Coronavirus and imperial piracy

By: Luis Hernández Navarro

The coronavirus crisis has made visible the role that looting plays in the reproduction of current capitalism. As if they were modern buccaneers, the governments of powerful countries like the United States or France have dedicated themselves to confiscating, without any modesty, medical tests, ventilators and masks that other nations have acquired to combat the pandemic.

If corsairs used to control the seas and trade routes in other eras, now, not satisfied with looting, the new freebooters prevent the export of medications and sanitary equipment to other latitudes, and make massive purchases for which they pay prices three or four times above their value.

It’s not just about the large number of unscrupulous or greedy entrepreneurs who use the tragedy to do a big business.

Nor about stores that sell products in bad condition, counterfeit or expired or who defraud purchasers. Although all have multiplied like mushrooms in the rainy season, the issue goes further. It’s about imperial governments that loot key goods for combating the disease, or that, theoretically defending free trade, close their borders.

There is nothing surprising in this relationship between dispossession, new corsairs and capitalism. This mode of production –explains the anthropologist and historian Antonio García de León– was a system made by pirates and maintained by pirates. “Pirates in English is said privateers, which is almost like saying private or private initiative. They were even part of the private initiative of the time. That’s why the current private initiative has pirates among its most glorious ancestors.”

The health and disposable protective material on the global market for dealing with Covid-19 is insufficient and the imperial governments don’t hesitate in disposing of it in any way. Everything is permitted in the war over face masks.

The actions of imperial pillage are happening vertiginously. The new buccaneer Emmanuel Macron, president of France, announced: “we are at war” and issued a decree authorizing the confiscation of all the protective material in his country. Thus, on March 5, a shipment of 4 million face masks from the Swedish company Mölnlycke, with final destination to Spain and Italy, which had entered the port of Marseille and was destined for its logistics center on Lyon, was confiscated. Finally, two weeks later, after multiple diplomatic pressures, the French government was left with 2 million masks and accepted that as many others go out.

According to L’Express newspaper, after the bitter drink, the Swedish company decided not to take its China shipments to France, in order to prevent arbitrary confiscations. A high official told that newspaper: “We have instructions not to requisition all the production in order to leave a little for our friends.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, the magnate Donald Trump, who just last Saturday April 4 recognized the magnitude of the health disaster in his country provoked by the pandemic, continues being the same pirate as always. Among other arbitrary measures, he asked the 3M Company not to export face masks for medical use. Additionally, he ordered the company to manufacture as many N95 masks as the authorities consider necessary for the United States.

It’s not the only case. According to the Spanish newspaper El Independiente, suppliers of medical equipment warned autonomous communities that they will not be able to guaranty orders given the massive purchases that the United States would be making from Chinese manufacturers. “A supplier we work with regularly has told us that they are going to have problems to fill orders because the United States has blocked production from China and has entirely bought it out. It is paying 80 Euro cents for the mask, when we got the last ones at 0.45. And 20 days ago at 29 cents.”

When 200,000 protective masks for the Berlin police were confiscated at the Bangkok Airport, German authorities assumed that the United States was behind the confiscation. Senator Andreas Geise denounced the measure as an “act of modern piracy.”

The list of acts of pillage is endless. It involves Italy against Greece, the Czech Republic against Italy, Turkey against Spain and a long etcetera. But it goes beyond the face masks. This war has also spread to respirators. According to the Mossad: “countries have been embroiled in a fierce covert battle to seize at all cost the limited number of ventilators that there are on the market. Ventilators are being sold through cracks in the system.”

The contrast could not be greater. While countries like Cuba selflessly send medical brigades to many countries to combat the pandemic, the imperial governments reproduce the old capitalist piracy. Thus the ethics and defense of humanity of one and the other.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee



2 Comments on “Coronavirus and imperial piracy

  1. Pingback: Zapatista News & Analysis | Blog of Zapatista Support Group Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

  2. Pingback: Zapatista News & Analysis, May 2020 – Transnational Solidarity Network

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