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Manaus, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is a territory of death. A city where in each zone, in each health unit, from a basic unit to a highly complex hospital, there are signs that the hospital system has collapsed. On TV and social networks, videos reveal the horror: corridors crowded with bodies and patients fighting against life; images with dozens of contaminated people in a hospital environment that has only three ventilators and one is defective; lack of energy, lack of oxygen, basic equipment for medical teams; relatives of patients with other diseases report that there is no possibility of care.

But how did the city of Manaus get into this state of chaos, of collapse in its health system? What conditions were given since before the arrival of the new coronavirus and what potentiated its dark effects?

First of all, it must be considered that the State of Amazonas, of which Manaus is the capital, has always been under the control of the same political group since the political reopening at the end of the civil-military dictatorship. This group with names like Gilberto Mestrinho, Amazonino Mendes, Alfredo Nascimento, Eduardo Braga, Omar Aziz, José Melo and other smaller political characters, has never made the SUS a flag of effective alternative for providing health services to the masses of workers. Thus, socioeconomic inequalities, never faced by this political group, have unfolded into health inequalities that are expressed in the fact that the presence of doctors in Amazonas is one of the lowest rates in the country since the emergence of SUS. Added to this local political disposition, the fact that the health policies of the federal government have never had a lasting institutionalization capable of dealing with regional specificities. Thus, media and high complexity services were concentrated in Manaus, leaving the inland municipalities to be reduced and now, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the collapse of the health system in the capital city of Amazonas means the collapse of the whole of it.

Secondly, it is necessary to take into account the plundering of public resources destined to health through criminal schemes. The Federal Police’s Operation Bad Ways blew up in 2016 a criminal organization commanded by the doctor and businessman Mouhamad Moustafa, the state governor at the time, José Melo, his wife, and other political agents (health secretaries) and agents of the companies of the former. Together they stole amounts of about 110 million reais of resources that should have been used in public health but were diverted to illicit enrichment. During a strike of doctors and nurses due to delayed payment of wages, an audio seized by the PF reveals the comments of the businessman’s bochados: “The demonstration of doctors here in the Compensate was crowded. Three doctors and the rest of the union’s advisors to make noise. I think I even saw the cleaning lady from the union here to make some noise”. The health workers who demonstrated in Manaus, in 2015, and who were the target of the irony of the criminal businessman, are now fighting to fight COVID-19 in hospital conditions that are legacies of the cupinization of resources that should have been destined to health. Many of these doctors and nurses are contaminated and some have even died in recent weeks.

Third, we have the inclination of most of Manaus’ residents for a reactionary policy option. Such an option should be considered in the continuous advance of the evangelical churches in the dispute for space in institutional politics, electing councilmen, state and federal deputies who always defend conservative, lgbtfóbicas, macho agendas against the working class. These groups, plus the conservative groups linked to the Catholic Church, and the police forces that equipped education through the creation of military colleges of the PM, were spearheads in the election of Jair Bolsonaro to the Presidency of the Republic in Manaus, which in 2018, in the second round, gave 65.72% of the votes to the elected candidate. In the March for Jesus in 2019, 400,000 people dressed in green and yellow occupied the city’s streets “for their families and for Brazil. In the context of the new coronavirus pandemic, it is from this spectrum of political awareness that the support for the Bolsonaro comes in speeches against social isolation, through the return to work. At the very moment when the rates of contamination and deaths in the state are increasing, the speeches of the state government and the mayor in favor of isolation, which at first seemed to be having an effect, imploded with the Bolsonaro call to the streets. The rate of social isolation, which reached 64.2%, fell to 48% after Bolsonaro began to challenge the guidelines of the World Health Organization and its Ministry of Health.

Fourth, according to PNAD data from the last quarter of 2019, while the country’s rate is 40.9% of employed people but informally, in Manaus this rate is 58.35%. The unemployment rate is 19.4% (210,000 people) of the population, which is the highest rate in Brazil. The Manaus Free Trade Zone model, which was the mainstay of the local economy and therefore of job creation, with the process of productive restructuring and job insecurity, is no longer capable of producing the employment rates of the late 1980s, when there were more than 125,000 direct jobs in the Manaus Industrial Complex. Between 2018 and 2019 the number of workers under CLT fell 6.7%, while temporary workers increased 5.5% and outsourced workers 9.9%. Between 2013 and 2018, the number of workers employed was 121.6 thousand to 87.7 thousand and the number of companies installed there, in the same period, was 480 to 450. The year 2020, with the new coronavirus already manifesting itself in the world, sees the federal government’s policy deepen the unemployment horizon in Manaus. The policy of Bolsonaro for the rate of the Tax on Industrialized Products (IPI) has reached companies in the center of concentrates that can leave the city making approximately 7 thousand jobs disappear. The high rates of unemployment in Manaus indicate a structural policy in which the logic of contemporary capital, which circulates without brakes in the direction of the most favorable regions for its production and reproduction, imposes itself in its most distorted face, leaving behind a city as an effective devastated land. And Jair Bolsonaro is the helmsman of this dismantlement. In view of this, the Emergency Basic Income Plan, which foresees the transfer of R$ 600 to informal workers, self-employed, without fixed income, due to the crisis resulting from the pandemic and for a period of three months, points out that the scenario of structural unemployment in Manaus poses the challenge of the country to reverse the dismantling that the counter-reforms have imposed on the world of work and establish a broader social system that signals towards a basic income program that is structuring a nation project liberated from the destructive prescription of neoliberalism. While this debate does not advance, queues at bank branches are ways to register for the Emergency Basic Income Plan. Hundreds of people are crowding into the city that has the highest infection rate per million inhabitants in the country.

These aspects of local reality are not hierarchical; they form moments of the same totality. And they result in a tragic picture. In the unequal and combined development of the country, the way in which the crisis beam posed by the health crisis takes on particular tones, typical of a city built in a region whose foundation pillars of the capitalist adventure took place through the primitive accumulation of capital: with the extermination of the indigenous peoples, caboclos, poor, from the first moments of the arrival of the European colonizer until the current days. In the context of the pandemic of the new coronavirus, the old passwords of shameless domination manifest themselves with a sense of impunity.

At a time when official rates, marked by underreporting, only increase the number of contaminated and dead, with the entire health system on canvas, without masks, respirators, beds, and other inputs, the governor of Amazonas, Wilson Lima, who is from the Bolsonaro support base, makes payment of old debts from previous administrations for a total of 736 million reais. Instead of equipping the reference hospital in the fight against COVID-19, the government rented the deactivated hospital from a private college. 28 lung ventilators were purchased for R$ 2.9 million, with a waiver of bidding and an overprice of 316%.

Faced with these scandals, the Legislative Assembly of the State of Amazonas (ALEAM) approved a request for federal intervention in the state. It is worth noting that the proponent of such a request is the President of the house, Josué Neto, an arduous defender of scholarship and intended candidate for the City of Manaus in the next elections. On the same day that he announced he had a coronavirus, the President of ALEAM also commented that it is necessary to ensure the social isolation of those who are in the risk group, but also to think about alternatives for the economy.

On the streets, on April 19, demonstrators came out calling for an end to social isolation, a return to work and the impeachment of the governor. Hours before this act, the civil police received reports that people linked to this demonstration wanted to burn cars and buses, increasing the chaos in the city. Although locally attacked by demonstrators, Wilson Lima refused to sign the governors’ letter in defense of democracy written after the President’s speech in Brasilia calling for military intervention and closure of Congress.

In a country with a president who denies any strategy to combat COVID-19, in a state with a lost governor, with no effective policy to confront the pandemic locally, with a Legislative Assembly bowing to its scholarship president, with a part of the population fervently following the hate performances of the genocidal “Myth”, Manaus is the most distorted face of a landscape that the day goes by is composed of more lifeless bodies.

Thus, in the current days, when the Planet Earth is going through the COVID-19 pandemic, Manaus, a city located in the Brazilian Amazon, is the synthesis of the deep metabolic fault under the capitalist order between man and nature and the fault of the relationship between men and each other. It is the cynical manifestation, without shame, of the reach of the destructibility of the exploitation of man by man in search of the valorization of capital, recalls, in these conditions, the brilliant work of Gabriel García Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Manaus is Macondo, a city where authoritarian governments impose a dark necropolitics in the darkness of the days in the certainty that, in the future, no one will believe that the State forces have killed thousands of its inhabitants.

It is a city far from the great centers of political and economic decision-making. The Brazilian metropolises, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, do not understand it very well. New York, London, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, if they have heard of this city, it was for the exoticism of the Amazon valley. And now, because it is the stage of what can result most terrifying when all political institutions fail to fight the new coronavirus. Nor do they suspect that this ignorance about the city may mean the impossibility of building something decisive that is different from this destructive order. As Karl Marx pointed out in a letter to Kugelman about the links between the condition of the English working class and that of Ireland, the recognition of the primary conditions of exploitation of the natural world and the various social groups, as well as the emancipation of these, who live in the Amazon city, is a condition for emancipation in the center of capitalism.

It is not possible to be horrified at a distance by what is happening in Manaus, as it is the same as in the big urban centers. The contaminated and the dead are related to the failure of the whole economic system and the so-called “civilization” process imposed in the last five and a half centuries to the Latin American continent, the Amazon valley. The days in Manaus with bodies scattered in the corridors of hospitals and hundreds of patients waiting for the occasion to go to meet the non-being, are not days of a city far from the big metropolises. As the Moor of Trier, in The Capital, De Te Fabula Narratur pointed out! It is about you, in great metropolises, what has been written here.

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  • Pedro Fuentes
  • Bernardo Corrêa
  • Charles Rosa
  • Clara Baeder