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COVID-19 | There’s no stopping feminist struggles in Latin America during the COVID-19 pandemic

As the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign draws to a close today, Agustina Solera and Brenda Rodríguez Cortés reflect on the challenges women in Latin America have faced over the past year and how, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, they have stood strong as ever, braving the particularly difficult conditions that they have had to face this year.

During an academic retreat in late August, we reflected on feminist struggles in Latin America during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recalled that the last time we had seen each other in person before the retreat was during the International Women’s Day march in Amsterdam as part of ‘Feministas en Holanda’, a collective of self-identified feminists from Latin America living in the Netherlands. ‘

The foundation of ‘Feministas en Holanda’ dates back to the summer of 2018, when we joined a group of other Latin American women to demonstrate outside of the Argentinian Embassy in The Hague in favour of the decriminalization of abortion. Even though the bill that could have decriminalized abortion in Argentina wasn’t passed, the protest was a moment for feminist women from Latin American living in the Netherlands to meet face to face. It was there where we realized that there were many of us who have the same commitment to gender issues and that we weren’t alone in our struggles; on the contrary, we embraced each other, and from that day on the movement continued to bloom, both online and on the streets.

Some of the most pressing issues that women face in Latin America include feminicides and disappearances, gender and sexual violence, racial discrimination, the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights, violence targeted against environmental defenders and activists, poverty, and the precarization of work and employment for women. The multiplicity of struggles of Latin American women has also brought boundless ways of fighting back and resisting. Examples include the feminist performance ‘Un violador en tu camino’ (‘A rapist on your path’) in Chile denouncing violence against women and state violence, the #EleNão (‘Not him’) movement in Brazil against Jair Bolsonaro’s sexism and fascism, the #NiUnaMenos (‘Not one woman less’) movement that started in Argentina against gender-based violence and feminicides and quickly spread to other Latin-American countries, and Mexico’s #MiPrimerAcoso campaign denouncing sexual harassment and violence even before the #MeToo movement captured global attention.

Importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped the feminist struggles in Latin America. While the pandemic has clearly shown us the interconnections between different systems of oppression and its effects on marginalized communities, women and racial and ethnic minorities, it has also magnified and deepened several social inequalities, including gender inequality.

The massive scope of the virus highlights the unequal access to basic services like safe water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as public services such as health and education, access to affordable housing, food and decent work. Quarantine became a privilege accessible only to those who have a house or who could lock themselves up and work remotely. Moreover, in many cases, seeking refuge from the danger of the virus meant being locked up in a situation no less dangerous for some women: a situation of domestic violence and abuse. Protection of life during the COVID-19 pandemic requires that we stay inside our homes. However, this puts many women in greater risk by living 24/7 with their abuser. Unfortunately, due to social distancing and protective sanitary measures, women’s shelters soon reached full capacity, thus preventing women from seeking refuge.

Moreover, household and care work—activities that primarily fall on women’s shoulders—have also increased since the outbreak of the pandemic. Women now have to ensure total hygiene, constantly clean the house, look after their children and elderly relatives, and assist children in virtual schooling, which overburdens them even more. The most is being asked of those who have been guaranteed the least (Maffia, 2020). The pandemic has brought the domestic sphere to centre stage. Many of the issues that feminist movements had already been denouncing and that were not visible precisely because they were in the realm of the intimate today emerge strongly. We see that all of this work is essential for society to continue and, above all, for life to be preserved.

And the pandemic has also disrupted the already limited access to sexual and reproductive health services that women have in Latin America. A UN policy brief reported that an additional 18 million women in the region would cease to have access to contraceptives because of the pandemic (UN, 2020). The ongoing lockdowns, lack of access to birth control and family planning in addition to an increase in gender-based and sexual violence could lead to an estimated 600,000 unintended pregnancies in the region (Murray and Moloney, 2020).

Despite having some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, feminist groups in Latin America put their bodies on the line and went out on the streets to demand justice for social problems that existed even before the pandemic and those that have intensified because of it.

In Mexico, for example, women and family members of victims of gender and sexual violence and disappeared women, together with the support of feminist collectives, have occupied the headquarters of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) since early September as a response to the inability of the government to provide access to justice and the impunity of such crimes. In Quito, Ecuador, as in other cities in the region, hundreds of women went out on the streets on 28 September, International Safe Abortion Day, to demand access to legal and safe abortion. And in Colombia, feminist collectives started the campaign ‘¡Estamos Putas! ¡Juntas somos más poderosas!’ to support cis and trans women sex workers who have been affected by the coronavirus-related ban on sex work during the lockdown.

These are just some examples of how the feminist movements in Latin America continue to transform society and to enact social change and social justice, even throughout a pandemic. As two migrant women, feminists from Latin America living in Europe and working in academia, we acknowledge our privileges and choose to use our voices to amplify those of our compañeras back home and make visible their struggles and contributions. The enormous efforts by women who, collectively, support victims of gender violence, accompany women to abortions, report police brutality, look for disappeared people and fight extractive industries, were being made before the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to be made. We hope that now women’s fundamental contributions become even more visible and valued by the whole of our society.


Bartels-Bland, E. (2020) “COVID-19 Could Worsen Gender Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean”, World Bank. In https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.worldbank.org%2Fen%2Fnews%2Ffeature%2F2020%2F05%2F15%2Fcovid-19-could-worsen-gender-inequality-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean&data=04%7C01%7Cbliss%40iss.nl%7Cdfad3f9f62124c4b6ab008d89cf034c5%7C715902d6f63e4b8d929b4bb170bad492%7C0%7C0%7C637431902783559546%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=oFG0rjBqELfmooAtieUHMxzk79Cw7WmpehUCQsVB7Pg%3D&reserved=0

Lugones, M. (2007) “Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System”. Hypatia 22(1), 186-209.

Maffia, Diana (2020) “Violencia de Género: ¿La otra pandemia?” In El futuro después del COVID-19. Argentina Unida. In https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.argentina.gob.ar%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fel_futuro_despues_del_covid-19_0.pdf&data=04%7C01%7Cbliss%40iss.nl%7Cdfad3f9f62124c4b6ab008d89cf034c5%7C715902d6f63e4b8d929b4bb170bad492%7C0%7C0%7C637431902783559546%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=I9IPssiI8Rzzzvran9Okzrqa813asSwkZcIDtUkOVkk%3D&reserved=0

Murray C. and Moloney, A. (2020). “Pandemic brings growing risk of pregnancy, abuse to Latin American girls”. In https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.reuters.com%2Farticle%2Fus-health-coronavirus-latamgirls-trfn-idUSKCN24W1EN&data=04%7C01%7Cbliss%40iss.nl%7Cdfad3f9f62124c4b6ab008d89cf034c5%7C715902d6f63e4b8d929b4bb170bad492%7C0%7C0%7C637431902783559546%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=BZZcVyhhahmxGJA6T3GfMZ%2FBtOkPOkjcQtaNB1DN4KM%3D&reserved=0

UN (2020), “Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women”. In https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.un.org%2Fsites%2Fun2.un.org%2Ffiles%2Fpolicy_brief_on_covid_impact_on_women_9_april_2020.pdf&data=04%7C01%7Cbliss%40iss.nl%7Cdfad3f9f62124c4b6ab008d89cf034c5%7C715902d6f63e4b8d929b4bb170bad492%7C0%7C0%7C637431902783559546%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=WGB6vwEiIhYhoZD1FToyYjjfN18NWpL%2Ff%2F64mq%2B5dIE%3D&reserved=0

UN Women (2020) “COVID-19 and ending violence against women and girls”. In https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.unwomen.org%2Fen%2Fdigital-library%2Fpublications%2F2020%2F04%2Fissue-brief-covid-19-and-ending-violence-against-women-and-girls&data=04%7C01%7Cbliss%40iss.nl%7Cdfad3f9f62124c4b6ab008d89cf034c5%7C715902d6f63e4b8d929b4bb170bad492%7C0%7C0%7C637431902783559546%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=V5koQXaTqs9850PnQF%2Bty5gw%2FL7Btzrjsi357Dmw1ZE%3D&reserved=0

This blog article was first published in DevISSues and has been modified for publication on Bliss.

About the authors:

Agustina Solera is a researcher in Latin American Social Studies and a visiting researcher at ISS.

Brenda Rodríguez Cortés is a PhD candidate at ISS working on issues of gender and sexuality.

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 | The COVID-19 pandemic and oil spills in the Ecuadorian Amazon: the confluence of two crises

How can we reframe the current planetary crisis to find ways for decisive and life-changing collective action? The Amazon region of Ecuador, at the center of two crises—COVID-19 and a major oil spill—but also home to a long history of indigenous resistance, offers some answers.

Oil Spill Amazon

Navigating two crises

In Ecuador, the intensification of resource extraction and pollution, floods and weather disturbances have hit marginalized populations hardest. Indigenous peoples and people living in the Amazon have continuously suffered an enormous political and economic disadvantage when confronting extractive industries and allied state bodies. The vulnerability of the peoples and territory of the Ecuadorian Amazon region has been even more severely exposed during the COVID-19 lockdown period starting 16 March 2020.

On 7 April 2020, the Trans-Ecuadorian Oil Pipeline System and the Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline, which transport Ecuador’s oil, collapsed. The pipelines were built along the banks of the Coca River and the collapse resulted in the spillage of an enormous quantity of crude oil into its waters. The Coca river is a key artery in the regional Amazon system. It runs through three national parks that form one of the richest biodiverse areas on Earth, which has been historically preserved by the ways of life of the indigenous peoples who inhabit it.

The breakage of the pipelines impacted kilometers of rainforest riverways and tens of thousands of people. Indigenous populations living in surrounding areas are more at risk than non-indigenous populations because they rely on locally harvested food and water, which can become contaminated. Indigenous peoples find it difficult to comply with lockdown mobility restrictions since their subsistence depends on agriculture, hunting and fishing, which in turn have been severely impacted by the oil spills. The exposure to the virus due to the entry of technicians to repair the pipelines is another threat. These conditions have led the Confederation of indigenous nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) warning of an impending genocide.

The Coca river valley before the erosion. Photo credit: Luisa Andrade

Despite the constitutional mandate to provide free and high-quality public healthcare for all citizens, the Ecuadorian national health system is fraught with problems. Health coverage in the Amazon region is precarious with a lack of medical facilities, doctors, and not enough COVID-19 tests and ventilators required to treat an outbreak. While elderly and people with comorbidities have been identified globally as most vulnerable to infection, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights identifies indigenous people as a risk group. Indeed, historically, pathogens have been one of the most powerful factors in decimating indigenous peoples in South America.

Depending on how an issue is framed, different responses can be expected, including why something is considered or not a problem, who is responsible, and what needs to be done about it. Environmental problems derived from the extraction of natural resources such as oil are mainly framed as localized problems. Thus, the burden is placed onto affected communities and local and national governments, while their global and systematic character is disowned. What we aim to say with this is that while there are companies and governmental entities that are directly responsible, their actions respond to a global system that is based and sustained on extractivism.

As the COVID-19 pandemic shows, it is only when a crisis is understood as part of a global web of relations derived from complex power dynamics that we can imagine possibilities of globally coordinated and integrated efforts required for effective resolution. We are now living under global restrictions, which were once unimaginable, politically and economically.  The rapid adaptation of quarantine and travel restrictions reveals that when the message of ‘human life is in danger’ is embraced, societies as a whole are able to perform the collective drastic changes required in a short period of time.

For Ecuadorian grassroots organizations and scholars, the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of our interconnectedness, our collective vulnerability, and therefore our mutual obligations to our planet. The pandemic is just one aspect of the human-made planetary crisis along with biodiversity loss and climate change. We are interested in how to reframe the current planetary crisis that encompasses increasingly visible global diseases in order to find ways for decisive and life-changing collective action. We ask these questions by looking at the Amazon region of Ecuador, which is bearing the brunt of two crises: COVID-19 and environmental destruction through a major oil spill.

“In the name of development”

To understand the complexity of this human and ecological disaster, it is necessary to retrace some historical steps. On February 2, 2020, the San Rafael waterfall, the highest in Ecuador, collapsed. At that time, hydrologists warned that a phenomenon known as ‘regressive erosion’ could affect upstream infrastructure. On April 7, 2020 the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources announced that the pipelines broke due to landslides that occurred in the San Rafael sector. Hydrologists associate the landslides with the construction and operation of the Coca-Codo Sinclair hydroelectric dam (CCSHD).

Location of the most relevant events generated by the regressive erosion phenomenon of the Coca River. Infographic credit: Luisa Andrade

According to Carolina Bernal, PhD in Geomorphology and Hydrosedimentology, the CCSHD caused a serious imbalance in the transport of sediments and water through the river flow which produced a  regressive erosion phenomenon which was responsible for causing sinkholes along the banks of the river. One of these sinkholes broke the oil pipelines. This risk had been mentioned in the earlier preliminary environmental impact study of the hydroelectric project.

CCSHD was inaugurated as part of Ecuador’s hydraulic mission during the presidency of Rafael Correa. The dam, like other hydroelectric projects carried out during his mandate, was politically legitimatized as “provider of clean energy and ‘good living’ for Ecuadorians and the world”. The rhetoric concerning the sustainable energy transition to renewable sources in the national energy matrix has been notably inconsistent with the dam’s high impacts on people and the environment.

The socio-environmental impacts associated with CCSHD and the oil spill were foreseen by the scientific community and civil society who were dismissed as “antidevelopmentalists” by Correa’s government. Some anticipated that the dam would a be major disruption of downstream sediment for the Napo River and would require extensive road-building and line construction in the primary forest. Others have questioned the true purpose of the dam, arguing that it was not about sustainable development for local people, but rather to provide electricity to the oil fields.

One of several sinkholes caused by the regressive erosion of the Coca River. The sinkhole captured in this picture is close to the town of San Luis. Photo credit: Carlos Sanchez (August 2020)

Going beyond business as usual

Even if the world is still embroiled in the COVID-19 pandemic, the responses to this crisis have revealed stark unequal, racial, and geopolitical differences. The indigenous populations affected by the spill and the pandemic have denounced the failure of the state to attend to these two emergencies. The many commentators on the current changes in the social and economic constellation of the world are urging for the re-evaluation of our way of life and the possibility of a radical change. For Ecuadorian indigenous organizations and the environmental justice movement, the pandemic and the environmental crises call for a radical rethinking of economic growth and our current model of development.

Scholars like Maurie Cohen see COVID-19 as “a public health emergency and a real-time experiment in downsizing the consumer economy”. Accordingly, the outbreak could potentially contribute to a sustainable consumption transition. For Phoebe Everingham and Natasha Chassagne the crisis is an opportunity to challenge the atomized individualism that underlies overconsumption. For them, Buen Vivir, a central concept to Ecuador’s development planning, drawn from the historical experience of indigenous communities that have lived in harmony with nature, is a post-pandemic alternative for moving away from capitalist growth and re-imagining a new form of traveling and tourism.

We cannot return to ‘a normal’ that ignores the global environmental crisis which led to the inequitable and polluted societies that enabled the spread of COVID-19. The extractive vision of the living world is endangering humanity’s very existence. Is there space for a greater appreciation of the complexity of these intertwined crises? When will we see, as Bayo Akomalafe states, “Earth’s interconnected geological and political processes”?.

The extractive environmental activities that underpin capitalist development and a planetary-mass consumption culture are jeopardizing the very existence of humanity. Though environmental disasters have decimated and violated the rights of indigenous peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon for years, they continue to resist. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, groups of Amazonian indigenous organizations promoted a model of autonomous governance of the Amazon region of Ecuador and Peru through the “Sacred Basins Territories of Life” initiative.

The proposal has been developed by an alliance of indigenous peoples and nationalities of Ecuador and Peru to forge a new post-carbon, post-extractive model by leaving fossil fuels and mineral resources underground, retaining around 3.8 billion metric tons of carbon, to protect our planet and the well-being of future generations. The proposal would cover around 30 million hectares of land between Ecuador and Peru, home to almost 500,000 indigenous people of 20 different nationalities. Can these counter-hegemonic proposals which claim the interconnectivity of all species in this world be critically revisited in the times of the pandemic?

COVID-19 brought the world to a halt. This ‘portal to a new era’, as Arundhati Roy proclaimed, offers us a chance to question deeply our social and economic relations. Perhaps this could be the moment in history where we also can finally reframe localized environmental disasters as global concerns and act accordingly. This is the opportunity to politically and socially rethink how to transition to a different kind of development that acknowledges and changes the damaging way global lifestyles directly impact the indigenous peoples and natures of the world.

This blog article was first published on Undisciplined Environments.

About the authors:

Jacqueline Gaybor is a Research Associate at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University, in The Hague and lecturer at Erasmus University College in Rotterdam. Email: gaybortobar@iss.nl.

Wendy HarcourtWendy Harcourt is a Professor of Gender, Diversity and Sustainable Development at the International Institute of Social Studies of the Erasmus University, in The Hague. She is a member of the Editorial Collective of Undisciplined Environments. Email: harcourt@iss.nl.

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 | Ecuador, COVID-19 and the IMF: how austerity exacerbated the crisis by Ana Lucía Badillo Salgado and Andrew M. Fischer

Ecuador is currently (as of 8 April) the South American country worst affected by COVID-19 in terms of the number of confirmed cases and fatalities per capita. While even the universal health systems of Northern European countries are becoming severely frayed by the nature of this pandemic, Ecuador serves as a powerful example of how much worse the situation is for many low- and middle-income countries, particularly those whose public health systems have already been undermined by financial assistance programmes with international financial institutions (IFIs). The IMF and other IFIs such as the World Bank must acknowledge the role they have played and continue to play in undermining public health systems in ways that exacerbate the effects of the pandemic in many developing countries.

The recent IMF Extended Fund Facility (EFF) Arrangement, signed in March 2019 with the Government of Ecuador, was already the subject of massive protests in October 2019 given the austerity and ‘structural reforms’ imposed on the country (aka structural adjustment). It has also directly contributed to the severity of the pandemic in this country given that health and social security systems were among the first casualties of the austerity and reforms. In particular, the government’s COVID-19 response has been severely hindered by dramatic reductions of public health investment and by large layoffs of public health workers preceding the outbreak of the virus.

From this perspective, even though the IMF has recently moved to offer finance and debt relief to developing countries hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, a much more serious change of course is needed. For this, it is vital to understand its own role ­– and that of other IFIs such as the World Bank – in undermining health systems before the emergence of the pandemic in various developing countries, lest similar policy recipes are again repeated.

The baseline

It is clear that the pre-existing national healthcare system in Ecuador has been replete with problems even in ‘normal’ times. As in most of Latin America, the weaknesses of the healthcare system in Ecuador stem from its segmented and stratified character, with a distinct segregation between three main subsectors – the public, social security, and private sectors. The Ecuadorian Ministry of Health has a weak coordinating and regulatory role over these three subsectors, each of which caters to different beneficiary populations and with clearly distinct quality of services. The public system is the lowest quality and the one accessed by most poor people. Despite claims of universal health, the national system is a far cry from anything approaching genuine universalism.

Moreover, there has been a progressive privatization and commodification of healthcare since 2008. For instance, the building of capacity within the social security system has been undermined by the channelling of health funding via contracts to the private sector, where pricing is also mostly unregulated [1]. More generally, Ecuador has consistently exhibited one the highest out-of-pocket (OOP) health expenditure shares in South America, despite a government discourse and constitutional mandate to deliver free, high quality, public healthcare for all citizens. OOP payments – or direct payments by users at the point of service – reached 41.4% per total health spending in 2016 [2]. They include, for instance, payments for medicine or medical supplies by poor people in public hospitals, as well as payments by middle- and upper-class people for consultations and surgeries. The COVID-19 crisis puts pressure on precisely these aspects of healthcare provisioning, rendering the system prone to systemic failure for the majority of the population, especially in times of economic crisis when the ability of users to pay is severely curtailed.

Crisis and IFIs

These problems in the healthcare system have been exacerbated by the austerity measures of the current government of Lenín Moreno. The measures were introduced in the context of the protracted economic crisis that started in 2014 and have been endorsed by the IMF and other IFIs. Public health expenditure plateaued at 2.7% of GDP in 2017 and 2018, and then fell slightly to 2.6% in 2019, when GDP also slightly contracted (see figure). This was despite the constitutional goal that established an increase of at least 0.5% of GDP per year until 4% was to be reached, which is still far below the 6% of GDP recommended by the Pan American Health Organization [3].


Source: elaborated from the Fiscal Policy Observatory data (last accessed 7 April 2020 at https://www.observatoriofiscal.org/publicaciones/transparencia-fiscal/file/221-transparencia-fiscal-no-163-marzo-2020.html)
* The main component of this expenditure is on non-contributory social protection (social cash transfers).
** It excludes health expenditure of the social security system.

However, the collapse in public investment in the health sector has been far more dramatic, falling by 64% from 2017 to 2019, or from USD 306 million in 2017 to USD 110 million in 2019 [4]. Such reductions would have been largely borne by the public health system and constitute expenditures that are vital for a COVID-19 response, such as the construction of hospitals and the purchase of medical equipment.

It was in this context that the IMF Extended Fund Facility (EFF) was agreed and signed in March 2019. Within the framework of this programme, the government implemented a large layoff of public healthcare workers (including doctors, nurses, auxiliary nurses, stretcher-bearers, social workers, and other healthcare workers). The layoffs continued throughout 2019, despite protests by the National Syndicate of Healthcare Workers of the Ministry of Health [5], [6], [7]. It is difficult to know the exact number of layoffs because of the fragmented functioning of the health system, although within the Ministry of Public Health alone, 3,680 public health workers were laid off in 2019, representing 4.5% of total employment in this Ministry and 29% of total central government layoffs in that year [calculated from 8]. Similar reductions in the social security sector were announced in 2019 for 2020, although we have not yet been able to find any data on these reductions.

Thus, it is not a surprise that Ecuador is currently doing so poorly in handling the COVID 19 crisis. The retrenchment of the public health system together with an already weak and retrenched social protection system coupled for the perfect storm. But even more worrying is that, in the face of the pandemic, the government paid 324 million USD on the capital and interest of its sovereign ‘2020 bonds’ on 24 March instead of prioritizing the management of the health crisis. This decision was taken despite a petition on 22 March by the Ecuadorean assembly to suspend such payments, along with a chorus of civil society organizations lobbying for the same [9] [10]. The government nonetheless justified the payment as a trigger for further loans from the IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and Andean Financial Corporation [11]. This is especially problematic given that Ecuador has been hard hit by the collapse of oil prices and, as a dollarized economy, its only control over money supply and hence hope for economic stimulus rests on preventing monetary outflows from the economy (and encouraging inflows).

The payment is also paradoxical given that the IMF and the World Bank are currently calling for the prioritization of health expenditure and social protection and for a standstill of debt service, and have announced initiatives for debt relief and emergency financing [12] [13]. Nonetheless, despite such noble rhetoric, it appears that the precondition for such measures continues to be the protection of private creditors over urgent health financing needs.

Atoning for past and present sins on the path to universalism

The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly exposes the inadequacies of existing social policy systems in developing countries and the urgent need of moving towards more genuinely universalistic systems. Ecuador is exemplary given that it has until recently been celebrated as a New Left social model even while its national health system has remained deeply segregated and increasingly commodified.

However, while the IMF and other IFIs have emphasised the importance of placing health expenditures in developing countries at the top of the priority list in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic [12], they have not acknowledged their own continuing roles in undermining these priorities. Indeed, their messaging is often contradictory, given that both the IMF and the World Bank have also repeatedly insisted that developing countries must persist with ‘structural reforms’ during and after the pandemic [13] [14]. In other words, there is no evidence that the course has been reset. As one way to induce a reset, it is important that they acknowledge the roles they have played and continue to play in undermining public health systems and universalistic social policy more generally, lest they continue to repeat them despite the switch to more noble rhetoric.

[1] http://cdes.org.ec/web/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/privatizaci%C3%B3n-salud.pdf
[2] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)30841-4/fulltext
[3] https://www.cepal.org/es/publicaciones/45337-america-latina-caribe-la-pandemia-covid-19-efectos-economicos-sociales
[4] https://coyunturaisip.wordpress.com/2020/03/28/los-recortes-cobran-factura-al-ecuador-la-inversion-en-salud-se-redujo-un-36-en-2019/
[5] https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2019/03/06/nota/7219694/trabajadores-publicos-salud-denuncian-despidos-masivos
[6] https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/recorte-personal-contratos-ocasionales-ecuador.html
[7] https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/despidos-trabajadores-ministerio-salud-evaluacion.html
[8] https://www.observatoriofiscal.org/publicaciones/estudios-y-an%C3%A1lisis/file/220-n%C3%BAmero-de-servidores-p%C3%BAblicos-del-presupuesto-2018-2019.html
[9] https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/asamblea-suspender-pago-deuda-coronavirus.html
[10] https://ww2.elmercurio.com.ec/2020/03/24/la-conaie-pide-al-gobierno-suspender-el-pago-de-la-deuda-externa/
[11] https://www.bourse.lu/issuer/Ecuador/34619 (first link under the notices section)
[12] https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2020/04/03/vs-some-say-there-is-a-trade-off-save-lives-or-save-jobs-this-is-a-false-dilemma
[13] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/speech/2020/03/04/joint-press-conference-on-covid-19-by-imf-managing-director-and-world-bank-group-president
[14] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/speech/2020/03/23/remarks-by-world-bank-group-president-david-malpass-on-g20-finance-ministers-conference-call-on-covid-19

This article is part of a series about the coronavirus crisis. Read all articles of this series here.

About the authors:

Ana LucíaAna Lucía Badillo Salgado is a PhD researcher at the ISS focusing on the political economy of social protection reforms in Ecuador and Paraguay, in particular the role of external actors in influencing social policymaking. She is also a Lecturer at Leiden University College. mug shot 2

Andrew M. Fischer is Associate Professor of Social Policy and Development Studies at the ISS and the Scientific Director of CERES, The Dutch Research School for International Development. His latest book, Poverty as Ideology (Zed, 2018), was awarded the International Studies in Poverty Prize by the Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP) and Zed Books and, as part of the award, is now fully open access (http://bora.uib.no/handle/1956/20614). Since 2015, he has been leading a European Research Council Starting Grant on the political economy of externally financing social policy in developing countries. He has been known to tweet @AndrewM_Fischer