs are filled with bags of biohazardous waste and sections of hospitals are already at capacity.
Furthermore, U.S. sanctions are severely hurting countries such as Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba. These sanctions implement blockades that bar vital medical supplies and food from entering these countries. Scarcity of food and medical supplies as a result of sanctions and imperialist austerity measures are only making this daunting health crisis even more deadly.
In a most recent case, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro requested an IMF loan of $5 billion to fight the coronavirus. Long-standing sanctions imposed by the U.S. have decimated Venezuela’s health sector over the past five years, most notably leading to inadequate infrastructure and medical supply shortages. Unsurprisingly, the U.S.-dominated IMF rejected the request as a political maneuver – the U.S. and its allies recognize Juan Guaido as interim president of Venezuela and want to install him as its leader.
Moreover, the U.S. even continues to bomb Iraq during this time! At a time where a coordinated international response is necessary, the U.S., the center of capital, still prioritizes imperialist plunder.
Neoliberal imperialism has severely under-equipped the international working class to face the health crisis. As the pandemic worsens for the precarious U.S. working class due to capitalist exploitation, the situation will become even worse in countries facing imperialist austerity. In these unprecedented times, international solidarity of the working class is of utmost importance. All movements against the state to face the crisis from here on out must have an internationalist perspective.
We must demand that the IMF immediately cancel all debt repayments, for the U.S. to end all military occupations, and for all sanctions to be lifted in order for these countries to redirect all national funds towards facing the healthcare crisis and obtain the medical supplies needed to effectively combat the pandemic.