Two-time former president of Chile, former health minister and practicing physician, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. Photo: Shutterstock
Society

Michelle Bachelet points out the four big issues Latin America needs to face while fighting the pandemic

The UN High Commissioner and former president of Chile stressed the importance of protecting vulnerable groups, recognizing the seriousness of the situation and pushing back against misinformation

  • Coronavirus poses a great risk to women and girls from Latin America;
  • It’s essential that both governments and the private sector work together to bring the economy back on track.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, warned about four big issues that Latin America faces while fighting against the novel coronavirus pandemic. The protection of vulnerable groups, the delay in recognizing the seriousness of the situation in some countries, the dangers of using “excessive” forces to stem the contagion of COVID-19, and the spread of disinformation.

“We need to work together to push back against this trend, which feeds on misinformation and fear. Awareness-raising campaigns and the dissemination of accurate, clear and evidence-based information are the most effective tools”, she stressed.

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Appearing during an online event hosted by the Inter-American Dialogue, a U.S.-based think tank, which LABS attended on Wednesday, Bachelet called out for the protection of the vulnerable groups across the region, saying governments need to pay special attention to them.

Women at risk

She spoke about with great concern about women in Latin America, citing some countries as Guatemala, where 80% of the work of women is done informally so there is increased difficulty to help them financially during the pandemic. In this scenario, coronavirus poses a great risk as women across have already been subject to strong gender discrimination and inequality.

Since isolation measures to contain the spread of the new virus began to be applied in the region, there has been a general increase in the number of gender violence cases across Brazil, Argentina and Peru, her office reported.

In addition, Bachelet pointed out the situation of greater risk for domestic workers, indigenous people, disabled individuals, immigrants, those infected with HIV and the LGBT group.

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Another plight for migrants

Another cited “source of concern” is the situation of vulnerability of migrants. The former president said that migrants are returned to Central America from the United States without protection measures or sanitary controls, despite the fact that some had tested positive for coronavirus before their return.

“Some of the vulnerable in dealing with this crisis are those who were already at risk. The protection of migrants in Latin America, for example, is a source of concern, with reports of deportations, border closings and legislative restrictions”.

She also regretted that in Mexico the stigmatization towards returnees has grown, to the point that some communities have built barricades to prevent their passage.

The pandemic is generating a wave of stigma and discrimination worldwide against certain national and ethnic groups, those suspected of having COVID-19 and also health workers.

MICHELLE BACHELET, UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS,

Lack of coordination

As a former health minister and practicing physician, High Commissioner Bachelet said that the delay in recognizing the seriousness of the situation for some countries in Latin America goes a long way in explaining how actions aren’t coordinated in the region. 

Bachelet said that just as Europe didn’t take coordinated actions to fight the pandemic, Latin America also applied its own actions, some focusing on tests, others focusing on isolation, others still taking too long to understand the pandemic such as Brazil and Mexico.

Military role

According to Bachelet, there’s a fine line about how the military can help in the pandemic, since the history of dictatorships in Latin America. “They can help with distribution and logistics issues, but not street safety during pandemic”. Also, for her, it’s essential that both governments and the private sector work together to rebuild the economy following Human Rights principles.

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“The pandemic is generating a wave of stigma and discrimination worldwide against certain national and ethnic groups, those suspected of having COVID-19 and also health workers.”

MICHELLE BACHELET, UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS,

Bachelet said she hopes Latin American countries learn from this crisis, highlighting the inadequate health systems and the importance of investing in human capital and education.

“When we overcome the pandemic, as we will, we must seize the opportunity of a lifetime: to build back better. And I’m confident that is possible if we’re mindful of our interdependence, of our equality, of our equal rights.