In Latin America, the re-neoliberalization of political and economic systems has intensified an ongoing process of de-democratization, strengthening the onslaught by neoconservative religious and secular groups, which have been growing more powerful since around 2013. These two processes—re-neoliberalization and the growth of neoconservatisms—are connected.
More than 6,400 families have been evicted from their homes and another 19,000 remain threatened with eviction in Brazil since March 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak started in the country. In the state of São Paulo, 1,681 evictions were carried out and up to 5,000 families can be evicted from their homes at any one time. This startling data relates to informal settlements—evictions for non-payment of rent are not included—and numbers may be even higher, as this reflects only the cases identified by popular movements and the organizations participating in the “Zero Eviction” campaign.
Even though the current crisis astonished most of us, it also came as no surprise. During the last decade, we have witnessed a densification of what Alex Demirovic calls “crises of denormalization”, i.e. crises that profoundly undermine the hegemonic neoliberal security dispositive. From the financial crisis in 2008–9, through to Europe´s so-called “migrant crisis” (in fact, a momentary collapse of Europe´s inhumane border regime), up to the climate crisis, world capitalism seems ever more prone to destroying its economic, social, and natural basis, and less and less capable of dealing with the consequences.
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president, is known internationally for his far-right stances. He supports loosening gun control and frequently rants against human rights and “political correctness”. His motto of “God above all” pleases the more fundamentalist sectors of his evangelical base and he promotes a particular idea of the “good citizen”, often represented by a white middle-class Christian family man. His government employs a neoliberal economic agenda and is completely dismissive of environmental concerns. He was elected on a “tough on crime” platform full of false promises on how to solve the crime and violence problem in Brazil. His racist and sexist positions are well-known and add to the conservative positions of his government.
The mandatory lockdown and social distancing decreed by the National Government of the Argentine Republic in Decree No. 297/2020 has been the policy designed to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This way of addressing the crisis in a timely and initially efficient manner, in contrast to other countries in the region, gained Argentina international recognition. Simultaneously, the new President of the Nation, Alberto Fernández from the Justicialist Party, (Partido Justicialista, PJ)—also known as the Peronist movement—managed to get a very high level of support from the population by promoting this set of measures to deal with the pandemic. This entailed health, social, and economic measures to protect the most vulnerable sectors and workers.
The COVID-19 crisis has put our whole lives on pause. Not because life has stopped or ended but because our world as we knew it seems to be coming to an end. We are at the beginning of a new era. This is a capitalist crisis, not a health crisis. This is the latest crisis in the era of capital; the Capitalocene has put us on the verge of annihilation. This crisis has hit us hard and in multiple ways. The resulting global financial crash is hitting every territory, country, and city in a different way. Changes abound in our way of living and working. Social reproduction as a whole is changing and so are social struggles.
The more we dive into the coronavirus pandemic analysis, the more we perceive how its emergence, development, and devastating consequences are marked by the precepts of the Capitalocene. This means we cannot disassociate the logics of exploitation, accumulation, and consumption—which characterize the current era—from the velocity, extension, and force exerted by the pandemic.
In late April, the International Foundation for Freedom, headed by Peruvian Literature Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, issued a statement warning against the rise of authoritarianism in Latin America due to the coronavirus pandemic. Among the signatories were well-known defenders of neoliberal ideas in Latin America and Spain, such as Vargas Llosa himself and the former presidents Mauricio Macri (Argentina), José María Aznar (Spain), and Alvaro Uribe (Colombia). The statement expressed concern “about the measures taken in some countries that have indefinitely restricted basic freedoms and rights” in the name of the combatting the virus.
For the past few years, platform capitalist companies such as Rappi, Uber, 99taxi, Loggi, Ifood, and James have been gradually infecting Brazil’s largest cities. By connecting consumers, workers, and products through digital apps, these companies have been responsible for further entrenching the Brazilian neoliberal restructuring of labour that has been going on since the 1990s.
The COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold as a global drama in early 2020. Since then, international organizations have urged governments to protect both the rights of their citizens and human life. In (geo)political terms, the long-term outcomes remain uncertain. Some claim that dispossession and authoritarianism will be reinforced. Others state that capitalism as we know it will not recover, and there will be clearer openings to allow for more democratic and just social and economic forms.