Thousands of people tuned in to Instagram last Tuesday evening as Puerto Rican rapper René Pérez Joglar—who performs under the stage name Residente—spoke with the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, about the stimulus package the country was passing to address COVID-19.
COVID-19 is an infectious disease that attacks the lungs. The epicenter of the virus hit Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Since this pandemic outbreak, countries all around the world are facing a health crisis, and El Salvador is preparing for the worst.
According to President Bukele, the country is preparing a stimulus package that will defer internet, water, and electricity fees during this national emergency. He explained to Residente, a rapper from the group Calle 13, that the deferment will take place and that the people of El Salvador will see an increase in the following 24 months to repay these utilities. The average increase will be about $2.50 per month. Bukele also mentioned that the country would be disbursing roughly $300 per month to workers in El Salvador, as they stay quarantined and ready to face this virus.
Bukele also ordered a 30-day quarantine on March 21 across the country, impacting all residents. This Central American nation of 6.4 million residents has roughly 19 cases of coronavirus, but the president is making sure numbers don’t escalate. In addition to the quarantine, the president also banned visitors from high-risk countries—which include China, South Korea, Iran, France, and Spain, among other countries. President Bukele is far ahead of his neighbor countries in his reaction to the virus.
“I know this will be criticized, but let’s put ourselves in Italy’s shoes. Italy wishes they could’ve done this before,” said Bukele in a press conference. “Our health system is not at Italy’s level. It’s not at South Korea’s level.”
However, as Bukele does everything he can to protect Salvadorans from this health crisis, activists cry out against the Salvadoran government’s current efforts to privatize water sources. El Salvador’s Environmental and Climate Change Commission is challenging laws that could potentially make it harder for poor people in El Salvador to access water. President Bukele has supported this effort to privatize fresh water sources, unfortunately. In addition to this being a disastrous decision for human rights, it’s also counter-intuitive for stopping COVID-19 from causing more harm to El Salvador. Unfortunately, nearly a third of the population in El Salvador lives in poverty. To make matters worse, public health experts warn that poor and marginalized communities are some of the most susceptible to the virus as it spreads; this includes senior citizens, people living with HIV who may not be on treatment or with low CD4 counts, and people with other chronic respiratory illnesses, such as asthma.
But the hour-long Instagram Live conversation between Residente and President Bukele addressed marginalized communities at risk, as well as the dilemma students face.
“We are offering financial assistance to students during this semester,” said President Bukele on Instagram Live. “We are also trying to graduate doctors and nurses to help with this pandemic concern. We are aware that students fear their classes will be jeopardized this semester, which is why we are offering assistance so that students have the opportunity to complete their work. We believe the world will change drastically after all this.”
While President Bukele was talking about his stimulus plan and his concerns for students, here in the U.S., the White House and Congress were reaching a stimulus deal for the American people. The bill consists of a $2-trillion plan set to protect individuals who have lost their jobs during this pandemic. This deal will send direct payments to some people who have been economically hurt by the shut-down of businesses that states are mandating in the midst of this virus outbreak. This legislation is the biggest economic stimulus package in American history. The plan includes efforts to protect Americans from filing for bankruptcy and facing penalties for failing to make their payments on time. Many companies are already allowing people to defer payments during this crisis, given that people are losing their jobs as they practice social distancing. Despite the losses, President Trump has said he believes things will be back to normal before Easter; however, experts believe this won’t be the case.
The whole point of this stimulus plan is to keep Americans quarantined so people will not feel pressure to work or break social distancing mandates by being in close contact with others in businesses or public transportation. With a rising death toll that even government agency officials say could reach 100,000 to 200,000 in the United States, efforts to save lives while not overwhelming the health care system are driving the guidelines for people in the U.S. to use social distancing and shelter in place. In addition, available diagnostic tools to test as many people as possible are only going to begin to be widely disseminated starting in early April.
Most public health experts acknowledge the U.S. waited too late to prepare for this virus and is now realizing the impact of poor decision-making. El Salvador’s president is hoping to avoid that fate by acting swiftly, decisively, and, most importantly, early.