The recent article “Facing the unknown… The pandemic and the world system” by Ignacio Ramonet is as interesting for what it leaves out as for what Ramonet has to say. The main omission is the decisive class attack by Western ruling elites and their political proxies exploiting COVID-19 to create the conditions for a repressive reset of corporate capitalism. They have mounted this attack both domestically and overseas.
Ramonet makes the misleading claim that “No one knows how to interpret and clarify such a strange and opaque moment, with our societies trembling on their foundations as if shaken by a cosmic cataclysm… when it’s all over life will no longer be the same.” This language is sensationalist and false, and brings to mind the remark by Lampedusa’s character Tancredi, “For everything to stay the same, everything must change”. Some things may change, but life will indeed go on the same whatever Ramonet may wish for.
Corporate capitalism will continue to exploit and destroy the planet’s resources. The imperialist elites of North America and Europe will continue to wage war on the world’s impoverished majority. The United States will continue its slow decline relative to China and Russia. The impoverished majority in Latin America and the Caribbean will continue to demand and struggle for justice. The United Nations and its institutions will continue to be corrupted by corporate funding. The US President will continue to be a bellicose hostage to infighting among the country’s oligarchs. Practically everything will stay the same, most importantly the relentless struggle of the majority world for a decent life.
In fact, a great many people are absolutely clear about what is happening. They see how a genuinely serious, but by no means catastrophic, international health emergency is being exploited by Western ruling elites to concentrate their monopoly power and intensify the essentially fascist relationship between State and corporate power in the West. The COVID-19 crisis occurred at a most opportune moment, offering Western corporate financial elites and the governments they own a pretext for yet another tremendous transfer of wealth to those elites via government intervention.
At the same time the crisis enabled the Western elites to intensify their attacks on, for example, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Palestine, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen and to diversify the range of their offensive against China and Russia. That is why last April 15th Nicaragua’s President Comandante Daniel Ortega insisted on the imperative for peace, an end to aggression of all kinds and that the time has come to change nuclear weapons for hospitals. The leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela see very clearly that the crisis is indeed a moment calling for profound change and global solidarity. But they also know very well the cruel perversity of the US government and its allies.
Despite offering a broadly comprehensive account of the many ramifications of the effects of COVID-19, Ramonet omits much relevant opinion and information. While he correctly dismisses the idea that the virus escaped from a laboratory somewhere, there is uncertainty on the origin of the virus both in terms of time and place. The most well known identified source was Wuhan in China at the end of December 2019 but doctors in Italy think it may have been circulating there as early as November 2019. Ramonet emphasizes the aggressive fatal nature of the virus without apparently considering the latest data which indicate that COVID-19’s lethality is after all, despite the wide variety of symptoms it has, similar overall to a very severe flu.
Prestigious academics like Stanford University’s Dr John Ioannidis and very committed practicing doctors with decades of work addressing epidemics, argue that the latest data based on widespread testing point to a low case to fatality rate, for example, 0.03% in California and 0.1% even in New York. Rather than the data-based reality, Ramonet appears to accept scaremongering accounts from the same notoriously deceitful, venal corporate media that has lied about practically everything in the past. By contrast, Ramonet offers a good account of why the virus has had such a devastating effect on public health systems in North America and Europe. As he points out, the main factors have been inadequate preparation, lack of opportune preventive measures and the absence of timely public health education.
On the other hand, one key factor Ramonet omits which has been crucial to successful measures to contain the virus in socialist countries has been mass popular organization. Under socialist administrations like Vietnam, Kerala in India, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, mass house-to-house prevention, education and monitoring programs have produced results as good as or even better than the kind of digital monitoring and control measures applied elsewhere. For example, Nicaragua has now made over 4 million house-to-house visits. Ramonet hints at this point when he notes that conventional things like soap for hand washing, sewing machines to produce masks and traditional measures like physical distancing have been fundamental to successfully overcoming the effects of COVID-19.
Curiously absent from Ramonet’s review is the highly relevant discussion over the role of lockdowns. The current measures contradict centuries of sound medical practice by which quarantine is applied to people who are sick, not to those who are healthy. Now, in many countries, whole, mainly healthy populations have been imprisoned for weeks. Clearly, societies with very diverse characteristics will apply very different measures. The lack of widely available, robust, reliable tests for COVID-19 for a long time dramatically hampered an effective global response to COVID-19. But Ramonet might have pointed out that the latest data based on reliable, representative testing suggests the difference in fatality rates is statistically insignificant between countries that have quarantined their population and countries that have not.
So while a very aggressive public policy response may have been justified initially, at this point it may be no longer. However that may be, countries that have implemented a lockdown now face a double dilemma. Firstly, as the authorities relax restrictions, the virus may begin to reappear again as seems to have happened in some places in China. Secondly, people emerging with weakened immune systems after many weeks of isolation may well catch other infectious diseases leading to sudden pressure on health systems still suffering from the effects of addressing COVID-19. That effect will certainly be compounded also by people with various chronic conditions desperate to get the care they were too afraid to seek during the lockdown.
Ramonet himself seems to accept at face value an image of “science” made to measure for Western governments and corporate predators like Bill Gates. For example, administrative guidance has been erratic in relation to how diagnosis and deaths are recorded. Italy, the US and the UK have adopted guidelines that tend to exaggerate the number of deaths from COVID-19 while other jurisdictions have continued to recognize the difference between dying “of” the virus and dying “with” the virus. These matters are relevant to Ramonet’s discussion of how the virus has stimulated a flood of false information but in which he omits the basic issue of disinformation derived from poor data.
Skipping over these important details, Ramonet suggests that perhaps the world is at “a moment of all round transformation” or that there may be “a kind of stampede of revolt by indignant,outraged citizens against various power centers accused of mismanaging the pandemic”. Experience of the last 50 years suggests the opposite. Across the West, populations have not only submitted to the wide ranging restrictive measures Ramonet discusses in his article, in fact they have mostly welcomed them. With regard to political support for change, the fundamental issues of class and power are relevant both at a national level between the well-to-do and the impoverished, but also globally between the imperialist West and the majority world it has plundered for centuries.
Ramonet does cover the issue of class disadvantage in access to healthcare in the US, the plight of migrants around the world and the effects of gross inequality in developing countries. Against that depressing reality he offers Venezuela’s inspiring success in containing the virus. That success is also true in the very different national context of Cuba which has mounted unprecedented solidarity initiatives overseas despite its difficult crisis at home. Both Venezuela and Cuba are subject to genocidal US sanctions. However, the glaring omission in Ramonet’s account is the important experience of Nicaragua. Nicaragua has not only been the most successful country in the region so far in containing the COVID-19 virus but is also among the only countries that have managed to keep their economy open and to avoid incurring massive debt to manage the economic effects of the pandemic.
The experience of all these three countries contradicts Ramonet’s claim that “the stupefied planet discovered the Comandante was not at the helm”. In Nicaragua our Comandante Daniel was always in control, as was President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, and President Diaz Canel and his comrades in Cuba. And always beyond them, close at hand, have been the examples and inspiration of Comandante Carlos Fonseca, Comandante Hugo Chávez, Comandante Fidel and Che. Alongside Daniel and Nicolás and Miguel, they too have been at the helm throughout this crisis as, in the future, they always will be.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.