The Covid-19 smoke curtain grows in Latin America

The Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged Latin America during the last nine months. The region has suffered a severe deterioration in problems that were already getting out of control.

democracia Abierta
9 November 2020, 8.52am
Runaway forest fire burns the Brazilian Pantanal area in rural Pocone, Mato Grosso, Brazil, on August 19, 2020, in the largest fire ever recorded in the rich biome
Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto/PA Images

The year 2020 has shown a scene of a pandemic that has already cost more than 1.2 million lives - 400,000 of them in Latin America. A phenomenon of this magnitude is bound to overwhelm our global attention - and colonize all the headlines.

Though this is understandable, the smoke curtain growing throughout Latin America is increasingly thickening, covering several latent crises. If we manage to break through that curtain, we see, for example, concerning increases in the magnitude of environmental crimes and gender-based violence.

Fires in the Amazon

News of the fires in the Brazilian Amazon circulated the world in August 2019, an issue that remained as one of the world's trending topics for several weeks. World leaders and celebrities with millions of followers were shocked by the situation and denounced it.

However, although the magnitude of the area destroyed by the fires has more than doubled compared to 2019, we have not seen anything similar this year.

As BBC shows, the number of fires in the region of the Brazilian Amazon in October 2020 was more than double that of the same month last year, according to satellite data. The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in Brazil recorded 17,326 fires in the Amazon, compared to 7,855 in October 2019, an increase of 121%.

And, the Amazon is not the only Brazilian biome in danger. The Pantanal - the world's largest area of tropical wetlands - has been burning for months, suffering the worst October fire in its history since records began.


Last Sunday, November 1st, INPE reported 2,856 fires in the Pantanal region the previous month.

The Bolsonaro administration is known for promoting extractivism and for being strongly anti-environmental. He and his ministers made it clear that they intended to use the attention diverted by the pandemic to relax environmental laws, as expressed by Environment Minister Ricardo Salles at a meeting on April 22, cynically coinciding with the celebration of Earth Day.

Environmental crimes in Brazil are part of the bolsonarista government’s agenda. They should go beyond the Covid-19 curtain and continuously capture the attention of civil society, the media, and the international community.

Femicides: the case of Argentina

If Latin America was already the most lethal region for women, this situation was consolidated in 2020. In 2018, 12 women were killed per day due to gender-based violence, according to a UN Women report, a reality that has been aggravated by the pandemic.

In just the first 20 days after the quarantine declaration in Argentina, 18 women were killed by their partners. Telephone calls to domestic violence hotlines increased by 39%.

Between January 1st and October 31st, Argentina - the country that launched the powerful "Ni Una Menos" movement - has recorded at least 275 murders of women and transgender people because of their gender. Of these deaths, 227 are considered direct femicides. Almost 200 of the murders occurred during the quarantine period.

Last week, the case of Paola Tacacho outraged the Argentines. Paola, an English teacher, was stabbed in the back in the middle of San Miguel de Tucumán, capital of Tucumán province, as reported by Semana.

The murderer was his former student. According to the report, Mauricio Parada Parejas was in one of her classes in 2015 and, for five long years, tormented and harassed Tacacho, even threatening her life.

On Friday, October 30th, the threats materialized when he killed her in front of several people before using the same knife against himself. Tacacho had denounced him 14 times to the local authorities.

"Paola had been denouncing him in the Justice Department since 2015. Nobody took her seriously... The State killed Paola," wrote Tucuman journalist, Mariana Romero.

"Guilty Rape": Legitimizing Impunity in Brazil

In September of this year, businessman André de Camargo Aranha appeared before a judge in Florianópolis, capital of the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, after being accused of rape by the influencer Mariana Ferrer in 2018.

Mariana Ferrer, who was 21 years old at the time of the crime, was at a party as an event promoter. Security cameras show Aranha helping Ferrer, who appeared to be walking with difficulty. She believes she was drugged on the night of the crime.

Judge Rudson Marcos acquitted Aranha, qualifying the crime as "culpable rape,” that is when there is no intention of raping the victim. This figure has no precedent in Brazilian Justice. In short, culpable rape does not exist.

After two months behind the smoke curtain, Ferrer's case went viral this week when The Intercept Brazil posted a video of the case hearing, conducted online due to the pandemic, which showed that the victim suffered humiliation during the process.

The video shows Aranha's lawyer questioning whether the victim had never had sex before the incident, using not only the macho concept of "virginity" but also photos that the victim posted on her social media as proof of her sexual character - photos he characterized as "gynecological.”

"I am only asking for respect, doctor, excellency, I am only imploring that you have the least respect for me. Even those accused of murder are not treated the way I am being treated, for God's sake," answers Mariana, visibly upset.

The case brought to light the magnitude of the judiciary’s efforts to ensuring impunity in cases of violence against women. In Brazil, the state is willing to invent a crime, even against Brazilian law, to allow a powerful man to rape a woman without suffering the consequences.

The Covid-19 virus came to stay. The pandemic adds to the collection of crises that plague Latin America. The smoke curtain that it raises is very thick. Still, it cannot be an excuse to turn a blind eye on intolerable realities such as the numerous women who have been raped and killed, or the destruction of the Amazon that continues to fuel the climate crisis.

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