How Puerto Rico, Iran, and Greece are facing COVID-19 through the lens of media, culture, and politics

The following is a project created by Carmen Soto, Wendy Vazquez, and Hanna Acanfora Torrefranca for the course, Media, Culture, and Global Politics, taught by faculty member Nina Khrushcheva.

As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, we examine the response from Puerto Rico, Iran and Greece. All three are from different continents with one country, Iran, was considered the early third world epicenter of the outbreak. Using the lens of media, culture and politics, we examine the effects of the crisis and the government’s response in each country.

Puerto Rico, for example,  has been constantly ignored by the United States during periods of crisis, despite being part of the country’s territory. Furthermore, Puerto Rico has been affected by several catastrophes in the past five years, namely, hurricane Maria, a series of earthquakes that started toward the end of 2019 and lasted for about a month, and currently, the island  has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The aftermath of all these emergencies have exposed the island’s vulnerability in infrastructure, health and education system, to name a few. As a result of these crises, Puerto Ricans have realized how difficult it is for an unincorporated territory i.e. under Commonwealth political status and without representation in congress to access federal emergency funds. Here, we present three emergency case studies from the island of Puerto Rico and  we evaluate the response from the government (local and federal), and the media. Finally, we analyze the socioeconomic effects that these periods of crisis have had on the island.

In the case of Iran, the government’s delayed response and the strict regime is the cause of the infection of thousands of people. The acknowledgement of the virus came late, with twenty-three members of the Iranian council infected with the virus, and twelve sitting or former Iranian officials dying from the virus by March 17, 2020. In March, Iran was the third epicenter in the world with the highest number of people infected.

As for Greece, a decade under heavy economic austerities imposed by northern European countries after 2008 financial crisis the country cannot afford the COVID-19 virus to spread as it did in Italy or Spain. The role of the autocephalous Greek Orthodox church that holds much power over Greek life and identity, assumed a controversial role arguing against the government’s initial attempts to place the country under lockdown, showing the dilemma between a theological approach and scientific one. With the largest numbers of migrants and migrant detention camps in all of Europe, insufficient number of medical staff, respirators and other medical supply, Greece was in addition denied the Corona Bonds aid from the European Union. There are doubts that the country is actually flattening the curve as it has been suggested, and praised, by many European media sources. Greece remains incredibly poor and in heavy debt, and it will be the first to suffer financially in the post-COVID world.

To conclude, we have learned these three very different countries have the following features in common: their already devastated economies caused by international sanctions such as in the case of Iran or complex politics as in Puerto Rico or financial debt issues as they are in Greece. All this makes for a much harder reality in dealing with this pandemic. We question whether the number of infected people, those passed away or recovered are, in fact, accurate, in all three localities.