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On States, Pandemics and the End of Capitalism: Imperial Biopolitics

On States, Pandemics and the End of Capitalism: Imperial Biopolitics

"We must guard against the real, biological threat of the Coronavirus, but also be on guard against its" biopolitical ghost. " We must be aware of the news and events, of course, but without allowing ourselves to be dominated by fear, and being critical of so much exaggerated or decidedly false information that it can overwhelm us ”.

Of empires, viruses and ghosts

Just a few months, even weeks ago, it was inconceivable that "something" as small and seemingly insignificant as a virus could generate a deep crisis, as well as abrupt and equally profound changes in the capitalist world economy. But so it was. Everything changed, but, as we will see later, nothing has really changed.

With the exception of the inhabitants of the province of Wuhan, in China, a few months ago the inhabitants of the whole world believed we were safe from the so-called “Coronavirus” (SARS 2 or COVID-19). We saw it as a very distant problem, something that began and would end in China. But it was not like that. The virus spread throughout the world, to the extent that today it is called a "pandemic."

At this point, it can be a boring commonplace - already used by several authors in an easy way - to start a text with the words "A ghost travels Europe ..." or even "A ghost travels the World ...". Yet it is. Along with the concrete and biological reality of the Coronavirus, there is another reality, a "biopolitical ghost", if you will.

We choose to speak of a “biopolitical ghost” in this sense: it is not real, it does not have a concrete and biological reality like the Coronavirus itself. On the contrary, this "biopolitical ghost" is made up of vague fears of the "internal enemy", of a nebulous recycled racism for the 21st century and a hint of anti-communism - or in other cases, of "anti-Yankee" sentiment - of the middle 20th century.

This “biopolitical ghost” moves in the realm of “theories” –for lack of a better name– that try to explain the pandemic, without success, as a result of intentional human actions. This is not the space or the time to review and discard them one by one, but let's mention in passing the bat soup, divine punishments, a biological attack on the part of an ecoterrorist group, the Chinese government or the US government.

The nebulous body of this "biopolitical ghost" is made up of a bizarre parade of delusional conspiracy theories, within which frankly the only thing that was needed was to accuse the aliens of the Coronavirus, or to a biological attack carried out in coordination by the evil alliance between manufacturers of toilet paper and manufacturers of masks.

However, this “biopolitical ghost” also comes to have a concrete dimension and existence, as we can see in the actions of many governments around the world, including the government of Guatemala, which, although they have taken actions that are correct from the point of view From a health point of view, they also have a military or counterinsurgency plan, which is evidenced in the vocabulary of "war against the Coronavirus" and other similar expressions, in addition to curfews and other measures such as the closure of borders (for people, of course , but never for merchandise).

On the end of Capitalism

Several world-renowned analysts have recently analyzed the Coronavirus from different perspectives, many of them opposing. Some of the most radical were discarded perhaps too soon. Thus, let us mention, for example, Slavoj Zizek, for whom the Coronavirus is neither more nor less than a mortal blow to the very heart of capitalism.

Although we share that the Coronavirus was without a doubt a very severe blow to the capitalist world economy, we do not believe that it is a fatal blow. However, we believe it is too early to dismiss Zizek's opinion out of hand.

After all, said author at no time assured that the end of capitalism was just around the corner, nor that it would happen in weeks or months. Only time will tell if Zizek was wrong (in that case the Coronavirus will be defeated) or he was right. In such a case, the virus could be, for example, the first of several events triggering the collapse of world capitalism.

We are closer to the postulates of Judith Butler or Naomi Klein, who claim with good reason that the crisis of the Coronavirus pandemic will rather be used by the dominant classes and groups to reinforce and renew the capitalist system. This can be seen equally in openly authoritarian governments as in those more concerned with keeping democratic appearances.

This has been verified throughout the world (and also in Guatemala), since regardless of its real origin, intentional or not, the Coronavirus has been used to give perks and advantages to the richest, as well as to increase the exploitation of the workers, and to reinforce the control of the population in general.

Among many other examples, we can mention the nefarious role of the US government, which instead of collaborating with global efforts against the Coronavirus, reinforces economic sanctions and political pressure against its enemies of the moment (China, Iran, Venezuela), without ruling out military options, or else it is dedicated to financing solutions such as vaccines produced exclusively for that country, and to prohibiting the export of medical supplies to the rest of the world.

What to say about the unstoppable sending of deportees (many of them already infected with the Coronavirus) to their countries of origin? And your first stop will be, as is already known, Guatemala, the so-called "safe third country", which does not have the capacity to provide decent health care to its inhabitants, much less to those deported from other countries.

From another perspective, it can be said that the Coronavirus is something like the “wet dream” of every ruler: obedient workers who meekly go to factories or farms to be exploited without question, and then run to lock themselves in their homes, without have the time or the courage to go out and protest. That is why we affirmed before that with the Coronavirus everything changed, but nothing has really changed.

On the real origin of the pandemic, the always interesting Vandana Shiva illustrates us in the sense that bats do have something to do (but not in the form of the racist myth of the Chinese and their bat soup). In fact, it is due to deforestation and environmental devastation caused by the agro-industrial and extractive model, which deprives many living species of their territories to dedicate them to capitalist production. This causes human beings to come into contact with other animal species (monkeys, bats and others), carriers of viruses for which they have no defenses.

Another way of saying the same is the statement of David Harvey, who jokingly indicated –although it still has a very serious meaning– that “COVID-19 constitutes a revenge of nature for more than forty years of rude and abusive mistreatment at the hands of a violent and deregulated neoliberal extractivism ”. Or even Gabriel Markus' question “Is the coronavirus an immune response of the planet to the insolence of the human being, which destroys infinite living beings out of greed?

Of the Coronavirus in Abya Yala

Here are some brushstrokes on the regional situation for the first four months of 2020. We tried, without much success, to abstract from the issue of the pandemic generated by the Coronavirus, COVID-19 or SARS 2. Abstract ourselves, in the sense of seeing or to imagine an “beyond”, an “after” the pandemic, not in the sense of closing one's eyes to its concrete, biological reality - in the worst style of Trump or Bolsonaro. But we will return to it in due course.

For now, let's mention what is, or should already be, obvious: the announced end of capitalism, nothing. No sign. At least not yet. On the contrary, what has been seen is more of the same, including a strengthening of the foundations of capitalism: exploitation and repression. For example, in theAbya yala (Latin America), according to the Latin American Strategic Geopolitical Center, there have been diverse governmental responses to the Coronavirus, although also some constant ones.

One of the constants observed by CELAG is that governments with a more conservative ideology and / or that recently faced protests (such as Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia) have opted for authoritarian and militaristic measures, such as curfews, states of exception, suspension of elections or other voting, and other similar measures, undoubtedly aimed at controlling the virus, but also at maintaining control over the population.

Health policies, more or less correct, to control the real, biological danger of the virus, are confused with policies more oriented to combat what we have called the “biopolitical ghost” of the Coronavirus ”. In other words, the use of the virus, or rather the fear of the virus, as an excuse for social control and repression. Policies with little or much health relevance, but aimed at “intensifying attacks on the opposition, to dispel popular protest and to show repressive muscle” (CELAG).

In this sense, the suspension of the elections, the curfew and the attacks on journalists and opponents in the media by the current government of Bolivia can be interpreted. Or the curfew and military and police surveillance decreed by the government of Ecuador (effective as social control measures, ineffective to stop the pandemic). Or the foreseeable curfews and suspension of the constituent plebiscite agreed a few months ago, decreed by the Chilean government.

For Colombia and Brazil there are also differences and similarities. The Brazilian government, following the example of the US government, chose to abstract itself from the reality of the Coronavirus, in the worst sense of the expression: first deny, and then downplay it (unlike the Colombian government, which took early sanitary measures ). Both are similar in terms of their economic policies that only favored the elites, and in their insistence on not cooperating with Venezuela, with whom they both share borders, following, as already suggested, the dictates of the "emperor."

To date, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the American continent concentrates around 40% of global infections, with 4% being located in Latin America orAbya yalaThe most affected being Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico (in that order). Although it is still a low percentage, it is still worrisome, knowing that the region invests on average 2% of GDP in health (WHO recommends 6%).

A severe regional recession is forecast, with a drop in GDP of up to 4%, depending on how each government deals with the crisis. In the words of ECLAC, "flattening the contagion curve requires measures that reduce interpersonal contacts, which will generate economic contraction, paralyze productive activities and destroy aggregate / sectoral demand."

For his part,Anawak –Central America, or if you like, Mesoamerica– is not immune to any of the aforementioned dynamics. It is not immune to the virus in concrete, biological terms. Nor is it immune to the "biopolitical ghost", the fear of contagion and its use as a pretext for repression. And of course, it is not immune to the other dynamics already mentioned, such as the scarce investment in health or the economic measures that only benefited the richest.

An interesting detail pointed out by CELAG, is that the degree of rejection or support of the population towards the different governments of the region seems to be marked by the speed with which they acted against the Coronavirus. Thus, the populist government of Mexico is criticized for its apparent slowness and inaction, despite having followed the WHO recommendations to the letter and on time, in addition to having proven pharmacological and health capacity.

The populist and authoritarian government of Nicaragua, which has frequently resorted to repression against opponents, on that occasion has not decreed a quarantine or a curfew. It is fair to say, in previous years it has successfully faced other pandemics (such as dengue). However, the few measures it currently implements, such as the training of more than 200,000 health brigade members, have been criticized for their apparent improvisation and predictable ineffectiveness.

In the field of right-wing populisms, we find, for example, the government of El Salvador, which enjoys support for its early measures, although not all with a health orientation (total border closure, mandatory quarantine, restrictions on internal mobility, even a possible unofficial pact with the gangs).

This government has at least taken some economic relief measures for the poorest, contrary to the governments of Honduras, Panama and Guatemala, not only allies and beneficiaries of business groups, but also affected by authoritarian and militarized measures of social control ( such as States of exception), which will foreseeably be applied without further opposition or resistance, due to the pandemic.

The pandemic on the farm: evictions and states of exception

In a previous text we compared some populisms of the right and left in theAbya yala (Latin America) andAnawak (Central America). With some differences in health policies, more or less effective depending on each government, in general these measures have been combined with others more aimed at social control, and with financial support for those who need it least.

In general terms, this has also been the case of the current government of Guatemala, made up mainly of the official VAMOS party, and chaired by A. Giammattei. To be fair and not be untrue, it must be said that this government has managed the Coronavirus crisis with reasonable success, in health terms. One of the possible reasons for this is that the president is a doctor by profession and has been advised by other medical specialists, especially epidemiologists.

Another reason for the reasonable government success in containing the Coronavirus has been the actions of health workers at all levels, which we do not want to call “heroic” so as not to fall into common places. However, this adjective would not be wrong since these people have faced infections and other problems with a health and hospital system that was already overwhelmed and collapsed long before the current crisis.

The other side of the coin is that being a right-wing government, it has chosen to take economic support measures, but mainly for business groups. Thus, for example, the logic underlying the decreed curfew has been analyzed, since it allows workers to go to their work sites, such as farms, maquilas, factories, supermarkets and others, but penalizes them if they are still in the street after curfew (not taking into account that this is because many companies do not allow them to leave early).

Since his first speeches on the Coronavirus, the president constantly appealed to the goodwill and Christian values ​​of businessmen. However, it has not taken any concrete steps to prohibit, for example, layoffs, evictions or cuts of services during the crisis. On the contrary, some of the measures taken even allow, for example, employers to suspend existing contracts without any problem.

Another problem that clearly reveals the nature of the relations between the ruling classes and the current government are the ongoing agrarian evictions. This is a worrying problem from several points of view, which we will not touch on. For the moment, we are not going to go into the historical depths related to the agrarian dispossession of centuries against indigenous people and peasants.

Nor are we going to question the evident injustice of the current legal bodies, which allow -by omission- the privatization of communal lands at the same time that they criminalize the communities and individuals who defend their rights to said land, qualifying them -they do- as usurpers. . We just want to make a point related to the current Coronavirus crisis.

One of the main measures that the government advises and obliges us to comply with is to stay inside our homes for a considerable part of the day. What sense, then, can it make to expel hundreds of families from the land they occupy to grow some food and build precarious homes? What perverse biopolitics can put private property and the production of monocultures above the life of those bodies, those families who are left homeless, out in the open, exposed to the Coronavirus, other diseases, hunger?

The continuity between the previous governments and the current one is evidenced by the fact that, with or without Coronavirus, the evictions have not stopped. Indeed, the same wave of evictions has been going on since the end of last year. It has not stopped. Throughout the first four months of this year, at least a score of agrarian evictions and other related attacks have been documented (according to community sources, the real figure is higher).

Before the quarantine, evictions were carried out by state armed forces, supported by private armed forces. Now, in theory, these evictions would be suspended due to the Coronavirus crisis. But the reality is different: the same agribusiness companies and land-owning families are carrying out their own (illegal) “private evictions”, without being stopped by the local governments or the central government.

Among the cases documented by the Communities in Resistance of Sierra de las Minas, we have the evictions carried out in the Verapaces since the end of last year to date. Among the communities attacked are Rincón San Valentín, Dos Fuentes, Washington, Chiquiwistal and San José El Tesoro (Purulhá, Baja Verapaz), Chicoyoguito, Río Cristalino, Sapatá and several communities in Panimá (Cobán, Alta Verapaz).

Solidarity festivals and other community sources have documented the attacks against the Sechaj community (Raxruhá, Alta Verapaz) whose residents were fighting labor violations by an African palm company related to the so-called La Pasión River ecocide in 2017. However, now the company is the one that is suing the residents, and even one of the leaders was imprisoned in early April.

The same African palm company also violated the labor rights of peasants from the Santa Elena community (Sayaxché, Petén), who in January 2020 peacefully occupied a company's land to press for the fulfillment of their rights. On April 13, the private armed forces of the company tried to carry out an illegal eviction, shot at community members and wounded one of them.

In the same department, at the beginning of February this year, community members from Laguna Larga who had already been evicted in 2017 and settled on the border with Mexico, were harassed by armed groups that threatened to evict them. To this is added the problem of fires in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, many of those linked to the expansion of livestock, as reported by community sources.

In the Entre Ríos community of Puerto Barrios, Izabal, a widowed woman who has lived for 40 years on land within the Arizona Farm (owned by a banana company with sad memories in the department), received on January 3, 2020 a eviction letter from said company. Subsequently, on February 15, company workers transferred him to the offices and forced him to sign an alleged voluntary eviction act (all of which is openly illegal).

On the South Coast, the eviction of the El Aguacatillo community (Puerto San José, Escuintla) was reported on March 3, 2020 by PNC agents. The villagers resisted, but were finally evicted. It is about 150 families. After the eviction, private armed bodies came to occupy the land. Likewise, on March 5 an attempt was made to evict the Las Palmas community (Cuyotenango, Suchitepéquez). The eviction is being rescheduled, meanwhile the PNC has already requested that a state of exception be implanted to carry out the eviction more easily and protect the agents of the Coronavirus.

The same request was made by the Chamber of Agriculture (CAMAGRO) in the case of three private farms -Concepción, Cubilgüitz and Sequibal- occupied by peasants in Cobán (Alta Verepaz). The CAMAGRO not only denies the agrarian nature of the conflicts, but also accuses the residents of both "terrorists" and "members of organized crime" and of course requests a State of Exception to more easily carry out evictions and "not to expose to the elements of the Army and the Police to a risk of contagion in the middle of the pandemic ”.

In conclusion, and beyond the COVID-19 or SARS 2 pandemic, it can be stated that the current government of Guatemala is not, from any point of view, the product of a breakdown or overcoming of the government of the FCN party, and of President J. Morales. In the same way that those were not with respect to the government of the PP and O. Pérez. What can be perceived are rearrangements and reinforcement of the current order of things.

What is evident (with or without Coronavirus) is that each of these three successive governments has been both the cause and consequence of a very particular form of class struggle - and sorry for the "heresy" of using 21st century a concept as old-fashioned as that. We refer to what some analysts have called intra-oligarchic struggle. In other words, the struggle or struggle between different oligarchies, or if you like, between different sectors of the ruling classes.

Although this struggle has been resolved in the form of temporary alliances around events such as elections and others (for example, the Coronavirus crisis), it has not been resolved - fortunately, we would say some - in the formation of a bloc in the power. In other words, the creation of a very solid, unbreakable bloc or alliance between the different factions of the ruling classes.

Returning to an idea already raised, we can affirm that capitalism is certainly wounded, but not fatally. Its end is still far away, but it is already easier to imagine. We are already experiencing the first trials. It is necessary to think not only about the “after the Coronavirus”, but also, and more importantly, about the “after capitalism”. That if, not for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.

Meanwhile, what will happen after Coronavirus? What can we do today and what can we imagine for tomorrow? We do not have such answers, but some things are clear: oppression and exploitation did not stop, therefore the resistance should not stop either. The fight for a better world, the politics of life (biopolitics in a good way), continues.

Nothing said here is new. Many authors have already said it, they have already said it in the peasant and indigenous communities. The solution is to radically change our relationship with nature. See it less as a "natural resource" or "wealth", and more as "Mother Earth". Change the ways we produce, consume and dispose of our food. Change everything.

If we are part of the "lucky ones" who in one way or another have a roof over the pandemic, we must, of course, keep all the necessary precautions and care. We must protect ourselves and our loved ones, but without allowing ourselves to be defeated.

We must guard against the real, biological threat of the Coronavirus, but also be on guard against its "biopolitical specter". We must be aware of the news and events, of course, but without allowing ourselves to be dominated by fear, and being critical of so much exaggerated or decidedly false information that it can saturate us.

Let's take advantage of these days of mandatory confinement to get closer to our own. To reflect a lot on freedom, food sovereignty, the fight for life. To put things in order, exercise (if possible), eat well (if possible), be strong. Plant some legumes, if possible, or at least some little plant, some flower. The poet has already said it: “Do we come to live in vain, to sprout on the earth? Let's leave at least flowers, let's leave at least songs ”.

By Camilo Salvadó

Source: Guatemalan Federation of Radio Schools


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