Afro-descendants suffer the worst impacts of the pandemic

The dismantling of public services by Latin American and Caribbean governments in recent years has guaranteed that vulnerable populations are the ones most affected by the coronavirus pandemic in the health, social and economic spheres.

The Interamericas region has seen centuries of enslavement of people brought by force from the African continent and violent massacres of native peoples, the original residents of the Americas. Any racial and ethnic analysis must be made in this context. African descendants and native groups earn less income, experience higher unemployment and have less access to services such as health, water and decent housing. This context results in families of many people, for example, living in one or two room houses, without the possibility of practicing the social distancing necessary to reduce the transmission of Covid-19. While those with higher incomes can telework, poorer populations often have more informal employment which has resulted in higher rates of job loss provoked by the pandemic.

These points were some of the most important topics of the virtual meeting of the Interamerican Regional Committee to Combat Racism and Xenophobia of Public Services International (PSI). The issue of the lack of access to water and the defense of quality public services were considered central struggles to achieve reductions of these historic disparities.

The participants highlighted the example racial inequality the case of the city of São Paulo, the largest and most populous in Brazil, where the Afro-descendant population is 62% more likely to die from Covid-19 than the white population.

The Committee expressed concern about the already existing contamination among native peoples and in indigenous communities. It was noted, for example, that the national borders in the Amazon forest shared by Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela and French Guyana are very weak, intensifying the spread of the virus.

Committee participants also affirmed that there are other serious situations of racism linked to the pandemic and to the physical distancing measures. Emergency aid often does not reach the most vulnerable population in some countries, and corruption practices are identified that make this access even more difficult. According to the Committee, these monetary aid packages should have a differentiated approach for each specific population.

Another serious problem identified by Committee members is the discrimination against people of African descent in the repression of those who do not observe mandatory curfews and quarantines. Consequently, police are using a greater use of violence.

In addition, meeting participants expressed concern about violence against health workers that are on the front line against the coronavirus, a reality that is mixed with racism, and the complex situation of the migrant population in the region, particularly Venezuelans. Social protection policies must necessarily include all migrant workers.

Finally, the Regional Committee to Combat Racism and Xenophobia confirmed support for the continuity of the international project between PSI and the German Labour Central, DGB, which allows for training and for participation in the meetings of the SUBRACs. Finally, PSI's global and regional struggles and the regional action plan for 2020 were discussed and received wide support.