Why it is so difficult to beat COVID19 in Peru
Efraín Gonzales de Olarte
In Peru, we are engaged in an almost impossible task: socially defeating the coronavirus. Despite the government’s great efforts to “flatten” the contagion and death curve, there are some factors that are difficult to overcome, in such a long quarantine: poverty, informality, the state’s operational weakness, the infrastructure deficit, popular morality and culture.
The poor are faced with the alternative of catching the COVID19 or not eating, obviously they choose the first option.
Being informal (almost 70% of workers) is the result of an economy unable to legally wage workers, due to lack of capital, and the state’s inability to incorporate them into its tax, social and service registers, consequently, they are outside the “formal system” that is, outside the economy of higher productivity, outside the banking system, and the social security system. Consequently, it is difficult to support them during this pandemic.
Thanks to the hyperinflation of the eighties of the last century and the subsequent neoliberal reforms, the Peruvian state has shrunk and become ineffective, its size is incompatible with social inequalities and poverty. Its quality was not improved by second-generation reforms due to the laziness of the rulers, a hyper-market ideology and the corruption developed since the 1990s. Today we have a state with a macro-economy of the 21st century but with an infrastructure and public management of the 19th century, and more, the privatization of social services has been functional for the higher income sectors. For all these reasons, if COVID19 was not controlled in the initial three weeks, it would be very difficult to control later, today it is uphill.
But that is not all, then, the entire socio-economic and political process of the last forty years – begun in the late eighties – has impregnated immoral and amoral behaviors in the ethics of Peruvians, which today are reflected in police officers who they get income from budgets to buy masks or fans, mayors who steal money from food baskets for the poor, guys who sell false certificates of not being contaminated by COVID19, to enter into the markets place, and a lot of similar behaviors that denote that, the moral codes of a civilized society, have not been able to build during these years. This is synthesized in the phrase: “anything goes” (todo vale) for one, that is, the private interest symbol of neoliberalism – it has been perverted to the point of only thinking about one and not also about the others.
Finally, the “popular culture” –culture understood as the ways and means of behaving socially- that manifests itself in “pepe el vivo” (Joe the smart guy), “steals but does work”, “the line is made by idiots”, “this is our opportunity, then there is no another “,” the fools (cojudos) fucks “, etc. Obviously, this culture stems from: unequal opportunities, the feeling of exclusion, the fight for the limited good, is, to a certain extent, the result of how society and the economy have incorporated their population in the last forty years, but it is also the fruit of deep psychological problems in a mestizo country, of migrants from the countryside to the city, racism and colonial heritage. This complex culture manifests itself when the president asks people to keep their distance so as not to get infected and people crowd in to sell or buy. I wonder if we are going to reduce infections before we have a vaccine or medicine to fight the disease. I have my doubts.However, this pandemic is telling us what should change in Peru in the future, but it also tells us the few adjustments that can be made in the short term. Today, it is probably necessary to appeal to a combination of disciplinary force in congestion sites, with a relaxation of some bureaucratic norms that delay the fight, with an effort to unify the economic support for the population and with an ideological invocation in the manner of soccer: “yes we can do it” to defeat COVID19, as much as we qualified for the 2018 World Cup. In the long term, the agenda is defined.
Lima, June 2020.