Even In Florida, Latin America's Rich Make COVID Worse For Latin America's Poor
COMMENTARY Vaccine tourism underscores the culture of privilege in Latin America — and how it haunts Latin Americans who are shut out of it.
One thing privileged Latin Americans love to brag about – what they really love to rub less privileged Latin Americans’ noses in – is their vacations in Miami. I was reminded of that this week as I read Argentine media personality Yanina Latorre’s rub-it-in-their-snouts account, on the celebrity website Teleshow, of the big dinero she’s been spending in the Magic City.
“I’m going to have to work triple to pay the credit card bill!” Latorre says in that “Oh, darling” manner the other half exhale when they describe the burdens of being rich to the rest of us.
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Well, darling, we know one vacation score Latorre made that won’t be on next month’s Amex statement: the COVID-19 vaccine she got gratis for her 80-year-old travel-companion mother at Hard Rock Stadium. Yes, these are the same Buenos Aires socialites who ignited corona-outrage last month when Latorre – who’s also a competitor on Argentina’s version of “Dancing With the Stars” – triumphantly posted video of Mom’s Florida vaccination on Instagram, despite neither of them having a home here.
As for the outrage? In her Teleshow interview, Latorre dismisses it all as the locals just “saying pavadas – stupid nonsense about us.”
But the consequences of Latorre’s social-media stupidity are anything but nonsense. In response to media reports about her and other cases of “vaccine tourism,” Governor Ron DeSantis two weeks ago took the step – politically understandable but epidemiologically questionable – of requiring anyone getting their COVID shots in Florida to show ID or other proof of state residence. Local hospitals like Jackson have taken similar measures.
The people hurt most by those orders aren’t the Latin Americans who flew here so they could lie in Florida’s sun. They’re the Latin Americans who walked here, swam rivers to get here – got robbed and beaten or worse by border coyotes to get here – so they could toil in Florida’s sun.
The Latin Americans hurt most by vaccine residence-ID requirements aren't the ones who flew here to lie in Florida's sun — they're the ones who walked here to toil in Florida's sun.
They’re the migrant laborers whose guest-worker visas or, as in most cases, undocumented status doesn’t readily afford them a Sunshine State driver’s license. Even if they can parlay a residential utility bill into a vaccine dose, many are afraid – especially after four years of Trump immigration dragnets – of coming forward and exposing themselves that way.
Never mind that the Trump Administration itself last year designated agricultural workers like Florida’s as “essential” to the U.S. food supply chain during the pandemic. And never mind that the COVID-19 virus doesn’t seem as concerned about state residency as DeSantis is – that it’s just as happy to infect the undocumented vegetable picker or hotel linen changer as it is the U.S. citizen, and so it couldn’t be happier about Florida making it harder for any group to get inoculated.
I realize Canadians and other nationalities were also part of the vaccine tourism scandal. But at least they tried to fly under the radar. Latin Americans like the Latorres – and their Argentine paisana and celebrity lawyer Ana Rosenfeld, who got vaccinated in Tampa – did the most to make their vaccine consumption conspicuous.
And they did it in no small part because, sadly, the temptation is just too strong to let everyone back in Buenos Aires, Caracas, Bogotá, Tegucigalpa or Mexico City – where vaccination programs have barely begun if at all – see the entrée they command in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Houston.
What they did was give DeSantis, a Trump acolyte, an excuse for the sort of crackdown that follows Trumpism’s migrant-demonization handbook. Then again, the whole episode is a reminder that American Trumpism and Latin American elitism are kindred spirits when it comes to Latin America’s underdogs. The former may scapegoat them here; but the latter drives them here by indulging, if not creating, the sort of politically repressive, economically unjust and criminally violent conditions that plague Latin America from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego.
Crowing about gaming COVID vaccines in Florida is part of that mindset, says one South Florida woman who told me she knows several folks from her native Colombia who came here for shots last month.
“They seem very proud of what they did,” she says, “that they are able to take advantage of the system here.”
And to not have to pay the bill – or the consequences.