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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Inside Paraguay´s Untold Struggle With COVID-19

Economic crisis, government corruption, and lack of healthcare support takes a heavy toll on the South American nation

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Autumn Spredemann
Autumn Spredemann
I´ve traveled the world working as a freelance journalist, blogger, and English teacher. I specialize in remote travel, obscure cultures, and politics.

PARAGUAY. Asuncion. Recent protests against the government have been seen in the small, landlocked country. On 29 July, angry dissenters clashed with police in the border town of Ciudad del Este over the strict quarantine measures the country has been deadlocked in since 20 March.

While the government has eased some of those restrictions in recent weeks, the majority of the country remains in stage two or three of reopening in the pandemic. This is especially important for those who´ve been out of work for nearly five months. At this point, 30,000 people have lost their jobs and over 1,000 businesses have closed their doors permanently.

Protesters in Ciudad del Este in July. Photo credit: Twitter/@paraguaygigante

Seeing the crisis from ground zero

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Local Asuncion resident Silvia Torres spoke with Transcontinental Times about the challenges her country has faced during the pandemic. “People are out of money for food and living. Too many have lost their jobs and businesses”, Torres said while explaining the motivation behind the recent protests in Ciudad del Este.

“I also lost my job at school. Sometimes I feel depressed, but my family is healthy and safe at least.” She continued.

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Torres added that while the government is offering high-interest loans, they have yet to devise any real solutions to the country´s staggering unemployment problem.

A healthcare system under siege

While the country´s coronavirus caseload is relatively low in comparison to its neighbors, that hasn´t taken any pressure off their healthcare facilities. With a population of barely seven million people, there are few cities and even fewer hospitals that can accommodate the needs of patients who have critical COVID-19 symptoms.

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Torres was passionate when speaking about the government´s misappropriation of outside funds meant to help their struggling nation. “Our country received literally millions of dollars in international aid during this pandemic. The hospitals and people have seen absolutely none of it.” While she mentioned the government did offer a one time bonus of roughly 200 dollars to some residents, it has done little to stem the country´s economic free fall.

“We used to feel very proud of our president”, Torres said about the nation´s leader Mario Abdo Benítez. “That has changed now. The people received no help and they bought nothing for our hospitals.”

To make matters worse, the country is running out of tests for COVID-19. “I don´t know what our government will do when we run out. There is no plan.” Torres confided.

A Paraguayan gaucho tending to his herd. Photo credit: rochu2008

Government officials under scrutiny

In addition to the missing foreign aid money, there is also the matter of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro pressuring the Paraguayan government to open its borders in the next two weeks. Brazil carries the distinction of being the second-worst afflicted nation for coronavirus, so residents of Paraguay have an understandable concern over letting their borders open.

“This is the other reason why people were protesting in Ciudad del Este”, Torres added. “They share the border with Brazil and don´t want it to open.”

Adding insult to injury, the Ministro del Interior, Euclides Acevedo, made a recent announcement that the country may have to return to full lockdown on Saturdays and Sundays to help control the spread of the virus. This measure seems superfluous and almost laughable from an administration that´s considering opening their borders with Brazil.

Torres shared some additional insight into why the people are so angry with their government. “Corporate-owned supermarkets and drug stores have stayed open, but popular markets had to close. Only rich men were allowed to keep their businesses open.”

Residents find creative solutions

Torres explained that barter markets have become popular in lieu of cash since so many people have become unemployed. She also said that communities are working together to help the most desperate people in these hard times.

“Even in our darkest days, people here are kind to one another”, Torres said with great pride.

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