Maribel Hastings and David Torres
Disasters have the bad habit of exposing, to all, the multiple problems that many of us already knew existed, but others, out of economic and political convenience, prefer to keep sweeping under the rug. This is typical not only in societies that have everything, but also in those who prefer to perpetuate their shortcomings, in order to continue having something to talk about in official discourse (about supposedly “erradicting” said anomalies), rather than actually achieving solutions.
In Puerto Rico, for example, Hurricane María laid bare the reality that exists among many Puerto Ricans, particularly the dichotomy between the privileged ones, who are bothered by nothing, and the poverty that cloaks a large part of the population, especially in the interior of the Island. The hurricane razed and denuded these social and economic inequalities that, even today, continue affecting the population.
No less evident are the examples of different Latin American countries where the pandemic has come to exacerbate profound inequities, starting with the health sector, whose deficiencies have jeopardized the response such that the contagion curve continues to expand and there are not enough hospital beds nor medical equipment to care for infected people. The scenes of bodies in the streets of Ecuador remind us that COVID-19 is a reality that we all must face.
And at the global level, but especially in the United States, the self-proclaimed outpost of democracy and opportunity, the coronavirus has exposed the enormous gaps that exist between diverse social classes, different ethnic groups, and the various immigration status that comprise this nation.
Reports that in certain regions of the country, the largest share of affected people and deaths comes from minorities such as Hispanics and African Americans, must surprise no one, since these groups have less access to medical insurance and are plagued by pre-existing conditions such as obesity, diabetes, or asthma, which complicate any medical chart, not only because of COVID-19 but any other illness. The same can be said for a large swath of White people with scarce economic resources who exemplify, for their part, the abysmal economic inequalities among the few who have a lot and the many who fight over crumbs.
Comparing that with images that, not too long ago, came to us from other countries where the scarcity of essential products in literally empty supermarkets were the norm, just to mention one example, forces us to question not one system or another, but the immorality in which these economic models exist that have not done anything other than protect, at all costs, the capital that has been permanently in certain hands, without carting about the way that the underprivileged sectors of society reinvent themselves every day in order to not fail in their attempt to continue standing in unequal and cruel nations including, as we now see, this one.
And if we’re talking about inequalities, we cannot forget the migratory inequalities. Thousands of immigrants without immigration status, or with temporary status, carry out essential work in the health arena. They work in nursing, and as doctors, technicians, emergency medical personnel, paramedics, or as caregivers. For example, the Dreamers make up an important group in this arena, where some 27,000 are now on the frontlines of this dangerous medical battle, at risk of contracting the virus and without the guarantee that after all of this is over, their immigration status will be regularized. Unfortunately, hanging over their heads is the U.S. Supreme Court’s final decision on the DACA program, aggravating the anxiety of thousands of young people and their families who have plainly demonstrated their social utility in the complex machinery of the United States.
Not to mention the oft-exposed immorality and near-slavery in which the most powerful nation in the world keeps its farm workers, an essencial sector that should have been legalized decades ago and given dignifed labor conditions due to the hard work they carry out, under hellish temperatures, infamously long hours, with miser’s pay, exposed to dangerous chemicals and now, nothing less than the coronavirus, all without the possibility of having access to medical attention, since the great majority lack legal documents. The mistreatment of agriculture workers is an indelible stain on the history of this country, the Congress, and the White House–both this and previous administrations.
But do you know what is worse? The fact that, just as these disasters expose inequalities and injustices, when they are over, the people go back to their routines and, as before, focus again on the end game. Politicking rules once again; indignation gives way to complacency. Perhaps there is a shred of hope in those for whom the indignation over these differences turns them into agents of change. Little by little, until the next disaster greets us.
To read the Spanish version of this article, click here.