We  Weren’t  Born to Follow  

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COVID-19 lockdown takes a heavy toll on informal workers of Latin America and the Caribbean 

Student Commentary  

By Nicole Weiss / Staff Writer

From dictatorships to impeachments,  Latin America’s colorful, recent history indicates  the continent’s penchant for instability.  However, the coronavirus epidemic has challenged the normally acceptable levels of chaos in the continent.  When faced with unprecedented  circumstances, Latin Americans took refuge in the guidelines of the WHO, the European Union, and even the United States. As the region approaches 10 million confirmed cases, 370,000 deaths, and the worst recession in over a century, one starts to wonder if blindly following developed nations was the best course of action. 

Lockdowns in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)  have had a stark impact on its most impoverished people, most of whom  cannot  work from home.  As per the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),  the region’s economy relies heavily on informal workers that are struggling to make ends meet. Street vendors, taxi and Uber drivers, and small business owners were some of the characters suddenly erased from the motley crowds of Latin cities. 

A recent study by the Council of the Americas shows that even with government assistance  (i.e. cash handouts, unemployment benefits, and debt relief) countless citizens have lost their financial independence to a crisis that does not abate. Countries in the area are now indebted and do not possess the means to support most of their populace for an indefinite period. In 2020, the  GDP  drop is expected to be 5.3%  and 83.4 million people will be subjected to extreme poverty according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

In wanting to protect all, states invariably benefited those who could  learn and work remotely  and are usually prosperous.  Wealthier households can afford computers, tutors, and even private spaces that facilitate the laborious task of connecting daily to the outside world. An impecunious family, on the other hand, rarely has the opportunity to access one of the selective but tedious meetings or classes. Cash handouts present a small relief but do not bring back the quality of life and security previously attained by society’s most vulnerable. Although hard to measure at the moment, inequality is likely to increase in one of the most inequitable areas of the globe.  

Instituting a lockdown is always a hard choice, but one cannot ignore its recklessness. Millions of jobs were lost, food insecurity and poverty are at levels seen fifteen years ago, and LAC countries are still battling the first wave of coronavirus, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).  Seeing as though countries were in a hurry to address the pandemic, LAC leaders, international health organizations and the people themselves  should have taken the time to consider the impact of full lockdowns upon informal economies and developing nations.  

Read more on the issue:

COVID-19: UN agencies warn against rising hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean: Regional socio-economic implications and policy priorities 

FAO Congressional Briefing Calls for Immediate Action to Prevent Hunger Crises amid COVID-19 Pandemic