Uncertainty prevails in Venezuela as COVID-19 spreads, not only due to the health system’s inability to face the pandemic, but also because official data are not trustworthy, and those who question them risk being detained.
“You cannot trust the figures that the Nicolás Maduro regime provides. His administration has a history of lying to the people to obtain political advantages,” Mariano de Alba, a U.S.-based Venezuelan lawyer who specializes in international law and international relations, told Diálogo. “There are inconsistencies in the information reported, such as contradictory statements between state spokespersons regarding the number of cases, and persecution against journalists who publish truthful information independently.”
In an attempt by the regime to hide the pandemic’s real figures, authorities arrested reporter Darvinson Rojas, accusing him of “hate speech” and “criminal incitement.” He was detained on March 21 and released on April 2, Amnesty International reported on its website. The Venezuelan National Press Workers’ Union reported via Twitter that, on March 24, authorities arrested Beatriz Rodríguez, head of the La Verdad de Vargas newspaper of La Guaira state. She was taken from her home to the prosecutor’s office for questioning about the publication of a case related to the pandemic that the newspaper had confirmed.
“There is more than censorship in Venezuela. There is an explicit warning that the Ministry of Health is the only authorized institution to report figures of infected and deceased patients and any other figures,” José Ricardo Thomas, professor at the Central University of Venezuela, told Diálogo. “Going against that warning means capture, prison, or worse.”
“The dictatorship has used the emergency and the pandemic to continue its persecution. In order to conceal information, they harass those who are doing their best to help our people,” Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó said on Twitter.
No investment in hospitals
Censorship and unproven information add to the general crisis that the Venezuelan health system is experiencing, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of doctors and supplies, and the Maduro regime’s poor management.
“The Venezuelan health system is in critical condition due to the lack of public investment. There is a lot of corruption, and the regime does not prioritize health at all,” De Alba said. “In hospitals, basic services such as water, disinfectants, and the most basic supplies for patient checkup and treatment, such as alcohol and gauze, etc., are practically non-existent.”
The 2019 National Hospital Survey of Venezuelan organization Doctors for Health indicated that of the 40 hospitals surveyed, 78 percent reported water scarcity, while 63 percent reported power failures, with an average of 342 outages per month — 164 people died as a result. From 2018 to 2019, the number of beds available for patients dropped from 15,600 to 8,700, the survey shows.
“In recent years [in Venezuela], the government invested only in primary care modules, designed to ideologically reach the poorest, most vulnerable sectors of the country,” Thomas says. “Basically, there were Cuban doctors, comprehensive community doctors who worked in neighborhoods putting communist ideas in people’s heads; so that was their primary investment. In addition, the people appointed to head public hospitals are party officials with no hospital management training.”
“The dictatorship is facing the consequences of its lies. They have underestimated the people, thinking that repression and fear can contain the inevitable,” Guaidó said.