Economic policies with respect for human rights are absolutely essential to change course
Governments in Latin America and the Caribbean urgently need to increase spending in support of the right to social protection and health, to combat obscene socioeconomic inequalities in the region that have proved deadly during the pandemic, Amnesty International and the Center write for Economic and Social Rights in a new joint report released on Wednesday, April 27.
This document, entitledUnequal and deadly: five key measures to recover from the human rights crisis unleashed by the pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean, explains the causes of the disproportionate number of deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic compared to other parts of the world. Although this region has only 8.4% of the world’s population, it has also recorded 28% of the deaths caused by COVID-19 in the world† The report finds that the countries with the highest inequalities and lowest health and social protection expenditures suffered the most during the pandemic, with historically marginalized groups having the most devastating impact.
A review of economic policies based on respect for human rights is essential to avert future disasters in what is in many ways the most unequal region in the world. Despite staggering inequality and poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean, governments in recent decades have not collected enough tax revenues nor collected taxes in a way that helps fight inequality, even in times of economic growth. This inevitably leads to low budgets for health services and social protection – including unemployment benefits, pensions and childcare funding – which are essential for a dignified life and a real defense of human rights for all.
“Governments have a duty to mobilize the necessary resources to save people from the worst effects of discrimination, disease and economic disaster. If Latin American countries had acted on this land in the decades leading up to the pandemic, the region could have avoided tremendous suffering and loss of life,” said Kate Donald, acting director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights. “They now have the opportunity to avert the next inequality-driven disaster and make the transition to a rights-based economy. †
Countries like Mexico, Brazil and Peru, where the richest 1% of the population controls more than 30% of the national wealth, have recorded the highest numbers in terms of deaths from the pandemic. on their population. Chile, where the richest 20% of the population earn 10 times the income of the poorest 20%, also has the highest death rate per capita in the region.
Governments have a duty to mobilize the necessary resources to save people from the worst effects of discrimination, disease and economic disaster.
Kate Donald, Acting Executive Director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights
While a large number of Latin American countries have provided cash assistance during the pandemic, none of them have expanded health insurance or taken sufficient steps to establish universal social security mechanisms or increase their coverage to ensure the most disadvantaged people are protected.
Women are the group most affected by this disadvantage across the region, as they have lost their jobs faster than men and their disproportionate role in caring for children and families continues to decline. they are native or of African descent.
“The color of your skin or the environment you grew up in should not make you more or less likely to die from infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Two years after the pandemic, governments in Latin America have yet to realize that a human rights-based approach is needed to recover from the pandemic and address inequalities,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“Promoting equality does not mean that everyone is treated equally. The current situation in Latin America is the result of hundreds of years of colonial injustices under which certain groups have been historically and systematically disenfranchised. As countries recover from the pandemic, governments need to address the issue immediately with a genuine equality approach and positive action. †
While the Pan American Health Organization recommends spending at least 6% of GDP on health to ensure universal coverage, nearly all countries in the region spend much less on public health services, meaning they don’t have enough hospital beds, doctors, or nurses to properly manage the COVID-19 pandemic or other health crises. In Peru, for example, in the decade before the pandemic, authorities refrained from increasing public spending on health despite years of sustained economic growth, spending only 3.3% of GDP on it. Meanwhile, in Mexico, more than 15 million people lost access to health care in the two years before the start of the pandemic, due to administrative errors in the transfer of power between governments.
In Chile, funds from tax and social security contributions cover only half of health expenditure, with the other half being paid by patients through mandatory prepayments, as well as voluntary expenditures and other costs for which they are responsible. Health expenditure per person in Chile is only a third of the average of such expenditure in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the number of hospital beds provided by Chile represents half of the average number of beds in OECD countries .
The color of your skin or the environment you grew up in should not make you more or less likely to die from infectious diseases such as COVID-19
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International
Even when the right policies are in place, governments struggle with implementation, with a major obstacle often being the inability to generate sufficient tax revenues to ensure their effectiveness. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean generally tax less than other countries with a similar level of development in other regions of the world. In 2019, taxes collected in the region represent on average only 22% of GDP, compared to 33% for the OECD countries.
Many of the countries in the region also have regressive tax systems, which don’t demand enough of those who can afford the most, undermining these states’ ability to overcome inequalities and redistribute wealth. Latin American countries, for example, rely heavily on indirect taxes, which are more regressive because they place a heavier burden on the poorest segments of the population — and derive little revenue from wealth taxes, which affect the economic elites.
“Unless they are bold in the need to tax more and tax better – in line with their human rights obligations – Latin American countries will continue to be swept up in the malaise caused by socio-economic inequalities, favoring wealthy elites and making society as a whole,” said Kate Donald.