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Editorial: Brazil’s Covid crisis is the front line between neoliberalism and progress

BRAZIL’S coronavirus death toll has hit a record high, with 4,000 deaths each day.

This is a desperate crisis for Brazil but it has implications for the rest of the Americas — and for the world.

Covid-19 infections have taken off over recent weeks with the prevalence of the P1 variant which is reported to be more than twice as transmissible as the pre-existing strains.

This variant affects young people more immediately than others and this in a country with a burgeoning young population.

One study in the Amazonas region, where the new variant first emerged, shows that deaths among 20 to 39-year-olds is more than two times higher in the current wave than in the first.

What is special about Brazil is not just the size of the country with a population of over 210 million people but that there are huge concentrations of people in mega cities and a population deeply divided on racial and class lines.

Millions live in precarious poverty and overcrowded dwellings, forced to work in the marginal economy and with limited access to high-quality healthcare.

This is an optimum setting for the virus to spread but the extra dimension to the Brazilian crisis lies in the personality and erratic performance of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Perhaps the clue to his appalling subversion of all reasonable measures to contain the virus lies in the ancient military report which led to his dismissal from the army.

This said that he exhibited “serious personality deviation and a professional deformation.” And in a trial over his alleged role in a bomb plot he had “lied throughout the process.”

But the case against Bolsonaro — who has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic, flaunted social distancing guidelines, disparaged mask-wearing and blocked key measures to contain the virus — is far wider.

Latin America is the present-day centre of struggle between the global neoliberal order with the US at its epicentre and a popular movement of the peoples. Brazil is the biggest state where power is most closely contested.

Across the continent popular uprisings have replaced military dictatorships, elections have returned radical and reforming governments while internal reaction — rooted in vast stolen landholdings and ruinous extractive industries — has been allied with foreign capital to subvert democratic decisions and strip out popular sovereignty in a seemingly unending series of coups

Britain, of course, has long been complicit in this story of foreign domination. British investors — our ruling class — supplied more long-term capital in this region than any other group until the first world war saw the new supremacy of the US.

And it is the new assertiveness of British capital that fuelled Boris Johnson’s 2018 trip to Latin America when, on his return, he spoke of “strengthening the UK’s relationship with countries in the region.”

This — he said with exquisitely bad taste given the Conquistador-borne diseases which decimated the region’s indigenes — held out the prospect of “realms of gold.”

The 2008 capitalist crisis gave way to a new aggressiveness by capital which the people of Latin America are struggling to resist. Brazil’s health crisis is but one consequence of this pressure.

The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the urgent need for international relations to be conducted on a new terrain of international co-operation and mutual respect.

Equally urgent is the need for internationally agreed standards of public health, best common practice in combatting the enhanced danger of virus outbreaks and a renewed mandate for the World Health Organisation.

Humanity knows that a new world order is needed. The problem is whether, even on the limited but vital terrain of public health, this is achievable within the capitalist order.

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