By Ariana McGuire, Nicaraguan exile and member of the International Socialist League
In the context of the global pandemic and its devastating effects, Nicaragua represents a critical case in the Americas. Despite the fact that specialists and the countries that have partially controlled the pandemic employed mass detection devices and provided containment measures, Nicaragua omits these recommendations and blocks anticipated measures of action. This week, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) donated the country 26,000 fast as part of a regional contingency plan. The Nicaraguan government demonstrates its negligence in dealing with this crisis and maintains dishonest secrecy regarding how it will cope with the pandemic.
The outlook for Nicaragua is uncertain, it is not just the crisis that has increased the levels of recession and economic contraction for months, or that only 3.7% of national GDP is invested in health care, which makes deteriorates infrastructure, scientific research, technological development, and working conditions; it also exposes all health care personnel, for not declaring an emergency plan and planning a coordinated national prevention strategy, but the contrary. The government invited the population to massive demonstrations and tourist activities, including the arrival of international cruises.
To this day, official figures from the national health ministry (MINSA) have reported only 6 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, 1 death and 15 suspected cases under observation. The secrecy with which state figures are handled defies all credibility and the dynamics in the other countries in the region, for example, Costa Rica and Honduras with 539 and 382 confirmed cases respectively. For its part, the “Citizen Observatory COVID19 in Nicaragua”, an autonomous multidisciplinary group, has unofficially reported more than 170 confirmed cases with virus symptoms, suspected or in follow-up.
The virus strikes Nicaragua under the dictatorial regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. For weeks they have been absent from public activities, but with their media they sell the idea of false “normality” and misinform the population, expose public workers, criminalize and besiege community self-care actions, with the CPCs and the National Police. On top of this, there are still more than 70 political prisoners in precarious health and hygiene conditions. In addition to other serious structural problems such as the lack of drinking water or the absence of health institutions in communities and non-urban, rural and indigenous populations.
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ORMU’s (Ortega-Murillo) denialist policy is sustained by militarization on the streets, almost total control of the media, and obedient and underfunded dependence on the entire public health system. This brings us closer to heartbreaking scenarios such as those of Ecuador or Spain, whose health care systems are structurally collapsed.
If You Know How They Are, Why Invite Them?
Members of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), and derivatives, represented at UNAB, Civil Alliance and the National Coalition are promoting a campaign to fight the virus, but without major efforts. They promise to obtain resources, but only send statements of denunciation of the State’s negligence, while they speak of a “truce” with the dictatorship and invite us to “join forces” against the pandemic. It is these representatives who speak of protecting life while their companies curtail their workers’ rights. For example, in call centers or textile maquilas where more than 120,000 people work, their owners are taking advantage of this chaos to cut labor rights, decrease wages, suspend workers, or “advance” vacations. Paradoxically, the self-proclaimed leaderships that occupied the front of the anti-Ortega “opposition” are the same that years ago turned a blind eye when public health was underfunded and the INSS plundered to bet on a privatized and replaced with an inequitable model; they are the same ones who supported the “dialogues” with the dictatorship. This false opposition continues to work as the system´s nurse and gives the regime breathing space. Remember the employer strike that we demanded two years ago? They did not even call it at the crudest point of the repression in 2018, and they do not call it now as an urgent measure of prevention in the face of the threat of the Coronavirus, whose contagion is fueled by overcrowding.
Beyond the bosses´ rhetoric, their profits come first. This was demonstrated again by the “leaders” of UNAB with the “plan to mitigate economic impacts in the face of the pandemic”, which they presented this week. In short, they invite workers to accept conditions of precariousness and “flexibility” in the workplace, while proposing the exemption of taxes for large companies. UNAB recognizes the enormous socioeconomic gap in Nicaragua, but does not propose anything to change it. Instead, they propose to reinforce that system of inequality. In other words, the so-called “opposition” with its corporate profile continues to privilege those who have the most and unload the full weight of the crisis on the most vulnerable sectors. Again they are wrong on purpose.
Putting People’s Health Before Papitalist profits
An exceptional situation demands exceptional measures. In this sense, as a Nicaraguan population we are urged to design a dynamic of collective self-care, like those who say “only the people save the people.” The pandemic is global, unprecedented and rapid. We should not leave this situation in the hands of those who profit with our health, nor can we expect anything from those who have already demonstrated that they prefer us dead rather than free. A reconfiguration of large-scale social dynamics, new strategies of self-defense, community resistance and political emancipation are necessary. To contribute to the debate-action we propose 3 programmatic sets of demands for which to fight:
- Access to public, scientific and quality information / Online and physical information campaigns.
- Massive purchase / request for virus detection tests, to be implemented by the public and private health systems / In addition to CABEI’s donation to the government (26,000 tests).
- Declare of all private health infrastructure, including clinics, hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies, respirators, ambulances, and medical personnel to be public utility and place at the service of those who need it in the context of the epidemic. No type of discrimination to access the health care system.
- Centralize the entire public and private hospital network under the control of organized healthcare personnel.
- Hire any person who can perform functions as health personnel, with salary based on the cost of living. This includes medical students and residents.
- Immediate liberation of all political prisoners. All sanitary and biosecurity measures for the population in national prisons.
- Budget increase for the health care system, financed with taxes on large fortunes. Purchase of mechanical respirators. All resources for health care.
- Reconversion of the productive matrix of private factories; for the mass production and free access to alcohol gel, masks, gloves, gowns, soap, beds and other sanitary supplies; as well as the Personal Protection Equipment, EPI, for medical-health personnel on the front line.
- To large and transnational companies: Prohibition of layoffs and suspensions, work leave with salary and all benefits for all work personnel, as long as the pandemic continues. Large companies that are hostile to this policy must open their accounting books to demonstrate their “red numbers.”
- Exempt payment of basic services such as water, electricity, and gas to popular sectors. Transnational telecommunications companies must also suspend charging for domiciliary and hospital network services and the supply of basic necessities.
- Immediate suspension of the VAT on all basic basket products, and on all food and health products.
- Streamline territorial and local self-organization. Create Social Health Emergency Committees to plan self-managed collective care strategies in every hospital and workplace, markets, classrooms, universities, churches and other institutions.
- Community solidarity with risk groups, irregular workers, street vendors, and homeless people.
- Coordinated regional strategy. Collaboration between Central American peoples / Reactivation of international solidarity groups with Nicaragua around the world.
Strengthening self-organization: Social Health Emergency Committees
Nicaragua continues to be the second poorest country in America and therefore the effects of the pandemic will be more devastating. It is the voracity of this virus that must now force us to rethink the foundations of our society, to recognize the abysmal framework of inequality between the rich who claim to represent us and the impoverished majority that we are, because surely more crises will come and we must start preparing. Two years ago, self-organization and inter-sector collaboration managed to push the dictatorship against the ropes and shift the correlation of forces against government crimes. Now we must retake and learn from that experience and systematize that capacity for self-organization as a tool for self-defense.
Against the dictatorial and bourgeois neglect that defends its profits over our health, the task of creating Social Health Emergency Committees with the participation of medical personnel independent from the regime is urgent. Together with the scientific community, teachers, human rights defenders and feminists, student groups, environmentalists and volunteers, AYB organizations, as well as community leaders and families of political prisoners, they can be a platform that brings together efforts to fight the virus and save lives; but it would also be a political tool against power to defend our rights. This is the alternative that we raise, join us to put up a fight together.
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