It seems that we now live in a different world. The coronavirus has already claimed the lives of thousands of people in Latin America; it caused an unprecedented global economic crisis and transformed everyone’s daily life regardless of race, religion, gender, or social, economic, or cultural status. Now there is a question in the environment, and it is if the political systems, that is to say: democracies can protect their citizens from the pandemic.
Analysts argue over whether authoritarian states would emerge stronger from this crisis than representative democracies. Although the virus originated in China and its authorities initially seemed to have difficulty dealing with it, they were able to largely contain the outbreak in Wuhan and deploy resources to the rest of the country to deal with it.
However, it is not only authoritarian states that, so far, seem to have coped relatively well with the virus. In fact, some Latin American countries seem to perform well without being authoritarian but taking bold steps that are at odds with authoritarianism. For example, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador and Colombia took measures, some faster than others with acceptable results to date, except for the Ecuadorian case of Guayaquil, which has been uncontrollable so far.
Latin America is responding effectively with some restrictions on citizen circulation. The region also imposed travel measures by closing airspace; prohibiting the entry of foreigners; and the nationals of each country are quarantined, as well as other additional internal measures. Whatever the exact strategy they used, almost everyone has acted quickly and decisively. Perhaps the collective memory of cholera in Peru in 1991 or the SARS outbreak in 2003 and other recent epidemics seems to have played a role in this.
However, it is curious how the Latin American giants Brazil & Mexico, with active representative democracies, one with a tendency to the right and the other to the left, respectively, did not act the same and minimized the problem as “a simple flu”.
Perhaps these two countries have a kind of “authoritarian residue” that has minimized the initial response to this crisis. They are certainly vibrant democracies, but they are also countries with many social inequalities and a high concern for corruption cases. As a result, citizens may have a different relationship with their authorities and be willing to accept what their leaders say even if they are wrong even during the present health crisis.
In this sense, the pandemic can be a challenge to the democratic system where political liberties may be at risk. Before the coronavirus hit, there was already talk of a social cohesion crisis in both countries. In the rest of Latin America, there has been a balance of understanding between citizens and their governments that allows us to face with sacrifices this pandemic that is looming to turn off the economies of the continent and suddenly the democracies of the region too. Hopefully not.