More than 25,000 cases are reported each day, with daily average deaths at 590 in the last week. Hospital networks across the country have collapsed, with ICU occupancy in the three largest cities – Bogotá, Medellín and Cali – hovering above 97%.
The world’s inequality regarding covid is well showcased by looking at Latin America. When adjusted for population, it is in fact the region with the most deaths. On June 17, the four countries with the most deaths per million were Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. Brazil and Peru were next. The comparison of these numbers with the rest of the world can be visualized well with this graph:
Colombia’s fight with the virus was profiled recently. The article included many frightening statistics like the following:
In contrast to these terrible statistics, Cuba’s official numbers are more mixed and show reasons for hope. While much of the country reports rising numbers, the capital Havana has cut infections by half. This success appears to be thanks to vaccines produced by Cuba’s state-run biotechnology industry. In fact, as one news agency reported, Cuba hopes to use their national vaccine project “to be among the first in the region to have vaccinated its whole population by year end”.
Uruguay is a country with 3.5 million people. It is bordered by water, Argentina, and Brazil. Considering the neighborhood -including two nations that have had their covid responses widely criticized- the fact that Uruguay saw a pronounced increase in late March in virus infections was unsurprising. Uruguay’s relationships with its two neighbors are important and the borders are sites of frequent trade and movement. As the number of cases rose, the Uruguayan Interdisciplinary Group for Data Analysis characterized the situation as a “very worrying scenario” (“Covid-19”). Frightening indeed, and certainly -be them lines on a map, social, or linguistic- evidence that the virus does not respect the things that we often think separate us.
The rise in infections was unsurprising, not just because of Uruguay’s dangerous neighbors, but also because those numbers had nowhere to go but up. Indeed, until recently Uruguay has appeared an outlier in its response to the virus. In September, Luke Taylor pointed to a fast reaction, thorough testing, and a good plan as the main reasons that the Uruguayans were able to keep numbers low while its neighbors’ infections soared. Taylor even went so far as to declare that “Uruguay has a lid on the pandemic” (Taylor 1). A January article in Scientific American profiled Gonzalo Moratorio, a virologist in Montevideo, and credited him with an important role in helping the country largely avoid what others have suffered. In their words, Moratorio “helped Uruguay dodge the worst consequences of the pandemic” (Rodríguez Mega). Indeed, Nature magazine named Moratorio one of the “ten people who helped shape science in 2020” (“Nature’s 10”). It seems that even while numbers might be rising now, it is also possible to point to Uruguay as a pandemic-response success.
Covid is not the first time Uruguay has been characterized as a small country bucking a trend. In fact, Uruguay has been punching above its perceived weight in many areas for a long time. The country made waves by creating internal and external policies that altered traditional relationships with loans, debt, and international relations. One reporter praised these moves by comparing Uruguay to a European counterpart: “For the past 10 years, Uruguayans have been conducting a left-leaning experiment in economic and social democracy, turning themselves into a Latin American version of Switzerland in the process” (Meurer). This progress was criticized by some countries, particularly the UK government and its banking industry, where fault was found in the large Uruguayan investments in the public sector. Nevertheless, Uruguay confirmed its faith in these polices through elections and, as the same article argued, putting people before investors might anger the investors, but it made Uruguayans happy: “From the bankers’ perspective, Uruguay is setting a bad example by taking care of their people instead of catering to global financial speculators” (Meurer). International financial politics is not always the most headline grabbing subject, but the popularity of these decisions clearly shows that they have positively impacted the lives of Uruguayan citizens.
Uruguay’s capacity to punch above its weight exists in many sectors but is perhaps best known through soccer. The country won the inaugural World Cup in 1930 in their capital city. Then, they repeated victory in Brazil in 1950 when Uruguay upset the hosts in front an enormous crowd. The same people-focused tendencies that informs today’s banking contributed to these successes. Indeed, the Uruguayan team has long been more racially inclusive than its neighbors and some of their best players would likely have been excluded in other countries: “That early success was thanks in part to enlightened social inclusion policies. While South American neighbours were restricting soccer to a European descendant elite, Uruguay’s star was José Andrade, the son of an African-born slave” (Cawthorne). This general philosophy that has brought soccer success and made banking waves has run through multiple aspects of the country’s daily life: legalization of drugs, accepting prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay, universal healthcare, and free childcare. Many of these policies were criticized from around the globe, but Uruguay has persisted and found successes in the process.
In a world where it usually feels that the strongest, the richest, or the most aggressive is the one who wins; the one that enjoys the benefits, Uruguay’s story is heartening. The pandemic has left upside-down and backwards many of the things that we have long taken to be true. Borders, cultures, and languages that we usually see as forces that separate us have been shown to be little more than social constructions that are insignificant when compared to the common human thread that makes us vulnerable to the virus. Yet that same thing that makes us vulnerable -humanity- is exactly what seems to have been at the base of Uruguay’s achievements. When asked to describe how they find success, one Uruguayan soccer player pointed to an important factor that seems to go far beyond the pitch: “We give our lives for every ball,’ said midfielder Lucas Torreira. ‘This country is very small but it has a huge heart.” (Cawthorne). This response was cliché, no doubt, but applying it to the larger idea of what Uruguay has recently done is interesting. Maybe the pandemic is a chance for other governments to put some more heart -some human focus- in their decisions. If a small country like Uruguay can do it, why can’t others?
Cawthorne, Andrew. “Little Uruguay Punch above Weight - yet Again.” Reuters, 4 July 2018. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-soccer-worldcup-ury-por-idUKKBN1JU0P2.
“Covid-19: Health Situation in Uruguay Worsens amid Successful Vaccination Campaign.” MercoPress, https://en.mercopress.com/2021/03/22/covid-19-health-situation-in-uruguay-worsens-amid-successful-vaccination-campaign. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021.
Meurer, Michael. “Uruguay Punches above Its Weight.” Latin America Bureau, 3 Jan. 2015, https://lab.org.uk/uruguay-punches-above-its-weight/.
“Nature’s 10: Ten People Who Helped Shape Science in 2020.” Nature, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03435-6. Accessed 2 Apr. 2021.
Rodríguez Mega, Emiliano. “A Virologist Helps Keep Uruguay Safe from COVID with a Homegrown Test.” Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-virologist-helps-keep-uruguay-safe-from-covid-with-a-homegrown-test/. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021.
Taylor, Luke. “Uruguay Is Winning against Covid-19. This Is How.” BMJ, vol. 370, British Medical Journal Publishing Group, Sept. 2020, p. m3575. www.bmj.com, doi:10.1136/bmj.m3575.
For logical reasons, guns are in the news. Some statistics: “Americans own (at least) 42% of the world’s guns. We are 4.4% of the world’s population, but 31% of the world’s mass-shooting victims”. These are simple facts. Just as simply, these facts point to a serious problem. This problem needs to be resolved. Now. People are needlessly dying. This situation has long been out of control and appears to be headed in a bad direction as we come out of covid. Here is the source for these numbers.
Between Lula making a sort of come back, covid devastating the country, and fake treatments killing people, Brazil has produced multiple headlines in the last couple of days.
The story of a Galileo treatise from 1610 being stolen from the Spanish National Library and taken to Argentina has gotten some attention. Apparently, it is the work where Galileo reported important telescope observations such as mountains on our moon, Jupiter having four of its own moons, and the Milky Way having lots and lots of moons (and other things).
Cubans in Florida = more of the same, minorities have big numbers when sick and small with vaccine, border towns and rhetoric, and do not ignore Haiti
Happy Tuesday to the world. I am on spring break and, unfortunately, furlough. This means, I suppose, that I have some time to share here the kinds of things that I’m reading:
Cuban-Americans and their anti-Communist stance made their presence felt in a new poll that showed a 66% lean against returning to Obama-era policy towards Cuba. Another notable result: Where six years ago only 36% supported the embargo, that number has now risen to 66% wanting to keep it in place.
Increasingly, the pandemic news moves away from minorities having the highest numbers of Covid-19 cases and instead we now read more and more about those same minorities having the lowest numbers of vaccine access. Locally, for example, “[m]ore than 80 percent of the population in Lawrence is Latino, but only 2 percent of Latinos there have received at least one dose of a vaccine”. At the same time, “nearly half of Lawrence’s white resident have received at least one dose, although they account for just 12 percent of the city’s population”. The story both around here and in the whole country seems to be that when we are talking about minorities, the numbers are high for getting sick, but low for getting protection.
It is not difficult to find news stories that talk about immigrants and, particularly, young immigrants coming to the US border. In some cases, you can see words like “flood” and “crisis”. However, the Washington Post examined this ongoing story from a rhetorical point of view, including a headline that describes the Chicken Little rhetoric: “Migrants are not overrunning US border towns, despite the political rhetoric”.
Lastly, Haitian protests have made the news for a couple of weeks. In general terms, the unrest seems focused on insecurity, particularly in terms of gang violence and kidnapping. Last Friday police had a violent confrontation with gangs that resulted in several deaths.
In a trickle, it seems that the Trump administration’s horrible actions at the border are being revealed. The Fuller Project and the Guardian newspaper published a report today that documented at least eleven cases of migrant women giving birth in the US and being “removed” to Mexican border towns before they could attain birth certificates for their US-citizen babies. The report described the consequences of this complex immigration situation like this:
“For all intents and purposes, that child is stateless, which is going to create a whole host of barriers … because they’re unable to establish citizenship.”
While this practice was indeed initiated by the Trump administration and Biden has made some efforts to alter his predecessor’s policies, the ACLU recently emphasized that the slow speed of this change was unacceptable:
“We commend the steps the Biden administration has taken so far to begin the process of rebuilding our asylum system. But it is troubling that today’s orders did not include immediate action to rescind and unwind more of the unlawful and inhumane policies that his administration inherited – and now owns.”
How will tourism destinations recover from the pandemic? Cuba announced a unique answer to this question. The country has developed its own vaccine, which as of March will be entering a new phase of testing. That new phase involves injecting the vaccine into humans. Cuba stated that not only will they be offering the vaccine to Cubans, but also any foreigner who visits the island and wants it. In other words, they proposed the idea of getting vaccinated as part of your vacation. Criticizing the profit motives of pharmaceutical companies and emphasizing the state-centered health system, one Cuban specialist was quoted in this article stating:
“No somos una multinacional donde el propósito financiero es la razón número uno, nuestro fin es crear más salud.”
Will this make Cuba a more popular destination for tourism? Will its economy benefit from a rush of vaccine-starved vacationers?
As the pandemic continues to have greater impacts on minority communities, in the Boston area Spanish speakers are finding vaccine access to be difficult. This article reports that:
“Staff members at the Chelsea Senior Center say they receive dozens of calls each day from Spanish-speaking residents asking for help getting an appointment. Other callers ask about the effectiveness of the vaccines or their eligibility for the inoculation based on immigration status.”
Meanwhile, there are accounts from Brazil that the healthcare service in parts of the country is no longer able to deliver care. This video from Manaus presents a frighteningly overwhelmed system.
The saga of the Goya food brand continues as the company’s board “voted to muzzle” CEO Robert Unanue after multiple comments that he made supporting Donald Trump and his efforts to overturn the election. It is fascinating to see a company have this much power over its own CEO.
Lastly, Cheech Marin has apparently been collecting Mexican-American art since he became famous in the 1980s. Now with a collection of more than 700 pieces, he has decided to contribute to a California public library, providing a home where the public will be able to access and enjoy the work.
“People hear ‘Chicano art’ and think it’s a guy sleeping under a cactus or something,” Marin said. But for him, it’s about seeking out the “sabor” — Spanish for flavor — of Mexican-American culture, in works by artists born in the United States and influenced by both their Mexican cultural heritage and their upbringing with Cheerios and Uncle Sam.”
Happy Friday to the world. At Salem State today ended the first partial week of the spring semester. The wonders of 21st century communication enabled the school to celebrate by having Dr. Angela Davis speak at this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration. Hopefully the university will make the full recording available soon. As a language professor, though, it was wonderful to hear her advocacy for reaching out beyond the US and being in contact with people around the world: “We need to increase our internationalist dimension”.
Some news in the Spanish-speaking world:
So, how about that poem? The solemnity of the transfer of power and the historic nature of Kamala Harris as Vice President were important. However, Amanda Gorman reciting her poem “The Hill We Climb” was perhaps the highlight of today’s ceremony. In an interview from 2017 she defined the grounding for her writing:
“My poetry isn’t always rooted in current events, but it’s always rooted in world or domestic events which speak to social justice and equality.”
Today she formed a small part of both domestic and world events with her poignant charge for our democracy: “Because being American is more than a pride that we inherit it’s the past we step into and how we repair it”. Her performance came at the ceremony’s end, but here is hoping it was a tone-setting epigraph for a new administration.
George W. Bush was many things as president. Among his efforts was perhaps the last real attempt at reforming US immigration laws. In 2007 his administration tried to create a “path to citizenship” for the estimated twelve million people living in the US without government permission. This proposed law failed in Congress and Obama became president. Obama was famed for protecting around 750,000 “dreamers” from deportation, but at the same time his administration deported more people than any previous presidency. In fact, it is estimated that Obama deported around three million people, about a million more than Bush. Trump’s presidency was always marked by its relationship to immigration. He declared his campaign with a speech insulting Mexicans who came to the US. Some of his early actions included prohibiting people from Muslim-majority countries from entering the US and building a wall. Most famously, his administration instituted a policy that systematically separated children from their parents at the border. He defended himself from the “kids in cages” reputation by saying correctly that Obama’s administration had built the cages. While it is true that Obama had done the construction, Trump achieved, all on his own, a policy that Reilly Frye recently argued should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
Biden’s presidency begins tomorrow, and The Washington Post reports that the first (half) day will not just be remembered for people taking oaths over bibles while protected by thousands of soldiers, but also a proposal to overhaul the country’s immigration laws. A few highlights:
Government policy and law towards these millions of people living in the US has long seemed ruled more by spreadsheet than humanity. The fact that Biden has chosen immigration to be the first policy to receive attention brings hope that rather than numbers, people will form the crux of decision making.
Here, one of the better uses I have seen for Trump's monstrosity:
It’s the weekend and the weather is rainy in my part of the world. Music is in order. If you’re looking for something slower and full of emotion:
If something more upbeat, but still classic is what you are after, then how about this unique way to bring together 75 Cubans to play their country's most famous song:
And if you’re feeling a more modern twist, you can dial country code 53 for Cuba and 7 for La Habana: