A surging Covid-19 caseload, a president who dismisses testing, who doesn’t take the pandemic seriously, who won’t wear a mask in public. Sounds like Trump’s “great America,” right? Actually, it’s Mexico! The government of purportedly left-leaning president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has adopted policies that send the virus infection rate soaring and place millions of workers and indigenous people in severe poverty. As government neglect rises, so does the indignation of a people whose militancy has been an example to others around the world.
Mexico was already in a healthcare crisis before the coronavirus emerged. Although its economy has been one of Latin America’s strongest, spending on healthcare is only 3 percent of gross domestic product. In the region, only Venezuela and Guatemala allocate a lower proportion. Each successive recent president has cut the health budget.
Public hospitals are outdated and lack supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE). Medical workers’ pay is so meager that understaffing is a longstanding problem. Overworked and under-protected, health staff constituted 20 percent of Covid-19 cases at the beginning of June. As a result, hundreds of patients die needlessly.
Indigenous people devastated. Particularly hard hit are Mexico’s indigenous communities, both health-wise and economically. Cuauhtémoc Ruíz, a leader of the Mexican Socialist Workers Party (Partido Obero Socialista, or POS), notes, “The indigenous population is perhaps the most affected of all by the pandemic. Construction has stopped, and of the millions that work in that field, 20 to 30 percent are indigenous. They haven’t had work for months.”
Large numbers of indigenous Mexicans are also involved in domestic work, tourism, and selling goods on the streets in the informal economy. The quarantine and consequent economic shutdown affect such livelihoods grievously, with hunger being a common result.
Ruíz relates the plight of Augustina Campos, an indigenous woman in Ayutla, Guerrero. She and her children usually sell popsicles, French fries and tortillas on the street. Covid has made this impossible. In the past, when the family has faced hunger, they would survive by going to their community’s homeland in the mountains to acquire basic staples like corn, beans and bananas. That is no longer an option as indigenous leaders restrict entry to communal lands to avoid contagion.
In Oaxaca State, the POS has many indigenous members who are teachers. As public servants, they continue to receive salaries, but see the economic devastation and hunger bearing down on most of the community.
POS members are also leaders in the education union and have organized food banks to step in as the government fails to act.
A war on workers north and south of the border. Although poverty is greater in Mexico, U.S. and Mexican workers face similar challenges with multinational corporations and the government officials who promote big business. The drive for low wages and proliferation of the gig economy destroys decent jobs. As a result, many U.S. workers find themselves in the same informal sector that millions of Mexicans have suffered for decades. When Covid-19 shut down both economies, stimulus packages on both sides of the border flowed to big enterprises while small businesses and their employees went broke. Industries with the lowest-paying, most dangerous jobs, like meatpacking and agriculture, continued operating work sites without precautionary measures, thereby creating coronavirus hotspots.
When the big three Detroit automakers restarted plants in the U.S., pressure was on to reopen parts maquiladoras in Juarez and other border areas. This occurred in late May, as Mexican coronavirus cases were rising. It’s now clear that bringing workers together again in these non-essential jobs was a deadly public health mistake in both countries. Solidarity between U.S. workers and their Mexican counterparts is key to solving the problem. The virus and the underlying economic flaws are cross-border and in need of international solutions.
Working-class solidarity. By joining together with the Mexican POS and other Latin American revolutionaries, the FSP is building international solidarity to address the ongoing crisis of capitalism that the pandemic has exposed. This is taking place through hemisphere-wide collaboration in the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR), consisting of the FSP, POS, Argentinian Partido Socialismo y Libertad, and Brazilian Movimento Revolucionário Socialista.
A key challenge for CRIR is to expose left populist governments like those of AMLO in Mexico. Such leaders talk of being socialist and promise radical reforms to workers and the poor. In this way, they win over large numbers of voters in elections. But their allegiance is to international capital.
This is obvious as they choose to make foreign debt payments instead of funding public health in the midst of a pandemic. And when workers take to the streets to demand protection from Covid-19 at work, these populist administrations stand ready to use police and military force against protests and strikes. AMLO created a National Guard as an additional armed force to join federal and local police and military, for this kind of repression.
Clearly, it will take more than seemingly left-leaning defenders of capitalism to solve the Covid-19 pandemic and create an economy that serves the needs of humanity. AMLO is definitely not the answer. In fact, it’s Mexico’s working class whose capacity for struggle shines the light on the road forward.
There are numerous examples of Mexican workers showing the force and determination needed to defend their lives in the face of the pandemic: from the militant indigenous teachers of Oaxaca who have spent years staving off privatization of schools, to the women who filled the streets with a general strike to stop femicide and sexual abuse; from the huge maquila workers strike last January, to the medical staff and doctors picketing for supplies and PPE against Covid-19.
The Mexican working class, united with its world allies, has the power to defeat the pandemic and expose the criminal injustices of the system underlying it.