Dead bodies on the streets of Ecuador expose failure of the government amid pandemic

Lenín Moreno’s neoliberal policies, with cuts to health and prioritization of foreign debt, have caused a collapse in the healthcare system

April 03, 2020 by Brasil de Fato
Men wear face masks as they carry a wrapped coffin at a cemetery in Guayaquil, Ecuador on April 2, 2020. - Troops and police in Ecuador have collected more than 400 bodies from streets and homes in the country's most populous city Guayaquil amid warnings that as many as 3,500 people could die of the coronavirus in the city and surrounding province in the coming months. Photo: Enrique Ortiz / AFP

Photos have circulated widely on international media and across social media showing the bodies of the fatal victims of coronavirus being carried by family members or being burned in the streets of Ecuador’s second largest city Guayaquil.

Due to the high temperatures in the city, over 30°C, and  the delay by the local funeral service to take the bodies from peoples homes, families have abandoned the bodies in the streets and public parks of the city over fear of infection and the insufferable smell produced by the bodies.

Ecuador currently has 3,163 confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which 71% are concentrated in the Guayas state, with 2,243 cases and 82 deaths, according to data from the Operations Committee of National Emergency.

However, there is a discrepancy between the official numbers and the information of the National Police in the country. According to the newspaper El Comercio, the police picked up more than 308 bodies in the homes of people that could be infected with coronavirus between March 28 and 30.

The mayor of Guayaquil, Andrés Guschmer, wrote on his Twitter account on March 30, that “more than 400 mortal victims were taken out of their homes… the majority with suspicion of COVID-19.”

After the collapse of the public health system in the area, without sufficient beds to receive the infected and morgues to receive the bodies of the dead, a task force was created to pick-up the bodies in the province.

In a press conference held this Wednesday March 1, Jorge Wated, that commands the operation, affirmed that specialists calculate that in this month, the number of dead due to coronavirus in Guayas could reach 3,500.

Neoliberalism

The public health crisis in the municipality of Guayaquil exposes and deepens a series of problems that the country has been experiencing in the last several years under the government of President Lenín Moreno. The absence of public policies, high rates of inequality and poverty, and irresponsibility of the local elites are also among the factors that contribute to this grave humanitarian crisis that the city deals with today.

Since October 2019, Ecuador has been experiencing a political crisis sparked by a series of economic adjustments and budget cuts for 2020. These measures were announced by the government as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), that lent US$10 billion to the country in April last year. According to a study done by economist Jonathan Báez Valencia, last year, there was a 36% cut in the health budget.

The austerity measures imposed by the government of Moreno are added to the absence of effective measures, by the federal government as well as by the local governments, to make sure that the population obeys the curfew that has been in place for two weeks.

Around 46% of the country’s workforce is in the informal sector, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Census. The lack of government subsidies to protect the income of these workers in the midst of the pandemic has meant that the local population of Guayaquil has carried out it activities normally in order to guarantee their income, especially given that the majority of workers are in the commercial sector.

With the absence of economic and public health measures, the government opted for the militarization of the Guayas province. On March 24, the state was declared as a Zone of National Security and now it is governed by a joint command of the governor, Pedro Pablo Duarte, commander of the Armed Forces, Luís Lara, and the vice Health Minister, Ernesto Carrasco.

In response to this situation, a platform of people’s movements, political organizations and human rights organizations, with the collaboration of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Ombudsman office, was created to follow the situation in the city of Guayaquil. In a statement shared on Thursday March 2, the platform denounced that there are cases of human rights violations in the context of militarization, with police violence against the population and the abandonment of the most vulnerable and poor by the state.

“We lack food, medicine, masks, and gloves, and we are trying to give visibility to the lack of state competency and the abandonment of these sectors that are suffering an extreme situation,” the statement reads.

The Ombudsman, as well as people’s movements and indigenous and peasant movements in the country have also denounced that the government of Lenín Moreno prioritized the payment of foreign debt in detriment to the investments in health in this moment of public health crisis.

Although the IMF and the World Bank had recommended the suspension of the payment of foreign debt in light of the coronavirus crisis, the Ecuadorian government allocated, on March 24, US$325 million to pay the foreign debt bonds, going against the request of the National Assembly in the country and economists who all demanded that these resources be invested in the Ministry of Health.

Three days before, on March 21, the then Health Minister, Catalina Andramuño, resigned because she felt the country did not have the necessary resources to confront the pandemic.

Original text by Luiza Mançano; Translation Peoples Dispatch

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