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As of March 7, 2021, Venezuela had reported a total of 141,338 positive cases and 1,384 reported deaths from Coronavirus (COVID-19).1 Under the guidance of President Nicolás Maduro, the country seems to be thriving under the pandemic. Indeed, at a policy level, Venezuela has implemented decisive measures to control the spread of the virus. A nationwide lockdown was decreed on March 16, 2020 and in June, an integrated 7+7 lockdown policy beganinvolving seven days of radical quarantine, followed by seven days of flexible restrictions. Due to the country’s strong ties with China and Russia, Venezuela has received a significant amount of medical aid. It has participated in Phase III trials for the Sputnik V vaccine and in February 2021, received doses for public use.2 While Venezuela has been vigilant in providing for its population, the state of affairs on the ground are far more complex.
Under President Hugo Chávez’s rule from 1998 to 2013, Venezuela thrived on revenue from oil reserves. As the country’s reliance on oil deepened, it resulted in consequences that are still visible today. Between 2014 to 2016, oil prices dropped by 70% as demand decreased. However, today oil sales still amass 99% of all country export revenues. Since a petrostate only stays afloat when oil does, the drop in production and prices led to a drop in the Venezuelan economy. Since 2014, the national GDP has contracted by two-thirds and is presumed to have also shrunk due to the impact of the pandemic.3 This economic dilemma constructed the ideal environment for Maduro to institute his dictatorship in 2013 and uphold his illegitimate rule against the opposition led by Juan Guaidó. Today, along with the disputed politics of the country,a monthly inflation rate of over 2,000% has driven more than 96% of the population into poverty, with 80% living in extreme poverty.4
The inadequate efforts of the Venezuelan government to support the failing state has led to the exodus of over five million Venezuelans from the country.5 The most significant consequence of this brain drain is found in the healthcare sector. In the last five years, it is estimated that over 50% of health workers have left Venezuela. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on health workers, with a third of the official death toll being comprised of the remaining workers. Alongside the worker shortages, 70% of hospitals are deprived of clean water and basic medical supplies. Furthermore, personal protective equipment donations from non-government organizations are at a standstill.6 The pre-existing crises, amplified by the pandemic, have had consequential effects on the livelihoods of the Venezuelan people. It has allowed President Maduro to strengthen censorship in the face of criticism and use devastation as a cover to paint his government as a victor over the pandemic.
From a governmental level, Venezuela is excelling in its response. In October 2020, VicePresident Delcy Rodríguez asserted that the number of COVID-19 cases in Venezuela ranked among the lowest in the world. She further claimed that the country has performed the highest volume of tests per million,7 despite having few targeted screening days. Vice President Rodriguez attributed part of the country’s success to its unique 7+7 lockdown policy which has allowed Venezuelans to return to work and provide for themselves. The Maduro-led government has created an appearance of an economic safety net through press releases and policies such as suspension of interest payments and measures to support wages. These are promising and hopeful advances, but sources outside of the scope of the national government relay a different story.
Amnesty International, with reference to the number of deceased health workers in Venezuela, observes two possibilities; one, that authorities are in denial or two, that there is a lack of reliable hospital data.8 In either scenario, this is governmental negligence. Reuters reported in August that only 600 to 800 COVID-19 tests are done per day, with the results delivered up to two weeks after. Their sources in public hospitals estimate that deaths are double the reported numbers.9 Last September, the Pulitzer Center disclosed that Venezuela performs the least diagnostic testing in the region and when people die without a diagnosis, they are left out of the official case count.10 The Venezuelan government relies on rapid testing, instead of themore accurate PCR tests which are only used to confirm positive rapid tests. Thus, the COVID-19 information coming out of Venezuela is unreliable at best and falsified at the worst. The 7+7 lockdown policy does nothing to address the massive inflation and unemployment rates. With fuel prices skyrocketing, citizens are unable to reach the rare prospects of work available. At the borders, migrants returning home are labeled “biological weapons” and are treated like criminals.The government has celebrated the creation of PASIs (Puntos de Atención Social Integral) as quarantine centers, but the overcrowded, unsanitary buildings are a breeding ground for the virus.11 Those at the borders are effectively left on the margins. While Venezuela provides free COVID-19 treatment, the government actively subdues healthcare workers who speak up about the lack of PPE and other materials by arresting them. Overall, the image that the policies of the Venezuelan government creates regarding the pandemic do not accurately reflect reality.
As the pandemic continues to loom and new variants begin to form, critical action is necessary by the Maduro government. It must be founded on true statistics and with the wellbeing of the people at the forefront of its response. The next step is effectively vaccinating this country of 28.5 million. With this comes a new question - will it also be burdened with the same obstacles or will there be a better approach in the face of the pandemic?
Patria. March 7th, 2021. “Estadísticas Venezuela” https://covid19.patria.org.ve/estadisticas-venezuela/↩
Kinosian, S. February 13th, 2021. “100,000 Doses of Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine Arrive in Venezuela.” Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-venezuela/100000-doses-of-russias-sputnik-v-vaccine-arrive-in-venezuela-idUSKBN2AD0MY↩
Rendon, Moises. September 23rd, 2020. “Covid-19 in Venezuela: How the Pandemic Deepened a Humanitarian Crisis.” Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://www.csis.org/analysis/covid-19-venezuela-how-pandemic-deepened-humanitarian-crisis↩
“Venezuela Pese Al Bloqueo Criminal Es Uno de Los Países Con Menor Número de Víctimas Fatales Por Coronavirus.” October 29th, 2020. Venezolana de Televisión. https://www.vtv.gob.ve/venezuela-bloqueo-criminal-paises-con-menor-numero-victimas-fatales-coronavirus/↩
“Venezuela: Authorities Are Repressing and Failing to Protect Health Workers as the COVID-19 Pandemic Gathers Force.” July 18th, 2020. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/08/venezuelan-authorities-are-repressing-and-failing-to-protect-health-workers-as-covid-19-gathers-force/↩
“Venezuela’s COVID-19 Infections Set to Overwhelm Testing Capacity, Says Opposition Adviser.” July 17th, 2020. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-venezuela/venezuelas-covid-19-infections-set-to-overwhelm-testing-capacity-says-opposition-adviser-idUSKCN25E05U↩
Salomón, Luisa and Benasayag, Salvador. “In the Dark: How the Venezuelan COVID-19 Diagnostic Strategy Failed.” September 3rd, 2020. Pulitzer Center. https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/dark-how-venezuelan-covid-19-diagnostic-strategy-failed↩
“Venezuela: Abusive Treatment of Returnees.” October 13th, 2020. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/13/venezuela-abusive-treatment-returnees↩