Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 26, 2016

The Zika pandemic and the FMLN

Filed under: Ecology,health and fitness,Latin America — louisproyect @ 5:54 pm

News is spreading rapidly about the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus that causes birth defects when a pregnant woman is bitten by an infected insect—specifically microcephaly that afflicted one of the characters in Todd Browning’s “Freaks”.

Like many of the diseases that are becoming epidemics in the global South, it is a product of poverty, climate change and the destruction of natural habitat. The most infamous examples are heretofore have been AIDS and the Ebola virus but now Zika looms as the latest pandemic threat.

Zika is related to dengue, yellow fever, and the West Nile Virus that are all transmitted from infected mosquitos. Ironically and tragically, one of West Nile’s victims was Walter Contreras Sheasby, a Green Party activist and Marxmail subscriber who died in 2006. Scientific American wrote about the connection between the climate change that the Greens campaign against and the increased danger of West Nile in 2009:

The higher temperatures, humidity and rainfall associated with climate change have intensified outbreaks of West Nile virus infections across the United States in recent years, according to a study published this week.

One of the largest surveys of West Nile virus cases to date links warming weather patterns and increasing rainfall–both projected to accelerate with global warming–to outbreaks of the mosquito-borne disease across 17 states from 2001 to 2005.

Peter Hotez, a physician based in Houston, is now concerned that the same factors that have made Zika a pandemic in Brazil and El Salvador now threaten his own city:

Hotez attributes the rise of Zika and other related viruses to climate change, human migration and poverty. As temperatures have risen, mosquitoes can thrive in new areas, bringing such viruses to previously unaffected populations. As people have become more mobile, both through immigration and worldwide travel, viruses can hitchhike to new regions.

Poverty, he says, provides the perfect conditions for mosquitoes to thrive and infect new victims. Hotez points to economically depressed areas of Houston.

“You see dilapidated housing, houses with no window screens, no air conditioning,” he said, “garbage and refuse that allow mosquitoes to breed, discarded tires on the side of the road.”

The Aedes mosquitoes that carry Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya, like to breed in standing water closer to humans. While local health departments spray for mosquitoes during the spring and summer, it’s primarily targeted at the Culex mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus. Those mosquitoes tend to fly longer distances and are active at night.

Aedes mosquitoes are daytime biters and aren’t likely to be affected by the spraying efforts.

Today’s NY Times reported on the drastic measures now being proposed by the government of El Salvador. It is urging women to forgo having children for the next two years until the disease comes under control. Like elsewhere, and probably even more so, El Salvador is the perfect breeding ground because it is so poor. A third of the population lives under the poverty line.

The vice minister of health does not think that avoiding pregnancies is such a bad idea. The Times reported him stating: “The country is the most densely populated country on the entire continent. It wouldn’t be all that bad if we had a reduction in births.”

The Times also mentions the crime epidemic in El Salvador, with poverty and the Zika pandemic virtually constituting a plague on the level visited on the Egyptians in the Book of Exodus. “One community leader said that a government clinic in his neighborhood shut down three months ago after repeated threats from the gangs, the kind of conditions that experts say make it harder to treat and combat the virus.”

As it so happens, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the current president of El Salvador, is a member of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) that I helped organize support for in the early 1980s as a member of Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). If you would have told me that in 2016 the FMLN would be in power in order to have people like this vice minister of health making such outrageous statements, I would have resigned. I guess I am fated to end up supporting revolutionary movements that end up adopting neoliberal policies. For the sectarian left, the answer is easy. Just build your own toy Bolshevik party and issue denunciations from within your pristine redoubt.

If the NY Times runs articles on Zika or gang warfare in El Salvador, the reader would have no idea that Washington is imposing its trade policies on this small and weak nation that have been intended to pressure the FMLN to function just like the puppet government it supported in the early 1980s. When the left squawks about SYRIZA carrying out PASOK type policies, it really needs to look at the overall picture. From Vietnam to El Salvador, imperialism has a way of taming insurgent governments as NACLA reported in March 2015:

El Salvador’s long civil war between savagely repressive U.S.-funded military forces and a leftist guerrilla army ended in 1992. But while the peace accords ended the “war of bullets,” said labor leader Wilfredo Berríos, “the political, social, and economic war began again,” and “under the rules of the right, the rules of capitalism, and the rules of the United States.” In this context, the triumph of the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front)—the former guerrillas—in the last two presidential elections is quite remarkable. The victories of Mauricio Funes in 2009 and Salvador Sánchez Cerén in 2014 have threatened to disrupt the Salvadoran government’s historic pattern of compliance with U.S. interests. Yet as Berríos’s comments imply, forces opposed to progressive change retain great power to shape “the rules” of the game—even under FMLN governance.

The Obama administration has sought to ensure the adoption of corporate-friendly policies in El Salvador by conditioning Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) development aid upon a slew of neoliberal reforms that include privatization, the relaxation of business regulations, and the enforcement of trade provisions that privilege U.S. corporations. Since 2011, the U.S. “Partnership for Growth” has provided the overarching framework for advancing these policies. According to the State Department, the program aims to “promote a business-friendly institutional environment” and “catalyze private investment.”

The “Partnership” exemplifies a more general U.S. strategy in Latin America. Since 1998 the region has elected roughly a dozen left-of-center presidents who explicitly reject U.S. intervention and neoliberal economics. In response, the United States has tried to institutionalize neoliberal policies that can constrain future governments regardless of political affiliation. In effect, Washington has sought to mitigate the danger of elections by insulating economic policy from democratic input. As the FMLN’s experience in El Salvador suggests, these left-of-center governments are heavily constrained by forces opposed to progressive change. However, both government choices and popular struggle also help to shape policies on the ground.

“El Salvador is arguably our closest friend in the Western Hemisphere,” wrote U.S. ambassador Charles Glazer in 2007. At that point, the ARENA (Nationalist Republican Alliance) party had controlled the Salvadoran government for almost two decades. ARENA was closely linked to the right-wing death squads that had murdered tens of thousands of peasants, students, workers, and religious people in the 1970s and 1980s. After the war, the party continued to enjoy strong U.S. support because of its enthusiasm for neoliberalism, its support for the 2003 Iraq invasion, and its militarized approach to both crime and dissent.

Although Mauricio Funes’ 2009 election threatened a change, the new president tried hard to preserve an amicable relationship with Washington, and the White House reciprocated. The U.S. Embassy’s current Economic Counselor, John Barrett, said that “Funes came in with a lot of good will,” which was “one reason why” the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) “stepped up with a lot of new funding.” The Obama administration soon sought to solidify the relationship through the Partnership for Growth, formally inaugurated in November 2011. As part of the Partnership, in September 2014 the Obama administration renewed a $461 million MCC development grant to deliver $277 million in additional funding for education, infrastructure, and other projects. The country’s poverty and unemployment levels—reflected in the high level of migration northward—made the government, and most Salvadorans, eager to get this money.

However, the United States also mandated a long list of policy changes relating to security, governance, and economic policy. Among the most unpopular, a Public-Private Partnership (P3) law allows for private investment in state-controlled segments of the economy like infrastructure and services. A substantial share of the $277 million in the second MCC aid package will be devoted to these projects. The law reduces legislative control over investments and transfers key oversight duties to PROESA, the Export and Investment Promotion Agency, which is nominally within the executive branch but includes leaders from the Salvadoran business world. Many popular organizations denounce such arrangements’ impact on public accountability, highlighting how representatives of business and the right are trying to create an autonomous entity to run the water sector as a sly path to privatization (though FMLN legislators have so far succeeded in excluding water from the list of services subject to P3 investments).

In mid-2014 the U.S. Embassy announced another notorious condition, demanding that the government cease a program that supports peasant agriculture by buying and distributing corn and bean seeds from small farmers and cooperatives. A U.S. Embassy press release argued that the procurement process was not “open,” as required under the 2004 Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and therefore violated El Salvador’s “obligations” to “the international community”—namely the ARENA-linked importer of Monsanto seeds that had previously controlled most of the market. Massive domestic and international outcry forced the U.S. government to back down, but the demand itself reflects a main objective of U.S. policy, as elaborated by U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman: “to open global markets for U.S. goods and services” and “enforce America’s rights in the global trading system.”

Read full article: https://nacla.org/news/2015/03/16/war-other-means-el-salvador

4 Comments »

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if this new pandemic brings out that crowd arguing for the reintroduction of DDT spraying?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 26, 2016 @ 6:16 pm

  2. The NACLA article you quote does a nice job showing some of the pressure the FMLN is under. Take heart however perhaps you are not “fated to end up supporting revolutionary movements that end up adopting neoliberal policies.”

    You can stack up the statement from a Ministry of Health official against the distinctly anti neo-liberal actual health policies of the two FMLN presidential administrations. A NACLA blogger wrote in 2011 after a visit to a community in one of the poorest regions of El Salvador

    https://nacla.org/blog/2011/7/22/el-salvador-social-programs-bolster-support-funes-government

    “The government’s new health program, which features a system of community-based family healthcare teams (ECOS), gets high marks from local residents. In rural communities like Las Flores [the community she visited], the team is designed to include a doctor, nurse, nursing assistant, general assistant, and three health promoters for every 600 families, supported by a network of specialists. Their focus is on preventive, family- and community-oriented health care, including nutrition, sanitation, and housing.”

    “There are now 410 ECOS in 141 of the country’s 262 municipalities, including 57 in Chalatenango, where only 3 of 33 municipalities have yet to benefit from the program.”

    “Las Flores is one of several communities in Chalatenango that recently received its own ambulance.”

    “A presidential decree has also eliminated the “voluntary payments” charged to patients for hospital care, which generated $12 million annually in revenues for previous governments. Nevertheless, according to Viceminister of Health Violeta Menjívar, the Funes administration has managed to double the government’s investment in health care, at a time of severe economic crisis.” https://nacla.org/blog/2011/7/22/el-salvador-social-programs-bolster-support-funes-government

    I’ve also visited one of the ECO’s and among the public health measures they perform is educating the population about mosquito control.

    For those of your readers who would like to support and defend the pro-working class policies of the FMLN against US intervention that you correctly note continues unabated, they can join me in CISPES (‘m still a member of the Boston chapter) http://cispes.org/

    For more on El Salvador’s health reform you can go to http://cispes.org/node/8504

    Comment by Dave Grosser — January 26, 2016 @ 7:55 pm

  3. Lapang Dada Adalah Cara Terbaik Untuk Menerima Kekalahan http://wp.me/p75IJU-R Pada 27 Jan 2016 00.55, “Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist” menulis:

    > louisproyect posted: “News is spreading rapidly about the > mosquito-transmitted Zika virus that causes birth defects when a pregnant > woman is bitten by an infected insect—specifically microcephaly that > afflicted one of the characters in Todd Browning’s “Freaks”. Like man” >

    Comment by adityaarif647 — January 27, 2016 @ 1:42 am

  4. I really don’t see your point. The FMLN was sponsored by Peter Camejo et al and a worthy ‘broad’ party and social movement convergence that surely has survived the test of decades. Peter promoted the FMLN as a template. (And, just quietly, I bet you did too.)
    In health care — despite the immense challenges the government has faced their achievements are respected.
    http://www.globalhealthcheck.org/?p=1318
    To ASK women to not have children in the context of the viral epidemic that may cause birth defects is a call that may not be so self evident as you choose to rule.
    More problematical is the FMLN’s stand on abortion. But you do not say that….
    But to conclude: ” If you would have told me that in 2016 the FMLN would be in power in order to have people like this vice minister of health making such outrageous statements, I would have resigned. ”
    O me miserum, Louis..on me miserum.
    The folks of New York can sometimes afford holier-than-thou rulings when those of San Salvador may not be so fortunate.

    Comment by Dave Riley — January 27, 2016 @ 7:30 am


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