With the pandemic on the rise, new fears start to flourish, as if blooming out of seeds sown in the profound silence that “social distancing” has brought us.
We don’t just fear being infected, or seeing that happen to our relatives and loved ones. We fear the possible collapse of the healthcare system, or the troubles we’ll have to go through to access the vaccine – once it is available – amid US sanctions. And if that were not enough, we are facing a new electoral contest that is sure to intensify the internal political struggle and bound to be submerged in all kinds of foreign meddling.
And now we are also worried that the pandemic is being used as a kind of smokescreen to disguise or justify any political action under the excuse that it is for what some are calling “the greater good.”
For example, a few weeks ago, there was an eviction in a Caracas student residence, to turn the facilities into a campaign hospital for potential COVID-19 patients. The measure, justified as being for “the greater good”, required hurriedly throwing dozens of young people out onto the streets. Even though they are not taking classes because of the quarantine, they still work and have their lives in the city. And this was accomplished via a “medical raid” at midnight, even arresting six activists who tried to mediate and calm tempers.
These events unleashed a whirlwind of rumors, among them that several businessmen had their eyes on the building. In fact, the precedent is there, since the ground floor spaces were handed over to private businesses. These are “coincidentally” the same franchises that, step by step, have taken over retail spaces in Caracas’ historic center.
Along the same lines, Venezuelan campesinos have been facing a brutal wave of evictions promoted by powerful groups with their respective contacts inside the state, at a time when farmers should instead be getting all the available support to produce amidst this healthcare emergency.
For its part, the justice system has in general slowed down (and it is already very slow to begin with) “due to the quarantine.” This has particularly hit women who are victims of violence. “You see, because of the coronavirus, the prosecutor is not coming in every day,” a friend of mine was told. Should “the greater good” trump the life of this woman? What is “the greater good” anyway? Who gets to decide? Does #StayAtHome take into account that, for lots of women around the world, their home is not a safe place?
Meanwhile, private schools are demanding “extra tuition” to compensate teachers for their efforts to give classes remotely in a country where the internet is known for running slowly and getting lost now and again. In other words, the weight is placed on the shoulders of parents who are already pretty screwed. All of this without considering the places where the internet connection went out years ago. This concept of “remote education” sounds increasingly like a distasteful joke.
To top it all off, the police are cracking down on those who don’t wear their face masks properly, even forcing them to do community service apart from paying a fine. This is all good, but you’ll be hard pressed to find them inspecting hygiene measures in large supermarkets or pharmacies. Even worse, when they do find out something is wrong at these places they would rather solve it by grabbing a bag of products without paying.
It is wrong to generalize, but we cannot hide the endless number of small injustices that keep piling up at a time when it is already hard to figure out if things are really bad, bad, good, or really good.
Look, in Venezuela, every time the judicial year comes to a close, people criticize the fact that “justice takes a vacation.” We have to ask: can justice be placed in quarantine? Can we allow some sectors to profit off of the current misery and uncertainty?
No, but this is hardly news. Almost everywhere in Latin America protests have broken out because some official overpaid for masks or ventilators, or bought hazmat suits from a bogus company.
The thing is that Venezuela, or the Bolivarian Revolution rather, is like the perfect boyfriend one hopes will always rise to the occasion, the one nobody (among leftist or progressive circles) wants to be disappointed in.
But what is really unfolding before our eyes, beyond the surges and resurges of COVID-19? Will we be faced with the old saying that “the cure was worse than the disease”? Or will we instead see the evicted building become a student residence once again and feel ashamed for having been so distrustful?
In truth, every time something here “smells bad” we hope we are wrong. It is easier to accept that we made a mistake than having to process that something has rotten. Meanwhile, we continue trusting that social struggles can force action from institutions that will buy us time to enforce the changes we really want, but haven’t been able to put into practice so far.
Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig’Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.