South America has come under scrutiny over the past few weeks surrounding the continent’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 5th, Paraguayan rioters swarmed the capital city, congregating outside the Congress building in Asuncion. Protesters tore down defence barriers, launched stones at police and set the local police station alight. Security forces responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
The riots are in response to the growing concerns over the government’s handling of the pandemic. South Americas coronavirus cases are reaching dangerously high levels, severally straining the healthcare system. One resident reports, “In the hospitals, there are no syringes, there are no beds.” Paraguay has over 165,811 active COVID-19 cases, with less than 0.1% of the country having received the vaccine. Paraguay has received 4,000 doses of it, with the current vaccine roll-out plan allocating the majority to intensive care personnel. Hernan Martinex, the health ministry spokesman tells officials they are “in a critical situation.” Strategic distribution of the vaccine amongst the population will be vital for long-term coronavirus reduction.
In response to recent protests and extreme public pressure, Paraguayan Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni announced his resignation. Paraguayan President Abdo Benitez reassured demonstrators that he has received their message and, in the interest of pacification, has requested all cabinet members “give up their positions.” In response to the president’s announcement, one reporter wrote, “he’s really under pressure, really to answer those criticisms from his people. [There are] demonstrations … in the capital Asuncion almost every night now.”
Despite President Abdo Benitez’s well-placed intention to appease protestors, many are demanding the president’s impeachment, with demonstrators rallying outside of congress. They can be heard throughout the city chanting “Out Marito” and “Everyone out.”
The local trauma hospital reports that at least 21 people have suffered injuries during the demonstrations. With the countries healthcare system already in a dire state, health professionals urge protesters to avoid crowds and keep safe.
Public health officials across Latin America have been forced to resign from their roles in recent weeks. Across the country, citizens have expressed their dissatisfaction with the national response to the pandemic, and many residents report a general lack of faith in the government’s ability to implement a successful vaccine roll-out.
The country as a whole must work to find a peaceful solution. For many countries, COVID-19 is uncharted territory; never before have they had to respond to such a devastating virus. The effects of the pandemic have been immeasurable, straining healthcare, welfare and economic systems. To avoid civil unrest, government dissatisfaction must swiftly be subdued. In times such as these, people rely on effective leadership and elected officials must commit to prioritizing the needs of their people over ego or political agendas.
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