In the last place

Publish date 20-06-2020

by Lucia Capuzzi

In Latin America, the pandemic mainly affects the poor and slums.


Latin America is the new epicenter of the pandemic. Word of the World Health Organization, concerned about the accelerating rate of transmission and mortality on the Continent. In recent weeks, this has doubled the increase in contagion in Europe and the United States. The virus, therefore, after scourging Asia, the Old world and the New locomotive, attacks "the other West", as historians like to define the region south of the Rio Bravo. Brazil remains at the top of the ranking, where about half of the infected and deaths are concentrated.


The Giant of the South has now displaced Russia from the second position in the world ranking and has been awarded the dramatic record of worst hit after the USA, as well as the sixth with the most victims. And, according to a study by the University of Washington, the deaths could quintuple by the beginning of August, exceeding 125 thousand. Peru's situation is also critical, according to contagions in Latin America. And in Chile, where intensive care is now 86 percent full, while in the capital they are already at 95 percent. Within each country, the infection is not distributed evenly. The heart - as we have seen in China, Europe and the USA - are urban spaces, places of economic and social exchanges. In Latin America, however, don is the entire surface of cities to become the target of the virus. Transmission and mortality are concentrated in the endless slums of the Continent.


A recent study conducted on Buenos Aires confirmed this. In the capital and adjoining dormitory municipalities - where there are 80 percent of national cases - 40 percent of the sick are concentrated in villas, as Argentines call informal settlements, where they live between 8 and 9 percent of the population. In the last week of May, Villa Azul, in the urban belt of the capital, went from 0 to 196 cases, so much so that the authorities were forced to impose a sanitary cordon around the settlement. An extreme measure, due to the fear of the spread of the infection in the nearby Villa Itaití, which has greatly affected public opinion. Forcing her to take note of the drama, too often invisible, of the slums. The pandemic only emphasizes their structural weakness due to governmental disinterest. In these areas, where the water hiccups, the exhortation to wash your hands often becomes a cruel mockery. The water shortages are compounded by overcrowding, the impossibility of staying at home given the narrow spaces and the unavoidable need to work.


Most of the slum dwellers survive from the informal economy. They are shoe shine, street vendors, housekeepers and bricklayers in black, paid daily. Moreover, to move around they are forced to use public transport, which is constantly overcrowded. An explosive mix in Covid's time. Which explains why coronavirus is a "disease of the poor" in Latin America. While in Europe it has mainly affected the elderly, in the most unequal continent on the planet, social discrimination is crucial. Arrived with upper middle class travelers, three months after the discovery of the first case, Covid has moved, in terms of contagion and mortality, to popular urban sectors and, in particular, to those who live in informal settlements, i.e. a fifth of Latin Americans, 117 million humans. Therefore, Latin America is not the epicenter of the pandemic, but its slums.


45 percent of Bogota's eight thousand positives reside in the agglomerations of Kennedy, Susa and Bosa, the poorest, who are also the majority of the dead. It is not surprising. The inequality also affects access to care. Colombian public health systems - as in the rest of the continent - are extremely deficient. And it is always the popular neighborhoods that are paying the highest price. In almost all the huts of the precarious settlements of Bogota, a red cloth stands out. A way, born from popular imagination, in which people ask for food help.


The language of colors is widespread in all Latin slums. In Salvador and Guatemala, for example, the red flag means lack of medicines while the white one means food. And just waving a white cloth, the residents break the quarantine to rummage in the waste to hunt for something to eat. They have no other choice and, waving the candid flag, ask the authorities for clemency.


In the Cangallo district of Lima, Peru 475 people out of 656 were positive: all are Shipibo indigenous expelled from their lands and refugees in the capital in search of survival.


See the focus Reflections in Time of Covid 19

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