What answers to the pandemic does Latin America have to offer?

5 Nov 2021

Ethnologist Eveline Dürr believes that Latin America can still teach us something about dealing with the pandemic. The LMU Latin America Network Online Dialogues offers Latin American academics and their LMU partners a forum for exchange on the pandemic.

Covid-19 Dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, Corona Virus World Map on PC screen - South America

© AdobeStock / moinzon

Why has Latin America been so hard hit by COVID-19?

Professor Eveline Dürr: There are several reasons. In addition to the patchy medical care in Latin America, it’s also something to do with the glaring social inequalities in the health system. Underlying this in many countries of the region is structural racism and discrimination against the indigenous population. The rich and white upper classes generally have better health care, while the indigenous population is often underserved and sometimes harder to reach. And then there’s the matter of who the governments are actually trying to address with the measures they are taking.

The question of the global distribution of vaccines and the political influence that goes with that is also an interesting one. Added to that is the uncertain political context in many Latin American countries themselves. Brazil’s President Bolsonaro, for example, is spreading questionable claims. He has largely been denying the dangers posed by the coronavirus and boycotting fact-based communication and education about COVID-19. Misinformation is being used as an instrument of power. The health of the population is less of a focus here.

When it comes to people being skeptical of the science, how much of that is there in Latin America?

There is some ambivalence around the question of expertise. On the one hand, experts have taken on a more prominent role in Latin American countries, just like they have here, as they are expected to supply the “truth” about many matters. The public perception of science has thus seen its status rise as it became a more important factor. On the other hand, statements are being used for political ends to an ever greater extent. So there is also a certain rejection of measures to contain the coronavirus – often expressed in the form of a criticism of colonialism masquerading as science. Another example is the misinformation that has been spread about what is actually in the vaccine, such as the myth that vaccination can make you infertile. What we are seeing is science being instrumentalized—deliberately—as a means of retaining power.

Why is Latin America the focus of your series of lectures?

There hasn’t been any systematization of research interests on Latin America at LMU so far. We, the scientists in LMU’s Latin America Network, want to give research in this area greater visibility, to get to know each other, to network, and to exchange ideas. One important aspect is to identify interfaces in research and teaching, not just at LMU, but always in a dialogue with Latin American partners. The key thing is to network in order to establish, explore and intensify contacts with other researchers.

Before the coronavirus hit, we had planned to stage the Latin America Forum as a large-scale conference held over several days to showcase the research that is being done on this region. But that format needs people to be present; a large part of such an event is everything that happens “in-between”, the informal conversations about research projects, exciting findings or hypotheses. Since face-to-face contact is so important to that, we could not let it take place via Zoom. Nevertheless, we did not want to be thwarted by COVID-19. So we decided to offer a smaller-scale format in preparation for the conference. The idea is to hold a small online format in advance to get to know our Latin American counterparts and also to raise awareness for the conference among other colleagues at LMU who are doing research on the region.

Professor Eveline Dürr is Professor of Ethnology at LMU Munich and involved in organizing the Latin America Network Online Dialogues at LMU. The next event, entitled, “COVID-19 pandemic: Implications for health care, medical research and teaching in Latin America and at LMU” is taking place on 10 November from 7:00 - 8:30 PM.
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