Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela Powerless Against COVID-19

Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela Powerless Against COVID-19

By Gustavo Arias Retana/Diálogo
April 30, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an atmosphere of uncertainty among the people of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Lack of transparency in crisis management, inefficient healthcare systems, and systematic violations of human rights paint a bleak picture for the three countries.

In Nicaragua the government of Daniel Ortega still refuses to implement preventive measures to control the pandemic, and instead encourages mass activities, such as going to the beach and organizing marches in his honor.

A patient uses a protective mask in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 12, 2020, during the coronavirus crisis. (Photo: Humberto Matheus/Nur Photo/AFP)

“The Pan American Health Organization [PAHO] is concerned about the COVID-19 response in Nicaragua. We are worried about the lack of social distancing, the calls for mass gatherings, the tests, contact tracing, and case notification,” Carissa Etienne, PAHO director, told the press. “We are also concerned about what we see as inadequate prevention and control measures.”

Hospitals in Venezuela 

In Venezuela, the situation isn’t any better. “The Venezuelan health system had already collapsed before the crisis started, and the situation has increased the systematic violations by the Nicolás Maduro regime,” Rafael Uzcátegui, director of PROVEA, a Venezuelan nongovernmental organization (NGO) that advocates for human rights, told Diálogo.

The PROVEA database shows violations of the right to health in public hospitals in 2019, with multiple offenses due to the lack of basic supplies and medicines, obsolete medical equipment, and closed operating rooms.

“Reports about unsanitary conditions and severe food shortages for patients have increased in Venezuelan public hospitals,” Uzcátegui said. “Shortcomings in basic services in hospitals include lack of water and electricity.”

In addition, the critical problems of Venezuela’s health system include a shortage of beds and trained health personnel, says the Venezuelan organization Doctors for Health in its Hospital Survey 2019. “Added to this is the official non-transparency policy to access public information, such as the absence of Health Minister Carlos Alvarado as part of the official spokesperson team,” Uzcátegui added.

Repression in Cuba

In Cuba, the pandemic is causing an increase in human rights violations, according to reports from the NGO Cuban Human Rights Observatory, based in Madrid, Spain.

The Observatory identified at least 251 repressive actions in March, of which 192 were arbitrary detentions and 27 were citations against activists and independent members of civil society.

“We warn that, in the coming weeks, the Cuban government might use the pandemic to limit freedom of expression and other civil rights even more,” the Observatory says. “In the past, the Cuban state has used major global events to attack the opposition in the country.”

The island is also on the verge of a severe food shortage due to the pandemic, says Marlene Azor Hernández, a consultant at the Observatory.

“The state imports food, which covers 20 percent of families’ consumption at subsidized prices. As for the rest, every day people go out to get it, buying at prices above their purchasing power in long, tumultuous lines, without observing the distancing measures to avoid infection,” Azor says. “People lack a minimum food supply, and in the face of hunger and infection, they will choose food.”