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El Mostrador is a Chilean online newspaper, founded on 1 March 2000 and is Chile's first exclusively digital newspaper.
Chomsky in 2017 in Mexico City
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Chomsky On Coronavirus: Why Neoliberalism And Big Pharma Can't Respond

In two recent interviews, iconic left-wing activist Noam Chomsky says the COVID-19 crisis reveals the inherent weakness of the profit-driven to confront a global pandemic.

For many long-time critics of global capitalism, COVID-19 is a glaring new example of how our prevailing economic system no longer serves the common good. Among those is the 91-year-old public intellectual and self-described anarcho-syndicalist Noam Chomsky, who shared his thoughts on the crisis in two recent interviews.

Speaking last week with the Chilean news site El Mostrador, Chomsky pointed out how the crisis is shining a light specifically at the pharmaceutical industry, a.k.a. Big Pharma, and more generally at the neoliberalism system in place in many parts of the world. "Like climate change, the pandemic is another case of massive market failure," Chomsky told the Spanish-language site. "For private pharmaceutical companies, the market signals were clear: Don't waste resources preparing for a pandemic ahead of time."

Chomsky, a lifelong social activist and a renowned MIT professor of linguistics, argues that the U.S. government could have intervened to stem the crisis, as in South Korea, but that it would have "conflicted with neoliberal ideology that centers on the sacred rights of concentrated private power. The government's role is to subsidize and provide exorbitant patent rights — ensuring colossal profits — but not to interfere with privilege and wealth."

Is the species even viable?

Speaking Saturday with Democracy in Europe Movement 2025"s Croatian-born co-founder Srecko Horvat, Chomsky said the current health pandemic is just one of many looming crises facing humanity, including climate change, threats of nuclear war and migration.

"The coronavirus could have terrifying consequences, but there will be recovery," Chomsky said. "The others there won't be: it's finished. If we don't deal with them, we're done."

The activist noted the "irony" of recent reports that Cuba, which has suffered Western sanctions for decades, is sending doctors to help European countries to fight the coronavirus.

"I mean this is so shocking that you don't know how to describe it. Germany can't help Greece: but Cuba can help European countries," he said. "Just as when you see thousands of people dying in the Mediterranean, fleeing from countries Europe has devastated for centuries and being sent to their deaths in the Mediterranean, you don't know what words to use."

Chomsky, who was born in 1928, says the response of certain leaders conjures "childhood memories of listening to Hitler raving on the radio to raucous crowds adoring him at the Nuremberg rallies ...One begins to wonder if the species is even viable."

Chomsky said the only hope is more democratic participation: "If we're leaving our fate to sociopathic buffoons, we're finished," he said. "An informed, engaged, involved public taking control of their fate — if that doesn't happen, we're doomed."

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COVID-19 shutdown in Argentina

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Quarantines Can Be Toxic For Domestic Violence

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. Our network of multilingual journalists are busy finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world. To receive the daily brief in your inbox, sign up here.


One-third of the world's population is now said to be on lockdown. The purpose of the confinement appears clear enough to most: to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, there are consequences, and not just for the economy.

Across the globe, advocates against domestic abuse are warning that this period of imposed self-isolation will almost certainly provoke an increase in intra-family violence. In China, where the COVID-19 outbreak began, there's already evidence of that being the case.

An extended quarantine places a huge psychological strain, even on families without a history of abuse. And so in situations where violence is already present, the dangers are now that much greater, says Elisabeth Liotard, director of a women's protection association in Lyon, France.

"We're clearly expecting things to get worse," she told the French daily Le Monde. "In this period of uninterrupted cohabitation, violent men will have even more pretexts to lose control and the cycles of violence are probably going to accentuate."

For victims — women and children mostly — quarantine means there's no place to escape, and no time in the day when they can extricate themselves from an abusive environment. There's also the question of how a woman, in such a situation, might make a plea for help while on lockdown. Calling a hotline, for example, may not be an option when the victim is constantly in the presence of the abuser.

Marie-Pierre Badré, a leading anti-abuse advocate in France, says that since the lockdown began in her country, there has already been a significant decrease in calls to the 13 13 hotline. But there are other ways victims can reach out — by texting emergency services, for example, she said in an interview with French public radio.

According to Buenos Aires-based Pagina12daily, Argentinatook a very practical step toward ensuring special protection last week, by automatically extending restraining orders and other temporary legal protections for abuse victims. Simiar moves will be needed elsewhere, as this toxic side-effect of coronavirus spreads around the world.

Benjamin Witte


  • Toll: Deaths inItaly slow for the fourth day in a row, but in the second hardest-hit European country, Spain, deaths rose by 738 in 24 hours and the Parliament has voted to extend the State of Emergency until April 11. U.S. death toll passes the 1,000 mark.

  • U.S. jobless record: More Americans filed unemployment claims, 3.28 million, last week than anytime since records began being tracked in 1967.

  • Vaccine hope: Experts conclude that a vaccine could be long-lasting as COVID-19 mutates at a slower rate than other respiratory viruses like the flu.

  • Africa spread: The virus is spreading rapidly through Africa, with 2,400 confirmed cases across 46 of the continent's 54 countries. Some 700 of those are in South Africa, where President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a nation-wide, 21-day lockdown starting Thursday night.

  • Iran restrictions: Iran's government bans internal travel and warns of a "second wave" of COVID-19 as the official death toll passes 2,000.

  • Returning home: In Afghanistan, the western province of Herat has emerged as the epicenter of the country's outbreak, representing 54 of the 75 reported deaths, and the government fears the situation will worsen as Afghans keep returning from neighbouring Iran. Between March 8 and 21, 115,000 Afghans crossed the border from Iran.

  • All 94 residents of a New Jersey nursing home are believed to be infected.

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