By Emily Arias González - International Relations Student

The pandemic has been an eye opener for democracies and the virus has proven the capacity of the system and how the states are able to adapt during global crises. Governments have been challenged to adapt different methods to preserve wellbeing of their people, and Costa Rica has been no exception of it. As every democratic country, it had to adapt measures to retain the spread of the disease, for example using a mask everywhere people go, schools and jobs were closed, and the freedom of traveling was also restricted. These actions protected the population, however on July 13th of 2020 protesters were arguing that these rules were made to contain the civil liberties of the people (Marín, 2020, par. 1).

It is safe to say measures like curfews or limitations to travel are aspects from authoritarian governments, but are these actions truly threatens to the democracy during COVID-19? Should these control mechanisms be removed to preserve the free of will on the country?
It’s needed to evaluate the results of the limitations during the pandemic. Costa Rica’s index of lethality in April 2020 was the lowest with a 0.86% in Latin America (BBC News Mundo, 2020, para. 4) and in February 2021 Costa Rica remained in the 5th place of low index of lethality (Usuario, 2020, para. 6). Although Costa Rica did have a considerate number of cases, the health of the people is still a top priority of the government, and on January the 25th, a budget around $60000 was spent to buy vaccines for the COVID- 19. Looking out for the wellbeing of the populations is a democratic practice.

Seeing this, the control procedures for Costa Rica, did work to restrain the consequences of the virus and preserve the democracy on a health perspective. But from an international perspective, does this mean that other democracies around Latin America can’t be threaten by the restrictions?

El Salvador has been the target of international criticism due to the actions of the president Nayib Bukele during the pandemic. According to Aguasivas and Masek (2020):
El Salvador reporting its first coronavirus case on March 18th, Bukele deployed Salvadoran soldiers and police to enforce lockdowns and to detain those seen as breaking the country’s curfew in “quarantine centers”. Bukele subsequently tweeted an authorization for use of lethal force by police and military and officials released images showing the “inhumane treatment” of prisoners at the Izalco prison in San Salvador. (para. 5).

It has been pointed out: the president uses the locked down to remove these gangs by the force to reduce the high index of murders in the country, however, Amnesty International stated this action puts humans’ rights on risks. If it is analyzed from this perspective, the control to preserve the health of the population is not handled accordingly to democracy. Eradicating the gangs is not a safe solution because even if the murders are stopped, there is still a possibility other gangs might want to take revenge and create another commotion, plus the spread of the virus in the jails makes it more possible since all the prisoners are together, in other words, the long-term safety of the people is not guaranteed.

COVID-19 has proven the power of democracies to overcome challenges, but it will depend on each how to do so and if is going to give positive results for the people. In these two cases context is important, it could be said both are democracies, but it each one has a different story. Costa Rica has been a consolidated democracy since 1948 while El Salvador has been since 1992, which potentiate the vulnerability to react o crises. But it possible to do so since in the situation both look out for a balance for the sake of their people.

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  • Aguasivas, L., & Masek, V. (2020, July 8). Authoritarian populism in the Americas: A symptom of democratic crisis. Global Policy Journal.
  • BBC News Mundo. (2020, April 27). 7 gráficos para entender el avance de la pandemia de COVID-19 en America Latina.
  • Marín C. (2020, July 13). Al grito de 'no hay pandemia' realizan protesta a las afueras de Casa Presidencial. El Mundo CR.
  • Usuario, S. (2021, February 19). Tasa R COVID-19. Centro Centroamericano de Población Universidad de Costa Rica.