COVID-19 is No Hindrance to American Imperialism

The United States government has done more than just waste valuable time, botching its domestic response to COVID-19. The United States continues its long legacy of racist and imperialist policy by intentionally leaving certain communities more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pendemic.

As it stands on April 4th, 2020, total global cases of COVID-19 have exceeded one million with over 900,000 of those being active cases. Though China appears to have the crisis generally under control for the time being, the pandemic has forced other countries, most notoriously Italy and India, to be put on lockdown for some time as they grapple with being in their own early stages of the crisis. Many more countries and regions have also introduced guidelines, restrictions, and lockdowns designed to slow the spread of the virus to prevent healthcare systems from being overwhelmed, some have introduced steep consequences such as what is detailed in recently-passed legislation in Russia.

With the world in such a state of extreme crisis and people in every corner of the globe relying so heavily on the mutual heath of one another, one might imagine that the people of the world could trust their representatives on the global stage to behave cordially and with mutual respect for the humanity of their neighbors. Sadly, this is not so for the citizens of the United States. The US government has taken advantage of near radio-silence in mainstream media on issues not directly related to COVID-19 and America’s own flailing national response to continue to advance its destructive, racist, and imperialist foreign and domestic policy agenda at the expense of human life. What follows are recent examples of the actions taken and consequences of pursuing such policy in Iran, Venezuela, Massachusetts, and New York City.

Iran, a Warning for the Global South:

Early on in the crisis, Iran was a grim indicator of things to come for populations struggling under the heel of American sanctions. Sanctions are known to intentionally cripple the economies of their targets, especially when they originate from the world’s largest economic and military superpower. While a struggling economy is worrying enough in the abstract, American sanctions exacerbated the crisis in Iran.

Those with knowledge of exactly what economic sectors American sanctions concern might rush to point out that US sanctions actually include provisions that allow medical aid to enter the country unaffected by sanctions. However, in practice this is not the case, the United States has actually previously prosecuted companies for sending medical supplies to Iran, which serves as an effective deterrent against the delivery of medical aid despite the superficial openness to medical supplies. As a consequence, medical shortages that predated this crisis have been made even worse by the spike in the need for medical supplies such as testing kits, masks, ventilators and other necessities.

China was the first to send supplies and medical teams to Iran to assist as early as the end of February, less than two weeks after the outbreak there. Meanwhile the US held out, providing no sanctions relief and artificially putting Iran and the world in greater jeopardy than it would have otherwise been in. Iran has since earned the morbid title of the country with the sixth most COVID-19-related deaths to date, exceeding China’s total of just over 3,300 deaths at 3,400.

Venezuela’s Choice: Puppet or Punching Bag:

The outbreak of COVID-19 in Iran in February was a warning to all countries attempting to subvert US domination: that even if they were greatly impacted by the pandemic, their plight would not be met with humanity. In Iran’s case it was passive indifference and an unflinching foreign policy that worsened an already precarious situation. For Venezuela, the situation has the potential to be an even bigger disaster.

On March 31st, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a plan that would result in Venezuela eventually having sanctions lifted under the condition that the current President, Nicolás Maduro, steps down. The plan calls for a provisional government to take over and hold new elections within the next 12 months. It was announced just one week after the United States charged President maduro with narco-terrorism. It also came just days after opposition leader and self-declared President of Venezuela (supported by some 60 countries) Juan Guaidó called for similar action after a several-billion-dollar IMF loan was refused two weeks before.

Anyone familiar with the United States’ long and rich history of foreign interference will be sounding alarm bells. The US has supported coups, civil wars, and election-rigging in Latin America and beyond through various means for over a century. Additionally, a multi-billion-dollar IMF loan, secured with help from the United States, infamously played a part in ensuring US-backed candidate Boris Yeltsin defeated his Communst opponent in the 1996 Russian Presidential election.

The United States is transparent in its desire that the COVID-19 crisis, to which Venezuela is extremely vulnerable, will finally allow the US to impose its will after several years of verbal conflict and economic attacks. Instead of providing much-needed aid and medical assistance to the people of Venezuela, the United States is currently holding the Venezuelan economy and adequate medical supplies over their heads. Instead of using America’s vast wealth to save lives, America has once again chosen a destructive, hostile path that prioritizes financial gain over the lives of innocent civilians.

Mashpee Wampanoag, Sickness and Land Theft Echo American Legacy of Genocide:

Under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis, Secretary of the Interior David Berhardt moved to disestablish Mashpee Wampanoag lands last Friday. This would mean taking Mashpee Wampanoag land out of trust. “In-trust” is the designation under which Native American reservations are classified, possessing land in trust is key to determining the amount of funding a tribe receives. This move was announced last week, when Tribal Council Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Cedric Cromwell, was made aware of the move by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

Uncertainty surrounding the in-trust status of Mashpee Wampanoag lands has resulted in the delaying or outright denying of funding critical to schools, substance abuse programs, and providing clean water among other services important across all areas of life. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe intends to build a casino, shopping plaza, and hotels on the land in Taunton as a means of generating revenue and improving the standard of living of tribe members.

Broadly across America and other countries with native populations living in reservations such as Australia and Canada, Indigenous communities are subject to lack of clean water, essential health services, higher rates of poverty, higher rates of unsolved disappearances, and higher rates of children in foster care.

Indigenous elders, critical to the survival of endangered Indigenous languages and cultures are also at great risk because of COVID-19’s higher death rate among older individuals and those with preexisting conditions. This is of particular importance to the Mashpee Wampanoag who are currently fostering a language-revival program, of which elderly individuals are an important part. This presents a threat to the Mashpee Wampanoag that they have faced before, government policy is working in tandem with a health crisis to put already vulnerable people at greater risk, threatening the revival of an endangered language in the process.

Aware of this legacy, Tribal Council Chairman Cromwell had this to say in his initial response: “We the People of the First Light have lived here since before there was a Secretary of the Interior, since before there was a State of Massachusetts, since before the Pilgrims arrived 400 years  ago.  We have survived, we will continue to survive.  These are our lands, these are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren.  This Administration has come and it will go.  But we will be here, always.  And we will not rest until we are treated equally with other federally recognized tribes and the status of our reservation is confirmed.”

       The Best Way to Survive COVID-19? Be wealthy and white:

New York City is the hardest hit area of the United States, the so-called “epicentre” of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. In a recently released map that shows the hardest-hit zip codes of New York City it shows that poorer neighbourhoods and those with a higher proportion of people of color are hit disproportionately hard in comparison to whiter and wealthier neighborhoods.

This connection is likely due to the increased likelihood of people from poorer neighbourhoods not being able to take time off of work because they cannot work from home or go some time without income. The high rates of arrest in low-income communities of color also serves to exacerbate this race disparity, as non-white people are disproportionately thrown into crowded jails where the rates of infection are astronomically high.

This association is obviously troubling, as it details not just the expected higher rates of infection among workers who are key to the functioning of supermarkets, gas stations, post offices, restaurants and other essential businesses that don’t pay high wages, but also highlights an association between the likelihood of getting infected and being non-white. This association is a consequence of the still-relevant legacy of segregation and other forms of distrimination. Systemic racism kills, and it has been a feature of American policy since before even the adoption of the constitution. Racism does not always kill with bombs, guns, and knives, it can be just as deadly when it affects access to healthcare, transport, food, water, shelter, and employment. What this crisis demonstrates is that racism still manifests itself in public policy and is exacerbated by class-based disparities, particularly during a health crisis.

Of course the consequences don’t stop at rates of infection, location and income also dictate access to healthcare, which as a result of the predatory business-minded American healthcare system means that poorer communities are less likely to go to a doctor when sick, which is dangerous given that they are the ones spending the most time outside of their homes, and the most likely to get infected. Poor people will be infected and die at higher rates, and it is no accident. This happens every single day, only it is even more painfully obvious now.

So, What is to Be Done?:

The troubling state of society today can deal a blow to one’s mental health, especially when stuck inside where worry and stress have the ability to consume one’s mind unfettered. However, there are things that can be done.

Contacting local politicians and representatives is important, letting them know that their constiuents know that sick leave is a necessity for all workers, making it known that their constituents demand a universal healthcare system that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of wealth, race, and sex (women are disproportinonately on the front lines of this crisis, occupying many positions as low-level care-givers and nurses).

Let officials know that their constituents don’t approve of the stalling of HR-312, a resolution passed by the House of Representatives that has been sitting idle in the Senate for almost a year, which affirms the Mashpee Wampanoag’s right to their lands, and sign the petition to support them and donate to help cover legal fees if at all possible.

In terms of tangible action, some can organize a rent strike with all of their fellow tenants if they pay rent. Just because some can pay rent, doesn’t mean that everyone can. Check in with neighbors and see if anyone is struggling, even if it is only one person or family, they should not be evicted at this critical time, stand with them together to keep them housed. Community solidarity across all artificial divisions has never been so important.

This article was written by Daniel Winter. Contact via Instagram @dwinsta4 or via email at jmg1186@nyu.edu.
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Bureau of Reclamationy

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