By Juan Alberto Ruiz Casado
More or less the same ones that baselessly accuse China of having spread the virus on purpose and, later, overcome the pandemic in order to grow and impose its dominance—as if other countries did not have the possibility of ending the pandemic in two or three months like China did—are those who now yearn for their countries to be the first to vaccinate their population, emerge from the pandemic, and thus put one foot on the accelerator of growth and another foot on the neck of those who are slower to get out of the crisis. In short, vaccines have become a weapon for the most powerful countries, which are those that have the capital and the technology, to get out of the crisis as fast as possible so they can grow again earlier, obtain more capital and, hence, increase their power and leverage over those who come out later. Poor countries will be left behind. In a shamefully large number of countries, full vaccination will not take place until, at least, 2023 (following the data of The Economist).
The director of the WHO, as well as a hundred countries in need, have asked that rich countries eliminate the intellectual property rights of vaccines so that other countries can also manufacture them and the vaccines can reach more countries and more people as soon as possible. Instead of accepting this option, the rich countries rejected this petition in the WTD, arguing that the distribution based on solidarity is enough. This is the concept of equality for the hegemonic capitalist structure: calculated solidarity so that the dominance of those at the top is not compromised. The solidarity distribution does not work. COVAX, the mechanism that has been put in place to provide vaccines to countries without money (poorer countries, paradoxically, are sold vaccines at a more expensive price than rich countries) or power of influence (even the European Union is having problems to get the vaccines they were promised, as competition between rich countries is brutal) to buy them in the wild market in which we live now, does not have enough vaccines yet to even protect health personnel in the countries that depend on it.
Rich countries propose to donate a part of the vaccines out of the great excess they have acquired (to vaccinate populations several times higher than those of their own countries), but only after they have vaccinated 70% of their populations. Thus, the pandemic, among many other effects, is making clear the operation of the capitalist system: whoever has the money has the power, and uses this power to maintain the position of dominance over it. Poor countries will emerge from this pandemic much later than rich countries, which will mean that the distance that separates ones from the others in terms of development will widen. While liberating patents would not make rich countries exit the pandemic later, it would facilitate poorer countries to exit earlier and not depend on donations, solidarity, from rich countries.
These dynamics, which are not new but perhaps these days are becoming more visible than ever, show why poor countries are not in a position of weakness because their people are lazy or inferior, as many lovers of savage neoliberalism argue. They do not escape subordination because whoever has control of the capital and technology has also the power to maintain their situation of privilege, and getting out of that vicious circle is not possible by following the rules that the countries that rule the system have established to keep them and their companies in a situation of permanent dominance. As we say in Spanish, “quien hace la ley hace la trampa” (whoever makes the rules, establishes a way to cheat). In other words, to get out of this dynamic of inequality, it is necessary to break the rules and abuse the abuser, because simply relying on donations or following the rules of the market it is not possible to change the situation of structural and premeditated inequality. The poverty is no accident, nor richness is the result of work and effort. Money produces money, and technology allows to be at the forefront of economic and military control. The poor have no real ability to alter this equation. It is a well designed system. The capitalist system is structured in such a way that for some peoples to have power, others must be subordinate. Without poor countries, rich countries could not have evolved as they have or live in the abundance—at least in relative terms to the rest of the world—in which they live today. This, at the macro level of state competition. At the micro level of community competition, those who depart from a position of privilege have a large number of possibilities to maintain that position or improve it in the future. Those who are born in poverty and subordination will rarely escape that position by simply following the rules.
Let’s look at an example of how dynamics are made to keep inequality as it is. China is perhaps the only significant example of an underdeveloped country that has come to compete with traditional rich countries on an equal footing. However, to get out of its subordinate position, it has not limited itself to following the rules of the game, of the market, and has taken advantage of every opportunity to acquire technologies from other countries, whether by purchase, theft of intellectual property or any other mechanism at hand. What China has achieved is to catch up with the rich countries, not to make them poorer, but this at the same time has made it the new common enemy. For these countries, China had no right to get out of its position of poverty by taking advantage of the privileged, shortening the road by using unlawful tricks. For example, China is often accused of doping its companies with state money and making them too powerful, which is unfair for companies from other companies. This same debate also provoked a trade war between the US and the EU, with Boeing and Airbus, but also now the pharmaceuticals that provide the vaccines only for the rich countries have been highly subsidized by the institutions. As such, those tricks that China is accused of using are commonly used by rich countries, but they act as if they had the natural right to do it while others should not.
In the same vein, they act as if they had ever done so and their position of richness was not the fruit of wars, colonization and mutual theft along the last centuries and still today. China is accused of geopolitical influence here and there, and military harassment here and there. The problem seems not to be the particular actions, which have been performed for centuries and are still performed today by rich countries, but the fact that it is China who does it. Or Russia. Not so much because they are dictatorships, but because they are not in the traditional circle of privileged countries with the right to do so. Now, the great nightmare of the rich countries has come true with China: the order has been subverted. Now there is someone in position to challenge them, now they do not have absolute control over the designs of the world. The obvious proof is that China—and also Russia in other spheres—is on the way to provide vaccines to all those countries of the global “South” (Turkey, Philippines, Indonesia, Algeria, etc.) that the rich countries have left in the lurch. They accuse China of doing “geopolitics”, which most certainly is, but at the same time it is also solidarity. Otherwise, the rich countries should be accused of geopolitical ineptitude, which, at the same time, exposes their absence of genuine solidarity. As a consequence, rather than making it possible to produce more vaccines, it is better to articulate a Second Cold War, not to so much to maintain democracy in the world and the wellbeing of those countries in need, as to keep the position of superiority of those in privilege and make China submit and return to the place of subordination where it belongs.
Juan Alberto Ruiz Casado