Tag Archives COVID-19

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | COVID-19: solidarity as counter-narrative to crisis capitalism

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | COVID-19: solidarity as counter-narrative to crisis capitalism

The absence of serious measures to protect citizens from the COVID-19 virus in countries such as India and Brazil, as well as vaccine grabbing by countries in the Global North, ...

Beware of calls to ‘rescue’ India’s ‘Covid orphans’

Beware of calls to ‘rescue’ India’s ‘Covid orphans’

News reports of children being orphaned by Covid-19 deaths in India raise the spectre of a generation of children without adequate parental care. But international responses that favour solutions like ...

COVID-19 | COVID-19 and the ‘collapse’ of the Philippines’ agricultural sector: a double disaster

The enduring COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp spike in hunger among Filipinos resulting from an extended lockdown in this Southeast Asian country. This is driven in part by its problematic trade policy based largely on food imports and fluctuating global food prices. For those who also have to deal with the financial repercussions of the lockdown, increasing hunger due to poorer food availability along with increased poverty thus form a double disaster. Without the government’s immediate promotion and prioritisation of local food production and sustainable agricultural development, this could lead to even more widespread and severe hunger during and long after the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruptions across the world, threatening public health and safety[1], but also economic stability and food security. The lockdown, which has included mobility restrictions and physical distancing rules, has sped up job losses and has led to the shrinking of the world economy, leading to increased poverty and inequality worldwide. According to ILOstat[2], this has been linked with inflation that has altered consumer spending patterns globally. It has been noted that global food prices increased by an average of 5.5% between August 2019 and August 2020. Similar increases can be observed in all other regions.

Consequently, more people are going hungry now than ever before: this sharply reduced ability to acquire sufficient and nutritious food owing to food price fluctuations has resulted in considerable hunger and poverty globally, including in the Philippines, where an estimated 5.2 million Filipino families experienced involuntary hunger in 2020 according to the SWS National Mobile Survey.[3] The rise in food prices, which have increased by 70%, in effect ‘crushed’ especially the poorest.[4] I argue here that the country’s poor agricultural production and problematic agricultural policy, along with fluctuating global food prices, form a double disaster. To a primarily agriculture-based country like the Philippines, this double disaster of increased poverty and the greater vulnerability of the country’s food system that has resulted in even more widespread hunger in times of pandemic could be unfathomable. Unfortunately, the fact is undeniable.

Poverty, hunger, and food insecurity 

Restrictions were imposed in the Philippines shortly after the World Health Organization (WHO)’s announcement of the pandemic in March 2020, taking the form of enhanced community quarantines (ECQs)[5] or Modified ECQs (MECQs). Consequently, unemployment increased to 17.6% in April 2020[6], which led to the easing of the quarantine measures in June to prevent further financial distress. From August last year, however, as the number of COVID-19 infections rapidly increased once more, some parts of the country went back to localised MECQs imposed by local authorities.[7] The increased job losses and economic downturn increased poverty and hunger. The hunger rate increased by 4.2% from 16.7% between May and July 2020, and by 12.1% from 8.8% in December 2019.

But the country was already food insecure and facing an agriculture crisis prior to the pandemic. Besides leading to sharp increases in food prices, the pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of the Philippines’s agricultural sector and the need for policy reforms.

An agricultural crisis? 

As a result of these events, concerns have been raised about the resilience of agricultural production systems and the effectiveness of agricultural policies in staving off hunger. Especially in a country that is primarily agricultural, like the Philippines, reaching this extent of hunger and food insecurity must prompt questions about the country’s priorities and agriculture and trade policies, one of which is its importation policy. The country has been dependent on the importation of many food commodities (75% of rice, corn, coffee, pork, chicken (dressed), beef, onion, garlic, and peanuts are imported) for more than three decades already. While for Fermin Adriano, a scholar and policy advisor, this import dependency is mainly due to a lopsided agricultural productivity rate (1.7-1.8% in the period 2008 to 2018) and the population growth rate (1.3% for the same period)[8], the reasons for lagging agricultural production requires deeper investigation.

A recent webinar by the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC)[9] reiterates the people’s movement’s ongoing critique of the government’s lack of prioritisation of agricultural development and trade liberalisation that has resulted in the ‘collapse’ of the country’s agriculture and food system. As asserted by Ka Leony Montemayor[10] and Bong Inciong[11], two of the speakers at the webinar, the current agricultural system that is based on exploitation and exportation of agricultural products (by multinationals) and does not consider food as a community resource is a recipe for food insecurity and self-insufficiency. The poor agricultural performance and a switch to the import of foods such as rice, despite the fact that it is grown in the country, can first and foremost be considered a result of trade policies favouring importation above local distribution, says Arze Glipo[12].

Moreover, Edwin Lopez[13] reiterated that conventional farming methods (synthetic fertilisers, chemical pesticides, fossil fuel emissions from farm equipment and pump boats, the cutting of trees in plantations and the burning of crop residues) are strongly associated with climate change, which is seen to give rise to extreme weather conditions (the Philippines faces an average of 20 typhoons per year). This also influences the amount of food produces as the vulnerability of the country’s food and agricultural system increases.

In summary, since the start of trade liberalisation in the early 1990s, food importation policies and a lack of focus on developing the local agricultural sector seem to be the main culprits of lagging agricultural production and food insecurity in the country. In this light, promoting sustainable agriculture becomes more important. Sustainable agriculture characterised by food sovereignty, self-sufficiency and local food production based on a structural agricultural transformation are crucial to address this problem, as it becomes more severe during the pandemic. The failure to do so will lead to more severe hunger during and long after the pandemic has ended.


Footnotes

[1] In the Philippines, 945,745 infections and 16,048 deaths were registered as at 19 April 2021. Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/philippines/

[2] https://ilostat.ilo.org/covid-19-is-driving-up-food-prices-all-over-the-world/

[3] https://www.cnn.ph/news/2020/7/21/SWS-survey-5.2-million-families-hunger.html

[4] https://www.rappler.com/business/charts-rising-prices-crush-urban-poor-manila-covid-19-pandemic

[5] “The Philippines’s ECQs is one of the most stringent measures in the region, which restricted people’s movements except for essential purposes (related to medical and health conditions, for instance) and enforced the closure of nearly all non-essential shops and stores. The modified ECQs (MECQs), had a partial and limited relaxation of business operation.” (https://www.cnn.ph/news/2020/7/21/SWS-survey-5.2-million-families-hunger.html)

[6] https://www.rappler.com/business/unemployment-rate-philippines-july-2020

[7] https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/philippines/brief/covid-19-impacts-on-low-income-families-in-the-philippines

[8]https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/07/30/business/agribusiness/why-is-the-philippines-a-food-importer/747772/

[9] The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) is a local NGO formally launched in 1988, guided by a framework of human development, equity, economic rights, economic justice, democratising the economy, sustainable economy, economic growth (that is humane, equitable, sustainable), economic sovereignty and national self-reliance, and fair and beneficial global economic relations. See https://www.facebook.com/fdcphilippines

[10] Ka Leony Montemayor is the President of the Free Farmers’ Federation, a federation of agricultural tenants, owner-cultivators, agricultural labourers, fishermen, and settlers. See http://www.freefarm.org/.

[11] Bong Inciong is the President of the United Broiler Raisers’ Association, a local non-profit association of small and medium scale poultry producers. See http://ubra.com.ph/

[12] Arze Glipo is the Executive Director of the Integrated Rural Development Foundation, a Filipino NGO that promotes development programs focused on the social and economic empowerment of people from marginalised and vulnerable groups. See https://www.irdf.org.ph

[13] Edwin Lopez is one of the leaders of the FDC based in Negros province.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the authors:

Cynthia Embido Bejeno is a PhD candidate in Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands, where she earned Masters in Development Studies major in Women, Gender and Development in 2010. She also earned Masters in Community Development at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Manila in 1998.  Prior to and during her post-graduate studies, she was involved in the social movement in the Philippines and abroad. Her interests include feminism, social movements, justice, human rights, agrarian question, rural development, climate change and sustainable development.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

COVID-19 | Fighting pandemics = fighting inequalities: a business proposition

COVID-19 | Fighting pandemics = fighting inequalities: a business proposition

The most important lesson that we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic is that inequalities are the Achilles heel of a society that has been hit by a pandemic. Based ...

Positioning Academia | Reducing inequality should be our top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic—but it isn’t

Positioning Academia | Reducing inequality should be our top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic—but it isn’t

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated income inequality all over the world. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of reducing inequality (SDG 10) is getting more and more off track. How are ...

COVID-19 and Conflict | COVID-19 in the Brazilian Amazon: forging solidarity bonds against devastation

The indigenous populations in the Amazon are putting up a commendable fight against the Brazilian government’s lack of adequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are fighting an epic battle, not only trying to prevent being infected by the virus, but also encroachment by multiple actors on Amazonian land—a process that continues despite the pandemic. Here, we present the ongoing struggle of indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazon and how they are resisting several threats simultaneously.

“The indigenous peoples, quilombolas, and the black population … they were always the invisible targets of such necropolitics. The only issue is that these matters are in the spotlight under this government.” (Pedro Raposo, Professor at the State University of the Amazonas)

The struggle for control over land in the Amazon is far from over. The region that is so diverse and rich in natural resources has been targeted by large capital, garimpeiros[1], loggers, and agribusiness that aim to extend the soy frontier through forced burnings of the forest. As the Amazon spans several country borders, border dynamics are also a challenge for the region, which faces problems such as drug trafficking, smuggling, narcotics, and a drug war among criminal gangs of different countries. When elected, Bolsonaro, current President of Brazil, announced that his government would not proceed with indigenous territory demarcation, a statement that made evident the prioritization of agribusiness interests over the rights of indigenous peoples. His policies are connected to the deforestation of the Amazon and to the deterioration in the livelihoods of the indigenous peoples in the region. In this context, the fight of indigenous peoples for the right to their land continues unabatedly.

COVID-19 accentuated these land crises and pushed Brazilian indigenous peoples to the limit, making their struggle for survival even more profound.[2] Due to the pandemic, the land-grabbing situation has deteriorated exponentially.[3] Even with a decrease in economic activity, land grabbers seem to have profited (i.e. increased their actions, sensing implicit approval)  from the lack of control and loose laws during the pandemic. Deforestation and burnings have increased dramatically[4] in a context where we would generally expect them to have declined.

Yet indigenous peoples are not giving up without a concerted and coordinated fight.

Despite original observations that the new coronavirus may be an urban crisis, unfortunately it got to the Amazon. Since indigenous peoples have had less contact with pathogens than the non-indigenous populations, mortality due to COVID-19 is higher among rural indigenous populations than among any other group in Brazil. An analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on this population performed by the Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations in the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), and the Institute for Environmental Research in the Amazon (IPAM) showed that the mortality rate from COVID-19 among indigenous people is 150% higher than the Brazilian average and 20% higher than recorded in the country’s northern region, where the highest mortality rate has been cited.[5] By January 2021, the number of deaths among the indigenous population hit 936, and 46,834 people from 161 different indigenous groups have been infected according to Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation (APIB).[6] Real numbers are expected to be higher as cases are underreported. As the guardians and propagators of their history, indigenous elders face the highest infection risks and mortality rates.[7]

Manaus is one of the cities that was worst hit by the pandemic. After leading a dramatic peak of deaths in the country in April 2020, the capital of the State of Amazonas revealed the potential devastation of COVID-19 in the Amazon region when the health system in the city collapsed. This situation became even direr due to the lack of oxygen available for patients at the start of this year. In April 2020, the municipal administration dug collective graves for burying bodies as the death rate tripled and burial services were overwhelmed. Now, in January 2021, Manaus is experiencing new record-high hospitalization and death rates.[8]

Collective graves being dug by tractors in April 2020 in municipal cemeteries in Manaus to deal with the sharp rise of burials due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related deaths. Source: Sandro Pereira, https://noticias.uol.com.br/saude/ultimas-noticias/redacao/2020/04/21/apos-boom-em-enterros-manaus-abre-covas-coletivas-para-vitimas-de-covid-19.htm

These numbers show that the Amazon is not excluded from globalization processes, which comes as both a benefit and a curse. While the connections among indigenous and non-indigenous groups brought the former health supplies and information, it was impossible to prevent this connection from being one of the vectors of transmission of the virus in the region.[9] This was the case even in the very isolated regions of the Amazon. Unable to rely on federal government support, indigenous organizations have come to rely on existing and new connections with local universities and the local public ministry to partially overcome the crisis. Working with organizations at the local level represents a change of strategy for groups that were used to lobbying only at the federal level. In Brazil, indigenous ‘matters’ are officially the responsibility of the federal government.

“Since the first case, with the death of our warrior Borari in Alter do Chão, we felt helpless… Different indigenous groups started working from their own organizations, making sure that public policies would work.” (Anderson Tapuia, CITA[10])

These partnerships supported the translation of informative materials to indigenous languages[11] that in some cases do not even have the word ‘disease’. Health support arrived by boats organized by civil society organizations. The ‘Saúde e Alegria’ initiative for example organized an ambulance boat that could reach isolated communities. In addition, they distributed donated food and hygiene products.

But all these efforts are not enough—the battle is also against those who should be protecting them. As presented in this series of three blogs, the present Brazilian government’s lack of strategy and specific policy to deal with the pandemic can be understood as necropolitics (Achille Mbembe[12]), as it weakens current protective institutions and destroys the chances of already vulnerable populations to survive in the pandemic.

Brazilian civil society may have acted in a fast, vocal, and organized way, reaching places that the state did not. These initiatives showed traces of a society based on solidarity bonds, citizen engagement, and may render them protagonists of their own transformation. However, to win this battle in the Brazilian Amazon, more is needed. A major change in the way the Brazilian government perceives indigenous peoples and the forest must first take place.


Footnotes

[1]Garimpo’ is a form of prospecting, often illegal and accompanied by precarious labour conditions, that uses rudimentary techniques to extract minerals. It generates a range of social and environmental problems as prospectors (garimpeiros) invade state or indigenous reserves, often through violence, diverting rivers and embankments and contaminating soil, air, and, water contamination with heavy metals, mainly mercury. In Yanomami indigenous territory, there are about 25,000 illegal gold miners https://observatoriodamineracao.com.br/maior-terra-indigena-do-brasil-ti-yanomami-sofre-com-25-mil-garimpeiros-ilegais-alta-do-ouro-preocupa-liderancas-que-tentam-evitar-disseminacao-da-covid-19/

[2] To understand this process, we performed desk research and a qualitative comparative analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews among indigenous peoples, activists, researchers and senior academics in the Brazilian Amazon. This is the third and last post out of the three published on Bliss, in which we have been presenting the main findings of the research work about COVID-19 in Brazil for the ISS project ‘When Disaster Meets Conflict’.

[3] In April 2020, during a peak of deaths related to the pandemic, the number of deforestation alerts in the Amazon rose by 64% compared to the same month in 2019. See https://epoca.globo.com/sociedade/como-desmatamento-se-alastra-na-amazonia-durante-escalada-de-pandemia-de-coronavirus-24441196

[4] For further information, please see (1) https://noticias.uol.com.br/meio-ambiente/ultimas-noticias/redacao/2021/01/08/desmatamento-na-amazonia-cresce-137-em-dezembro-diz-inpe.htm

(2) https://www.dw.com/pt-br/em-meio-%C3%A0-pandemia-amaz%C3%B4nia-enfrenta-amea%C3%A7a-tripla/a-53827092 and (3) https://www.opendemocracy.net/pt/covid-19-desmatamento-amazonia-brasil-colombia/

[5] See https://ipam.org.br/mortalidade-de-indigenas-por-covid-19-na-amazonia-e-maior-do-que-medias-nacional-e-regional/

[6] Information collected in January 26th, 2021. See https://covid19.socioambiental.org/

[7] See https://g1.globo.com/bemestar/coronavirus/noticia/2020/07/10/mortes-de-indigenas-idosos-por-covid-19-colocam-em-risco-linguas-e-festas-tradicionais-que-nao-podem-ser-resgatadas.ghtml and https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-53914416

[8] https://g1.globo.com/am/amazonas/noticia/2021/01/03/manaus-bate-novo-recorde-de-internacoes-por-covid-19-desde-o-inicio-da-pandemia.ghtml

[9] Besides the spread of the virus due to the movements of different actors related to land disputes (garimpeiros, loggers, etc.), contagion also occurred because of the displacement of health services to urban centres and the withdrawal of emergency aid. And there were also cases in which health workers spread the disease to indigenous communities. However, it is also important to note that not all indigenous peoples live in isolation from other indigenous communities or outside of urban areas.

[10] CITA, the Conselho Indígena Tapajós Arapiuns (Tapajós Arapiuns Indigenous Council), is an NGO that aims to ensure that public policies reach indigenous peoples, mainly those related to health, education, land issues, and social security.

[11] For more information, please see: https://ufrr.br/ultimas-noticias/6374-coronavirus-equipe-da-ufrr-traduz-para-linguas-indigenas-folhetos-informativos and https://www.ufam.edu.br/noticias-coronavirus/1238-instituto-de-natureza-e-cultura-produz-material-de-orientacao-sobre-o-covid-19-aos-indigenas-da-etnia-ticuna.html

[12] Necropolitics is a process in which the state uses political power – by its discourses, actions and omissions – to put specific groups into a more marginalised and vulnerable position (Mbembe, 2019).

About the authors:

Fiorella Macchiavello is an economist and holds an MA degree in Urban and Regional Development from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Brazil. Currently, she is a PhD researcher in the third year of a Joint Degree between the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam and UnB, University of Brasilia, Brazil.

Renata Cavalcanti Muniz is a full time PhD researcher at ISS in the last year of her research. Her PhD research was funded by CNPQ-Brasil, and she is part of two research groups at ISS, DEC and CI.

Lee Pegler
Lee Pegler

Lee Pegler spent his early career working as an economist with the Australian Labour Movement. More recent times have seen him researching the labour implications of “new” management strategies of TNCs in Brazil/ Latin America. This interest expanded to a focus on the implications of value chain insertion on labour, both for formal and informal workers. Trained as an economist and sociologist (PhD – LSE), he currently works as Assistant Professor (Work, Organisation and Labour Rights) at the ISS.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

COVID-19 and Conflict | Why virtual sex work hasn’t helped sex workers in India survive the COVID-19 lockdown

COVID-19 and Conflict | Why virtual sex work hasn’t helped sex workers in India survive the COVID-19 lockdown

Virtual sex work, although around for many years, has become an alternative to traditional sex work during the global COVID-19 pandemic. In India, like elsewhere, sex workers due to a ...

COVID-19 and Conflict | Economic downturn, precarity, and coping mechanisms in the Eastern DRC

COVID-19 and Conflict | Economic downturn, precarity, and coping mechanisms in the Eastern DRC

The Kivus in the Eastern DRC do not seem to be getting a break. Besides facing a protracted armed conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an economic downturn in the ...

COVID-19 and Conflict | From the Chilean miracle to hunger protests: how COVID-19 and social conflict responses relate

COVID-19 broke out in Chile last year in the midst of an intensive social conflict rooted in the deep-seated inequalities caused by the free-market reforms in the country. The case of Chile shows how pre-existing conflict dynamics can be strongly intertwined with pandemic responses as earlier protests for greater equality paved the way for a climate facilitating ‘hunger protests’ during the pandemic. In response to growing mistrust in the state, citizens had a strong social mobilization base that drove collective action.

For many decades, Chile’s development trajectory was considered an inspiration due to its positive macroeconomic results achieved following the implementation of neoliberal policies by the dictatorship in the 1980s and supported by democratic governments to present. However, these policies produced deep inequalities among the population (Flores et al. 2019)[1]. With the eruption of protests in 2019 and the COVID-19 outbreak last year, the idea of a ‘Chilean miracle’ started to fade.

The COVID-19 pandemic reached Chile in the middle of the largest social conflict since the end of its dictatorship in 1990. Starting in October 2019, more than a million of people protested each Friday for five months in the center of Santiago, the capital city, to show their discontent and demand improved livelihood conditions. The response of the government to this movement was brutal, leading to high levels of repression, partial curfews, and large, violent clashes that ended in more than 34 casualties and 445 people with eye injuries (from riot guns wielded by the riot police) between October 2019 and February 2020.

As the mass protests proved, the government ignored the socio-economic problems faced by many sectors of the population. A clear expression of the lack of awareness from the government of the conditions experienced in many low-income neighbourhoods was shown in a public statement made by the former health minister of the country, when he stated in an interview that “[t]here is a level of poverty and overcrowding [in Chile] of which I was not aware”[2].

The measures implemented to address the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 were also an expression of this level of ignorance. One of the first measures to address the COVID-19 outbreak was to implement dynamic quarantines[3], which failed to prevent the virus from spreading from less vulnerable to the most vulnerable populations, instead increasing infection levels and mortality rates[4] (Galarce 2020). The failure of this measure is associated with overcrowding in households, the precarity of wages, and the impossibility for people who survive off a daily income to comply with quarantine measures.

In addition to the complete lockdown that followed the dynamic quarantines, another of the early measures was to implement nighttime curfews. This measure was not well received by citizens, nor by the scientific community, which indicated that the quarantine did not have experts’ approval since there was no proof that it reduced the infection rate. They argued that it was intended to reduce civil liberties[5], and, generally, this measure was seen as an expression of the authoritarian nature of the government.

The inability of the measures to counter the effects of COVID-19 led to multiple demonstrations that were known as ‘hunger protests’. This time, people demanded access to food, water, and shelter as many lost their daily incomes due to the lockdown measures. The hunger protests followed the government’s announcement about the distribution of food baskets. People felt that, again, the government did not understand people’s needs—families could not wait to receive food supplies, but urgently required money to obtain (other) basic goods. The government’s response to the protests was highly repressive once more, mirroring its response to the previous protests back in October 2019.

The countrywide social movement leading protests in 2019 and 2020 articulated different demands and had no centralized leadership. It encouraged self-organized local assemblies (asambleas territoriales) composed of young and elderly people and was founded due to mistrust in the existing institutions. These local assemblies embodied collective organization to resist and shape new relationships and solve immediate problems in the neighbourhoods. The movement that led protests months before COVID-19 emerged therefore played an important role during the pandemic, enabling Chileans to solve difficulties the pandemic and the government’s response to it by themselves through collective action.

One of these initiatives is the so-called ‘ollas comunes’ (‘common pots’)[6] through which people helped stave off hunger by cooking for each other. This measure to respond to the COVID-19 disaster is related to previous responses to social conflicts in Chile. As stated by Clarisa Hardy (1986), the ollas comunes initiative is associated with workers’ layoffs and repression suffered after the 1973 coup d’état that brought Augusto Pinochet to power. Therefore it has a strong component of collective memory. This initiative also proved that the self-organization that arose during the protests could solve immediate problems in a context characterized by high levels of mistrust towards the government in a crucial moment for state intervention like a pandemic. It also opened the possibility to act collectively outside of the common frameworks provided by the state and the market.


References

Hardy, C. 1986. ‘Hambre + Dignidad = Ollas Comunes.’ Accessed August 11, 2020 http://www.memoriachilena.gob.cl/archivos2/pdfs/MC0033331.pdf

Flores, I.; Sanhueza, C.; Atria, J. 2019. ‘Top incomes in Chile: a historical perspective on income inequality, 1964-2017’, Review of Income and Wealth, pp. 1-25.

Tinsman, H. 2006. ‘Reviving Feminist Materialism: Gender and Neoliberalism in Pinochet’s Chile,’ The University of Chicago Press  26(1): 145-188.


Foot Notes

[1] Many estimations had been made using different methodologies. All of them are relatively consistent in suggesting that the richest 1% hold between 25%-33% of the national income. For an in-depth discussion, see the following analysis (in Spanish): https://www.ciperchile.cl/2019/12/10/parte-ii-la-desigualdad-es-una-decision-politica/

[2] For the complete declarations, see the following interview (in Spanish): https://www.latercera.com/politica/noticia/manalich-reconoce-que-en-un-sector-de-santiago-hay-un-nivel-de-pobreza-y-hacinamiento-del-cual-yo-no-tenia-conciencia-de-la-magnitud-que-tenia/5BQZLGLOPVDDPKQ2SNSSSWRGYU/

[3] Dynamic quarantines are those applied to a specific place in a territory (a municipality, for example), and that can be lifted or imposed based on the regular analysis of certain patterns, particularly the number of COVID-19 cases in each place under quarantine.

[4] Galarce, A. (2020, May 19). Experto en salud pública USACH: “Las cuarentenas dinámicas hicieron que el virus migrara hacia una población más vulnerable”. Radiousach.cl.  Accessed August 10, 2020 https://www.radiousach.cl/experto-en-salud-publica-usach-las-cuarentenas-dinamicas-hicieron-que

[5] At the time of publication, the curfews were still imposed, even though the partial lockdowns were lifted and the COVID-19 infection rate diminishing.

[6] “Common pots involve women pooling the food rations of individual families to collectively provide more substantial meals to entire groups of families, workers and neighborhoods” (Tinsman 2006).

.

This research was part of the “When Disaster Meets Conflict” project. It was undertaken between July and September 2020 and comprised the analysis of secondary sources (news and articles related to the Chilean protests of 2019-2020 and the government’s responses to the COVID-19 crisis). Additionally, five semi-structured interviews were carried out. The interviews included key actors from the Chilean private sector, government, and civil society.  The purpose of these interviews was to know these actors’ points of view on the impact and the government’s response to the sanitary crisis

About the authors:

Ana Isabel Alduenda studied International Relations at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and is a current student of the MA in Development Studies at ISS, major Governance and Development Policy. She has worked in the public sector and as a consultant in topics related to government accountability and human rights. Her research interests focus on anti-corruption policies, open data, and gender violence. In addition, she has developed a genuine interest in the social phenomena surrounding pandemics.

Camila Ramos Vilches studied Social Work at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and is a current student of the MA in Development Studies at ISS, major Human Rights, Gender and Conflict Studies: Social Justice Perspectives. She has worked in local NGOs related to grassroots development, and international NGOs related to sustainable development in the private sector. Her research interests focus on gendered analysis within organizations, diversity and inclusion management and sustainable development.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

COVID-19 and Conflict | Between myth and mistrust: the role of interlocutors in managing COVID-19 in Haiti

COVID-19 and Conflict | Between myth and mistrust: the role of interlocutors in managing COVID-19 in Haiti

Mistrust in state-provided information about COVID-19 has characterized citizen responses to the pandemic in Haiti, preventing the effective management of the virus. This article shows that this mistrust is rooted ...

COVID-19 | The voices of children and youth in Tanzania’s COVID-19 response

COVID-19 | The voices of children and youth in Tanzania’s COVID-19 response

Rapid research into the effects of COVID-19 on young people in Tanzania reveals high levels of anxiety about the virus as it relates to relationships, economic livelihoods and the community. ...

COVID-19 and Conflict | Pandemic responses in Brazil’s favelas and beyond: making the invisible visible

The inaction of the Brazilian government during the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed some members of Brazilian society into an even more vulnerable position. Yet many of these groups seem to know what they need to do to fight the virus. Here, we highlight the capacity of some domestic workers and residents of favelas to organize both quickly and innovatively during the pandemic. Importantly, we show that favelas can be a site for empowering transformation, rather than just a place of misfortune.

“I watched a report on the TV. They were interviewing an upper-middle class family about the lockdown. But the domestic worker could be seen in the background, working. “Oh, this family is isolated”. But what about that worker back there? Isn’t she someone?” (Cleide Pinto, from FENATRAD, domestic workers union).

Sharing videos of life in quarantine has become a commonplace during the pandemic in Brazil. Television personalities have provided a glimpse of their lives at home, showing what it has been like for them to be in quarantine. Yet, staying home in Brazil is a privilege and not possible for more than 50 million Brazilians[i]. Although a large part of the population is dependent on informal jobs and must continue to leave their houses every day, they are virtually invisible—to most.

This scenario is just another reflection of the abysmal inequality where the richest 10% hold 41.9% of the country’s total income[ii]. In the labour market—where around 36% of employed people work under informal conditions—domestic workers number approximately 7 million[iii]. Despite these numbers, their jobs remain precarious—domestic work was finally recognized as formal work in 2015[1], but most of domestic workers still do not have formal contracts.

To aggravate this state of affairs, during the pandemic domestic work was declared an ‘essential service’ in several states of Brazil[2], forcing a large number of women to continue working and having to risk being infected whilst taking public transport or whilst toiling in the households of the elites. In cases where employers allowed them not to work for their own safety, many were also not paid or feared losing their jobs.

Crowded BRT by the reopening of commerce in Rio de Janeiro during the pandemic, on June 9th, 2020. Image: Yan Marcelo / @ yanzitx. Authorized by authors.

However, Brazilian civil society was organized and often vocal, playing an active and central role in the fight against COVID-19[3]. Collaborative initiatives based in solidarity emerged in various settings to provide temporary support for those in need. Civil society used existing networks and infrastructure of support, but was also innovative in its actions, forging new and strengthening existing solidarity networks. The trigger was the knowledge that the state was not going to see them, nor take care of them. On top of that, many of these workers, including domestic workers, live in communities with poor socioeconomic conditions, often known as favelas (informal settlements).

As a response to the pandemic, the national association of domestic workers (FENATRAD) organized national campaigns, such as the Cuida de quem te cuida (‘care for those who care’)[iv] to pressure public institutions not to consider domestic work as essential during the pandemic and to encourage employers to put workers on paid leave. FENATRAD published videos on social networks to raise awareness and promote other forms of support, such as gaining access to the online platform for the federal government’s emergency fund. Such organization played a crucial role in informing workers about their rights, particularly how to protect themselves.

Leaders from within the favelas took charge, organizing online fundraising campaigns and the distribution of primary goods. The Favela of Paraisópolis, situated next to a rich neighbourhood in São Paulo, made it to the Dutch news as an example of a community that managed to fight COVID-19 using its own means. Vital to this success has been a partnership with the network ‘G10 das Favelas’[v], an organization that supports entrepreneurship within different communities across the country. Their lemma is based on the idea of favelas as a place for empowering transformation rather than a place of misfortune, according to Gilson Rodrigues, a community leader in Paraisópolis.

Through the partnership, civil society created the idea of ‘presidents of the street’, employing 542 volunteers as ‘street presidents’ responsible for distributing food and hygiene products in their allocated areas. A further deficiency in social assistance is that of SAMU, public service for ambulance urgencies, as noted below:

“SAMU does not get to Paraisópolis. It did not do so even before the pandemic, even less so now” (Gilson Rodrigues).

As many public services were not available, they trained 240 first aid brigades within the community, hired private ambulances and medical staff, and organized information campaigns on hygiene procedures and on how to recognize symptoms of the disease.

Two schools in the neighbourhood were transformed into centres to host those who tested positive for the virus, allowing them to be in isolation, with food, a TV room, and a proper space in which to recover. To support domestic workers of the community, they created the program ‘Adote uma diarista’ (‘adopt a domestic worker’), providing financial resources, hygiene material, and/or food for more than one thousand informal workers.

These examples show an exceptional response from civil society in Paraisópolis[4]. However, not all favelas have the same level of organization. Although these initiatives temporarily alleviated the burden of the pandemic for the people in these communities, they do not offer structural solutions for their situation. Domestic workers unexpectedly became frontline workers. An optimistic future would be to imagine that these initiatives would result in greater recognition of domestic work and greater empowerment and rights for the people in these communities. However, with the present political scenario, this future is hard to imagine.


[1] http://g1.globo.com/politica/noticia/2015/06/dilma-assina-regulamentacao-dos-direitos-das-domesticas-diz-planalto.html

[2] Governments of the states of Pará, Maranhão, Rio Grande do Sul and Ceará are among some of the states in which domestic work was declared as essential during the pandemic.

[3] This is the second out of three posts to be published on Bliss presenting the main findings of the research work about COVID-19 in Brazil for the project ‘When Disaster Meets Conflict’. We performed desk research and a qualitative comparative analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with members of three civil society groups in Brazil: residents of favelas (informal settlements), domestic workers, and indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Interviews took place in July 2020, at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in Brazil.

[4] For more info, please see: https://g1.globo.com/sp/sao-paulo/noticia/2020/04/07/paraisopolis-se-une-contra-o-coronavirus-contrata-ambulancias-medicos-e-distribui-mais-de-mil-marmitas-por-dia.ghtml and https://newsus.cgtn.com/news/2020-04-19/Favela-fights-coronavirus-PNzcVTweKk/index.html

[i] IBGE – Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística. Síntese de Indicadores Sociais 2017.

[ii] https://cee.fiocruz.br/?q=node/1090

[iii] According to FENATRAD.

[iv] The campaign Cuida de quem te cuida (Care for those who take care of you) is an attempt to pressure the Public Ministry to forbid states from filing decrees declaring domestic work as essential work. Despite the campaign, the decrees continued to happen and with the reopening of the economy, it became even hard to implement a monitoring system that would guarantee a safe work condition for these women.

[v] http://www.g10favelas.org

About the authors:

Fiorella Macchiavello is an economist and holds an MA degree in Urban and Regional Development from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Brazil. Currently, she is a PhD researcher in the third year of a Joint Degree between the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam and UnB, University of Brasilia, Brazil.

Renata Cavalcanti Muniz is a full time PhD researcher at ISS in the last year of her research. Her PhD research was funded by CNPQ-Brasil, and she is part of two research groups at ISS, DEC and CI.

Lee Pegler

Lee Pegler spent his early career working as an economist with the Australian Labour Movement. More recent times have seen him researching the labour implications of “new” management strategies of TNCs in Brazil/ Latin America. This interest expanded to a focus on the implications of value chain insertion on labour, both for formal and informal workers. Trained as an economist and sociologist (PhD – LSE), he currently works as Assistant Professor (Work, Organisation and Labour Rights) at the ISS.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

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The rise of Big Tech cements the fall of the US economy

While the US economy is going through its worst crisis in the last eight decades, with small businesses shutting down en masse and millions of Americans losing their jobs, one wouldn’t know anything is wrong solely from looking at the largest US companies. The crisis, triggered―but not caused―by the COVID-19 pandemic measures, has enabled some of the world’s largest corporations to amass record profits. It allows them to capture ever-larger shares of a market that is increasingly monopolised. How could that happen and what will it lead to?

The widening gap between the Big Five and the rest

It is no secret that Amazon has done well throughout the pandemic, with both the company’s profits and Jeff Bezos’ personal wealth shooting up to record highs in the middle of one of the worst recessions the US has ever seen. While brick-and-mortar retailers have suffered tremendous damage as a result of the measures implemented in response to COVID-19, Amazon has thrived off the accelerated shift to online services.

And it is not alone in this: The so-called US tech companies―also referred to as the Big Five―have all managed to keep increasing their profits while the US economy is contracting. Apple, Alphabet (Google’s holding company), Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft saw their combined pre-tax profits rise by an annualised 5% in the second quarter; starkly contrasting profits of the rest of corporate America, which fell by an annualised 27% (excluding finance).

A company experiencing profits growth during a recession is highly unusual, and the Big Five’s outperformance has led to a dramatic increase of their share in total non-financial profits made by US companies. Having already risen from 4% in 2011 to 11% in 2019, the Big Five have increased their slice of the pie to 16% in the first half of this year.

To put this into perspective: The concentration of US non-financial profits in the top five companies has historically been around 7-9% while the current top five, which includes three of the large tech companies, accounted for an astounding 19.3% in 2019. Since the onset of the pandemic, this figure is estimated to have risen further to 25%. This would mean that five companies now receive one quarter of all non-financial profits made in the US.

Profits of financial entities are excluded here because we are examining the production side of the US economy. But Wall Street, too, is an almost insane case of monopolisation and control over public policy that might be explored in another article.

A long-standing trend of market concentration

There is no question that the pandemic measures have accelerated the ever-widening gap between the Big Five and the rest, but at the same time it cannot be ignored that the US economy has seen a long-standing trend of market and profits concentration. Even before Big Tech came along, many of the major industries, ranging from beer to healthcare, had already seen the emergence of oligopolies (a few dominant firms), duopolies (two dominant firms) and even monopolies (one dominant firm).

A prime example is the case of high-speed internet provision in the US, for which the market is almost completely controlled by the three telecom giants AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. By carving up the market, they have avoided competing in the same regions, forcing as many as 75% of US households to ‘choose’ from just one provider. Health insurance is another industry for which the market has been sliced up by the companies who dominate it, ensuring that competition is avoided as much as possible. As a consequence, in many states 80-90% of the health insurance market is controlled by just two companies.

Capitalism is a system in which competition drives innovation and growth. The natural strategy for a company to become dominant in an industry is to outcompete its rivals by producing better and cheaper products―i.e., by innovating. The problem in the US today is that more often than not, it has been a lack of competition which has allowed for high levels of market concentration and abnormally high profit margins in the US.

But it wasn’t always like this. The US government used to pay great attention to market concentration and threats to competition, which was why they had created antitrust regulation in the first place around the turn of the 20th century. According to Jonathan Tepper and Denise Hearn, who documented the vast extent of uncompetitive and increasingly concentrated industries in the US in ‘The Myth of Capitalism’, point to the dismantling of antitrust regulation since the 1980s as one of the major causes for the growing degree of what they refer to as ‘industrial concentration’.

An illustration of when antitrust was still applied in full force is the case of IBM in 1969. The US government brought an antitrust lawsuit to PC maker IBM who held 70% of the market at the time. The lawsuit instigated IBM to make its hardware compatible with software other than the programmes it sold itself, allowing for new companies such as Microsoft (founded in 1975) to emerge and produce software for IBM machines and, eventually, for those produced by other companies.

In 1998, when the number of antitrust cases was already much lower than before, the US government brought an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft because it was starting to monopolise the PC software market. The tech giant was using its popular Windows operating system to favour its own programs such as the Internet Explorer. And with the internet on the rise, the company was also well positioned to block competitors from areas such as search engines. The lawsuit helped curb Microsoft’s growing power and allow other software companies to compete. Perhaps more importantly, it also allowed tech startups―such as a little company called Google―to grow.

The Big Five and the abandonment of antitrust regulation

The irony of Google owing its existence to antitrust is that the tech giant is currently one of the largest violators of antitrust principles, which appear to no longer be enforced by the US government. Apart from being a monopoly in the market for search engines, Google together with Facebook controls the market for online advertising with both companies actively barring new entrants to the industry. When Facebook bought social media rival Instagram in 2012, there was not a single antitrust case brought against them to block the acquisition.

Buying the competition certainly has been a favorite tool for retaining dominance. Since 2005, the Big Five have acquired 549 companies, which in many instances were direct competitors. From 1985 to 2017, the number of mergers and acquisitions completed annually rose from 2,308 to 15,361 nationwide. Unsurprisingly, Tepper and Hearn are able to show that the rise in acquisitions has a clear inverse relationship with the number of antitrust cases.

On top of acquisitions, the Big Five have found other ways to cement their market dominance. As US President Donald Trump correctly pointed out, Amazon is subsidised massively by their exclusive access to state-owned US postal services (USPS) at cheap rates. It is estimated that the USPS undercharges Amazon by $1.47 per package―no wonder Amazon accounts for more than 43% of online retail sales.

Boosting profits without being more competitive

Highly concentrated industries allow for two major distortions that boost corporate profits without the dominant companies having to be more competitive: price gouging and suppressing wages.

For price gouging, the internet provision industry serves as a good example. New York University economist Thomas Philippon found in a 2019 study that prices for a monthly broadband connection were almost twice as high in the US than in Europe or South Korea. Similar price differences were observed for air travel in the US when compared to Europe. Flights in the US are dominated by four major airlines that often enjoy regional monopolies and have solidified their market dominance since the US deregulated the airline industry in 1978. Having been fairly stable until that point, inflation-adjusted flight prices jumped by 50% in the first ten years after deregulation.

Being often one of the few employers (in some cases the only employer) in small-town America, monopolies also hold significant power over labour, which they exert through lobbying for laxer labour laws, inserting non-compete clauses in labour contracts, and consequently depressing wages. Marshall Steinbaum, Ioana Marinescu and Jose Azar found that wages are typically 10-25% lower in a ‘highly concentrated’ industry than in a ‘very competitive one’. Overall, wages adjusted for inflation have been stagnant in the US since the 1970s.

The suppression of wages has no doubt elevated profits margins, as Tepper and Hearn show in an almost perfectly inverse relationship between the two. What they further show is that the income distribution to the lower percentiles has a remarkably close correlation to union membership, the latter of which has been on a steady decline since the 1960s, implying that the large US corporations have successfully worn down the power of labour.

The consequences of not having to compete

Higher prices and lower wages are the reason for the exorbitant profit margins we see in today’s economy. But apart from that, they also lead to a complete loss of the capitalist drive that usually spurs companies to innovate. This decline in innovation is for a large part indicated by the number of US-American start-ups―which usually account for a large portion of total innovation―having fallen by nearly half since the 1970s.

What’s more, the large companies that dominate their industries are themselves not driven to innovate anymore. Instead, they have found a new way to inflate the value of their company: share buybacks. A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that between 2009-2018, companies listed on the S&P500 spent $4.3 trillion, or 52% of net income (profits), on share buybacks and $3.3 trillion, or 39% of net income, on dividends. This increases the wealth of both owners and managers, but does not make the company any more productive as little capital remains for research and development (R&D). In 2018, only 43% of all companies listed on the S&P500 index invested in any R&D.

Of the Big Five, the loss of competitiveness is perhaps the clearest in the case of Apple. The American electronics manufacturer that once pioneered and dominated the smartphone market for almost a decade has been knocked to the fourth place in global smartphone sales, losing out to East Asian competitors Samsung, Huawei and Xiaomi. The only market Apple still dominates is the US, although it is worth wondering whether this would be the case if Huawei were allowed to sell its phones in the American market.

It is not to say innovation in the US has completely left the scene (for instance, the US is still a leader in microprocessors), but that the dynamism that once allowed for rapid technological change and global dominance is in decline. Tesla is another good example of a monopoly born in the US and having received billions worth of government support (see Mazzucato’s 2013 book ‘The Entrepreneurial State’) that now has increasing difficulty remaining competitive in an international setting.

The concentration of profits in the largest US companies and their dominance of entire sectors is essentially not a reflection of their superior competitiveness, but the result of a system benefiting them disproportionately while allowing them to accumulate wealth without becoming more competitive.

The lack of innovation is significant because an economy thus hollowed out of its productive capacity is bound to crumble, and, in the case of the US, allow a new power to rise and take its place in the global economy. There is only one reason that the loss of international competitiveness has not yet fully translated itself into a deterioration of living standards for Americans: the Dollar.


Further reading

  1. Jonathan Tepper (2018): Why American Workers Aren’t Getting A Raise: An Economic Detective Story. https://www.mythofcapitalism.com/worker-s-wages
  2. Jay Shambaugh, Ryan Nunn, Audrey Breitwieser, and Patrick Liu (2018): The state of competition and dynamism: Facts about concentration, start-ups, and related policies. https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-state-of-competition-and-dynamism-facts-about-concentration-start-ups-and-related-policies/
  3. Patrick Bet-David and Jonathan Tepper (2019): The Missing Link To Modern Day Capitalism. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTGzUVH9LsA
  4. John Coumarianos (2019): How corporate monopolies fuel wage stagnation, inequality, and populism. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-corporate-monopolies-fuel-wage-stagnation-inequality-and-populism-2019-05-06
  5. Walter Frick (2020): Big tech’s 15-year acquisition spree had a hidden cost. https://qz.com/1883377/how-big-techs-acquisition-strategies-suppress-entrepreneurship/

This article was originally published on Kapital Economics, the platform for evidence-based economic analysis.

Josephine Valeske

About the authors:

Josephine Valeske holds a MA degree in Development Studies from the ISS and a BA degree in Philosophy and Economics. Apart from contributing to Kapital Economics, she currently works for the research and advocacy organisation Transnational Institute.

 

Bram Nicholas holds an MBA from the University of Western Sydney and is in the process of writing a PhD on the subject of exchange rates and forex markets at the University of Colombo. He is the founder and CEO of Kapital Economics and currently lectures at HUTECH, Vietnam.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

Haemorrhaging Zambia: Underlying sources of the current sovereign debt crisis

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COVID-19 and Conflict | How Duterte’s new Anti-Terrorism Act is terrorizing Filipino citizens, not helping them survive the COVID-19 pandemic

The Philippines, like many other countries, has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but a stronger blow was delivered to its citizens and democracy when the Anti-Terrorism Act was passed at the height of the pandemic in July this year. This event reveals President Rodrigo Duterte’s prioritization of the consolidation of his authoritarian regime’s power—at the expense of Filipino citizens. An increased state police and military presence justified as necessary for curbing the spread of COVID-19 shows that this law is being implemented, with dire implications for freedom of speech and expression as those critical of Duterte’s rule are imprisoned or terrorized.

“Junk Terror Law”. Photo by: Maro Enriquez, July 27, 2020 State of the Nation Address protest

Since current president of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte came into office in 2016, over 20,000 deaths have been ascribed to his regime. Extrajudicial killings have been rampant, many justified by a ‘war against drugs’ necessitating killings to ‘root out drug criminals’, and many of the victims were from the country’s poorest population segments. National and international criticism of this approach have been strong, but has been met with resistance from the state, along with oppressive measures. Activists, farmers, peasants, indigenous peoples, unionists, journalists, lawyers, and human rights advocates accused of being communists or leftist sympathizers due to criticizing Duterte’s decisions and actions faced constant harassment and threats.

Consequently, instead of focusing on more evident socio-economic concerns such as poverty, unemployment, food security, sex trafficking, child sexual exploitation, and other pressing issues facing the country, the administration over the past years has chosen to address what was perceived as political challenges to the Duterte administration through the increased deployment of the police and military.

Things took a turn for the worse when COVID-19 spread across and took hold of the country, with the administration instrumentalizing the pandemic to encroach upon citizens’ right to dissent through its imposition of strict quarantine measures in the name of curbing the virus. This echoes other findings of the instrumental use of COVID-19 regulations for continued or increased political oppression, as in the case of Zimbabwe. In the Philippines, people were not allowed to leave their homes without proper identification cards, as well as permits issued by the local government to move around. Those who would protest, even following social distancing protocols, would be arrested without warrants or charges. The laws are seen to not be applied equally, with the administration telling its citizens to show compassion for government officials who broke quarantine rules while heavily sanctioning, harassing, and even imprisoning those who would protest, beg for food, put up community food stalls, or circumvent the absence of mass transportation.

What makes the Philippines different from other countries that have similarly implemented strict and sometimes unreasonable lockdown measures has been the parallel passing of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

As the country struggles with increasing COVID-19-related deaths and infections, the pandemic’s effects on the economy and the healthcare system have been severe. The clearest indication of the apparent authoritarian character of the state, and its failure to govern on behalf of its people, has been the swift formulation and passage of the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act. The implementation of this law in July this year in an attempt to further control the country shows evidence of a focus on strengthening the Duterte regime and stifling opposition at a time when a state intervention to relieve citizens of the burden of the COVID-19 lockdown should have been the first priority.

Silencing dissent, exacerbating the lockdown’s effects

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 replaces and expands the definition of terrorism under the old Human Security Act. This could have far-reaching consequences: the law essentially allows for the state to suppress freedom of speech in a way that transgresses human rights. The removal of certain key provisions in the Human Security Act are of particular concern: 1) the right to due process; 2) the right against unreasonable searches and seizures; 3) the right to privacy and correspondence; and 4) the right to freedom of expression and association. Moreover, the act enables detention on mere suspicion of a crime, longer detentions without charge and no remedies, and no liability on law enforcement.

This law hence provides the government with the legal tools to oppress and silence those who dissent and oppose injustice. United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet pointed out how the law has a “chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work”. In light of the pandemic, these clauses make it more difficult for ordinary citizens to access legal remedies to protect their human rights, organize, or peacefully dissent because of their inability to assemble.

On June 26th this year, Rey Valmores-Salinas, Bahaghari’s[1] national spokesperson, organized a Pride march in Mendiola as a means to make known the unified voice of the LGBT sector against authoritarian and ineffective COVID-19 responses. Critical of the ‘militarized’ policing of adherence to lockdown regulations, hundreds of protesters took to the streets and clashed with the police, leading to mass arrest based on unfounded charges.

Similarly, members of the national civil society organization Unyon ng Mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA)[2] due to their demand for basic needs and livelihood support in the time of COVID-19 have been terrorized by the state police on an ongoing basis. There have been several instances of unannounced raids made at the homes of organization members, which have been framed as a ‘necessary part of the government’s house-to-house contact-tracing interventions to curb the spread of COVID-19’. Antonio ‘Ka Tonying’ Flores, UMA’s national chairperson, claimed that this was a smokescreen for ‘red-tagging’ activists who are considered insurgents by the state. Even their relief operations and community kitchens that have helped assist the poorest communities of the country during the lockdown have been disrupted by the state military and police on several occasions, apparently because they ‘pose a threat to the authoritarian Duterte regime’. This is substantiated with the state’s belief that these forms of gathering could lead to community organizing towards a unified resistance against the Duterte regime.

The use of armed forces to contain the pandemic, as well as the silence of dissenters, is cause for alarm, as it may signify an unchecked abuse of state power and the lack of prioritization of addressing the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on the country. The Anti-Terrorism Act that has allowed for oppressive state actions has led to the terrorization of ordinary citizens—and to the increased alienation of the citizenry from the state. We are using this space to create a platform for dialogue and awareness of what is happening to the Philippines as it continues to suffer the effects of the pandemic and the authoritarian state. There are currently 15 groups petitioning against the law at the Supreme Court. We call upon the international community to keep a watchful eye and to stand in solidarity with the country.


About this article:

This research on COVID-19 responses in authoritarian state settings was conducted between June and August this year as part of the ‘When Disaster Meets Conflict’ (Discord) project. The methods utilized include a desk review of secondary data sources and interviews with key informants who initiated locally-led/grassroots interventions between March 2020 and present in response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the ‘COVID-19 and Conflict’ Blog Series: When Disasters, Conflict and COVID-19 Collide:

Responding to the international COVID-19 pandemic is particularly complex in settings of (post) conflict and/or conflict settings underpinned by authoritarian political regimes. In such scenarios, the national responses to the pandemic may be weakened, the infrastructure to respond adequately may be lacking, and power games may easily ensue where response to the pandemic get instrumentalized to serve political interests. To get a better grasp of the interaction and dynamics of top-down and bottom-up COVID-19 responses in such settings, research was conducted in seven different contexts over the summer of 2020, and the findings will be showcased on Bliss through several blog articles. 

The research underlying the blogs was facilitated by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and made possible by a NWO grant (number 453-14-013). It is linked to the research project ‘When Disaster Meets Conflict’ (Discord) hosted at the ISS. More comprehensive findings of the case studies will be shared in different formats, including working papers or articles, on the VICI research webpage: www.iss.nl/whendisastermeetsconflict


[1] Bahaghari is a national-democratic organization of LGBT militants and patriots in the Philippines. It is struggling alongside oppressed people for national emancipation in the fields of economy, politics, and culture. (https://www.facebook.com/BahaghariLGBT/)

[2] Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA Pilipinas) is the national progressive center of unions, federations, and organizations of agricultural workers in the Philippines. (https://umapilipinas.wordpress.com/)

About the authors:

Patricia Luzano Enriquez holds a Master’s degree in Development Studies, specializing in Social Policy for Development, from the ISS of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research interests and socio-political activism include intersectional feminism, gender, sexuality, human rights, and social justice. She is based in The Hague.

Martin Dacles is a scholar-activist specializing in disaster risk reduction, resilience building, and the localization of humanitarian aid, in Asia Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. He recently obtained his Master’s degree in Development Studies at the ISS of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Currently, he is based in Sint Maarten, the Caribbean as the DRR Delegate of The Netherlands Red Cross.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

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As nations turn their attention to fighting the economic crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, green recovery seems to be a good—and perhaps for the first time, possible—option. As climate change remains the most pressing challenge despite the severity of the global Covid-19 pandemic, a green recovery plan to slow down global warming and meet climate goals becomes imperative. Leaders in the EU are taking the lead in greening the recovery, while China seems to be following suit. A ‘green consciousness’ seems to be emerging. Could these efforts improve EU-China relations and help these two global powerhouses work together to fight climate change? asks Hao Zhang.

Chinese and EU flag
Credit: Friends of Europe on Flickr

As the IMF’s latest report on fiscal policies shows, the Covid-19 crisis won’t change the global climate that is also in crisis, but responses to it might. Even though science hasn’t produced an answer on whether the current economic crisis induced by the pandemic will indeed affect the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, efforts to address it certainly will. It is undeniable that the current health and economic crisis together create a threat to our current development trajectory and that the scope and severity of the issue to some extent make lasting efforts and immediate actions crucial. These decisions on how we will recover from the pandemic and the resulting crisis will shape our society for the next few decades and, even more importantly perhaps, how we deal with our climate and environmental challenges. As the IPCC’s report warned that our current ambition and willingness are far from pushing us to reach our goal of containing global warming, a green recovery plan becomes imperative in a post-Covid-19 world.

The question then arises: How do we green our recovery? As the IMF suggests, fiscal policymakers should take the lead in making policies that support climate goals without undermining the purpose of boosting the economy. Then, finance ministries should be able to set up concrete and practical projects to implement these policies. In addition, public support for the green policies with the rationale that curbing emissions would likely reduce the risk of respiratory diseases is indispensable. In a post-Covid-19 world, this might sway the public in support of green measures in a way it never has before.

The EU seems to be taking the lead in employing green measures to recover its lockdown-hit economies. As policymakers tend to believe that a green plan can better help revive the economy, concrete actions can be witnessed. In May this year, the European Commission proposed a €750 billion recovery fund with green conditions, 25% of which is to be set aside for climate action, meaning that one-quarter of expenditure with a ‘do-no-harm’ clause can potentially rule out environmentally damaging investments.[1] In addition, the Commission also issued a €1.85 trillion, seven-year budget and pandemic recovery package. This EU green recovery package could be introduced elsewhere to stimulate the economy while fighting climate change.

In addition, the EU launched the world’s largest programs for innovative low-carbon technologies under the fund from the EU’s emissions trading system. This innovation fund is created to finance breakthrough technologies for renewable energy, energy-intensive industries, carbon capture, use and storage, etc. These could help create local job opportunities, lead the economy to a climate-neutral place, and also help the EU maintain its technological leadership in climate change. It is obvious that the EU pays great attention to the future of clean technologies, yet it allows member states and the market space to decide how the money is spent. The member states will be allowed to use their allocations from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility for a wide range of green projects detailed in their national energy climate plans, and their proposals will be reviewed by the Commission; at the same time, private capital will be encouraged to invest in clean energy technologies.

On the other side of the world, in China, residents also survived the first wave of the pandemic, and the government is now also making recovery plans. This May, in the report on the work of the government, the development of renewable energy and efforts toward the clean and efficient use of coal were emphasized.[2] At the same time, this year for the first time Beijing has decided not to set an economic growth target, which is interpreted as a way to help China shift away from energy-intensive infrastructure projects.[3] This indeed has sent out a very positive signal; however, given that China still hasn’t submitted its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for the next reporting round, it also raises concerns about a lack of practical assurance.

Nevertheless, the cooperation between the EU and China in regard to green recovery seems promising. At the recent 22nd China-EU Summit on September 14 this year, President Xi Jinping stated that

China is interested in forging a green partnership with the EU and constructively participating in the global process of tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity. We are researching on reaching our long-term vision in the mid-century,[4] which includes carbon-peaking and carbon-neutrality.[5]

It is thus obvious that economic recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic is considered a top priority for leaders of both the EU and China, and it becomes increasingly clear that both parties are interested in a recovery package that aligns with their green transition goals.

Looking ahead, the EU and China can cooperate with each other in a few fields. First, the EU’s experiences could help China transition more rigorously to the use of green energy, especially in cutting the number of carbon-powered plants and subsidizing new energy vehicles. Second, the EU and China could agree to channel public and private funds to low-carbon investments both at home and abroad. Both parties are big investors of overseas development projects; they can thus work together to invest in projects subject to green terms. Going a step further, the EU and China could also work on developing international standards for sustainable finance[6], and China could learn from the EU’s experience in committing to more ambitious climate targets, specifically making ‘decarbonization’ a top priority in its next five-year plan.[7] Hopes are high for future cooperation between the EU and China in leading the world toward a green recovery, yet key decisions need to be made by both parties.

[1] Refer to Climate Home News, “EU €750 billion Covid recovery fund comes with green conditions”, May 27, 2020.

[2] Refer to ccchina.org.cn, 一图读懂2020政府工作报告, May 29, 2020.

[3] Refer to Climate Home News, “China prioritises employment over GDP growth in coronavirus recovery”, May 22, 2020.

[4] President Xi confirmed that China will try to reach carbon-neutrality before 2060 in his speech at a high-level meeting to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary on September 22nd, 2020.

[5] Refer to Global Times, “推动疫后全球经济复苏 中欧领导人视频会晤定目标”, September 15, 2020.

[6] Refer to China Dialogue, “Hopes for EU-China climate deal centre on a green recovery”, June 17, 2020.

[7] Refer to China Dialogue, “中欧气候协议前景如何?”, September 14, 2020.

About the author:

Hao ZhangHao Zhang is a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). Before joining ISS, she was a master’s student majoring international affairs at School of Global Policy and Strategy at University of California, San Diego. Her current research focus on policy advocacy of Chinese NGOs in global climate governance. Her research interests lie in Chinese politics, global climate politics and diplomacy.

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