Venezuela’s struggle against covid-19

How can it be that Venezuela, a country that is so terribly battered by an imperialist blockade, nearly a decade of underinvestment, frequent examples of bad decision-making, wide-reaching corruption and technical brain drain, in addition to recent neo-liberal and anti-worker economic policies, including privatisation and asset-stripping, is managing to keep covid-19 rates significantly lower than its regional partners?

While community transmission rates—which are largely caused by the return of more than 70,000 migrants who found themselves unemployed and without social coverage as the pandemic battered the continent—have driven up daily case counts to about 1,000, no collapse of the Venezuelan health system on the scale of Brazil, Ecuador, Peru or, most recently, Bolivia has been observed so far.

For corporate media that prop up imperialist pretensions in the region this is unacceptable and spits in the face of their regime-change rhetoric, forcing them to twist, distort and decontextualise the reality once again so that it may fit their pre-established script.

We see the New York Times (19 August 2020, reprinted in the Irish Times, among other media) dress up many standard global counter-pandemic measures to further their shareholders’ and financiers’ infamous political goals.

One of the criticisms the New York Times makes of Venezuela is that the police and National Guard are charged with implementing its nationwide quarantine, which began on 17 March, when the first cases popped up and in which only priority shops are allowed to open, such as pharmacies and food shops. Inter-state travel was restricted, schools and public events closed, and international borders shut. The use of policing to handle quarantines is, however, commonplace around the globe, including many European countries; and by singling out Venezuela the New York Times only exposes its defamation agenda.

Another attack it throws against Venezuela concerns the construction of makeshift camps on the border, as well as the implementation of obligatory 14-day quarantine and the crackdown on illegal crossings void of sanitary controls, all of which are necessary measures and similar to those applied by other countries, hardly worthy of the Orwellian overtures used.

The New York Times also suggests heavy-handedness in dealing with those who break quarantine measures and put the collective health at risk. While a handful of cases have been reported, the common treatment for quarantine-breakers is a two-hour police video on social responsibility before being sent home—a far cry from the sky-high fines applied in Britain or the mass arrests in other countries, and certainly not deserving of the term “dictatorial.”

Other measures the New York Times fails to mention include the regular disinfecting of streets and crowded sites, strict sanitary controls on public transport, and the use of controlled quarantine environments in local hospitals and state-financed hotels for those infected, not unlike similar measures applied at the later stages of the Spanish or British pandemics.

However, there are a host of other real problems that Venezuelans face in fighting the pandemic, which are largely overlooked by the mainstream media as their pre-written and largely stale disconnected storytelling takes centre stage.

With Washington’s unilateral coercive measures limiting Venezuela’s access to international bank accounts, credit lines, and foreign assets, as well as threatening punitive measures against any public or private entity trading with the country, Venezuela has struggled to purchase enough medical supplies, including PCR tests, face masks and gloves, for its population of 30 million people. Even a UN-brokered scheme, which would have resulted in medical supplies reaching Venezuela in exchange for the country’s $1 billion worth of gold commandeered by the Bank of England, was blocked by the British government in a cruel expression of global piracy.

Venezuela is therefore reliant on donations from the Pan-American Health Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations, as well as commercial exchanges with those governments willing to defy the United States, including China, Turkey, Russia, and Iran, as well as sizeable delegations of Cuban doctors, which have all helped alleviate the pandemic.

But deteriorating material conditions in the country, for which a combination of causes exists, including external imperialist meddling and internal inefficiency and corruption, are increasingly undermining these efforts.

Virtual schooling, for example, has all but failed, because of collapsed telecommunications networks and regular power failures, leaving a whole generation without education, largely thanks to a lack of public investment in these important areas.

Equally, government promises to cover the wages of small and medium-sized businesses have largely evaporated, and direct bonus schemes have only alleviated the economic situation without providing any structural solutions.

Water and fuel shortages caused by a deteriorated infrastructure and a lack of repair parts or prime materials, as well as increasing poverty and malnutrition caused by a profound economic contraction, have also exasperated day-to-day problems and mean that any large-scale covid outbreak will have a devastating impact, especially given the fragile health service.

For Venezuela’s upper classes, most of these problems are solved by throwing money at them, using specially assigned dollar-priced fuel stations, private water tankers, personal satellite connections, and even private electricity generators.

It is the poorest who are forced to choose between poverty and their health, frequently breaking quarantine to work, shop, or use overcrowded public transport, where infection is rife. Equally, it is the working class who are forced to make do with the minute amounts of soap or disinfectant they can afford in the current crisis of Venezuelan capitalism, with its rampant inflationary impact and decreasing real wages.

Venezuela’s popular masses have demonstrated their elevated levels of social discipline and collective organisation time and again, but it is the class division and the impact of increasingly neo-liberal government policies on the people that will ultimately determine the national infection rate. It is the effectiveness (or not) of the government’s socio-economic agenda that will allow Venezuelans to stay at home or force them out into the streets.

Finally, it is the building of a popular correlation of forces that could apply enough pressure on the state to guarantee effective collective protection during the pandemic, and not the balderdash printed by the New York Times, that is the principal challenge for Venezuelans today.