democraciaAbierta

What is deadlier in Venezuela: its security forces or COVID-19?

The Covid-19 pandemic is not only a health problem, it also is a first-order disciplinary and security device.

Keymer Ávila
21 September 2020
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Rafael Hernandez/DPA/PA Images

The Covid-19 pandemic is not just a sanitary problem; it is also a first-rate security and disciplinary device. The fear of contagion forces people in search of their own survival to surrender to control and surveillance. Docility increases as medical and scientific evidence confirm the danger.

Panic is a solid basis for giving up all our rights to the old and worn-out Leviathan to protect us from this new absolute evil. Again -but now on another scale- it will need its full powers to face this threat. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures in all areas, especially in the normative, technological, and securitarian spheres. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that: the lesser the sanitary and scientific capacity, the greater the police, military, and propagandist measures will be. There will always be efforts made to confuse the former with the latter. When health becomes a national security issue, everything impregnates with punitive, military, and warlike logic.

Once the pandemic is over, the control mechanisms deployed will be difficult to reverse. They may remain among us for much longer than the virus itself, which had served as a pretext.

This past week, an analysis we conducted for the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) was published. The analysis focuses on the securitarian logic behind the attempts to contain Covid-19, which goes beyond the mere virus that generates it. We reflected on how the pandemic can be used as a political instrument, serving as a securitarian device to exercise power without limits. And, in turn, reduce the rights of citizens that can be extended and institutionalized. We take the case of Venezuela as an object of study.

The Venezuelan case as an object of study

Venezuela has been living in a state of emergency for years. The "quarantine" pre-exists the pandemic. The latter operates as an extension and justification of a government that has been in place for some time.

From 2015 to date, at least 10 state-of-emergency declarations have been issued at the national level. The State of Alert decree of March 13, 2020 that addressed the Covid-19 health emergency was nothing more than the continuity of the pre-existing, uninterrupted state of emergency that has prevailed in the country for over four years. Beyond its unconstitutionality and the evasion of the necessary controls, this is a de facto act in which the President authorizes himself to take any discretionary measures that he deems necessary, including the possibility of delegating this power to subordinate officials. In this context, the security forces can "take all the necessary previsions" to enforce this decree.

The country's exceptionality is not only political-institutional and normative; it is also part of Venezuelans' daily lives. The deterioration of basic public services such as water, electricity, health, transportation, gas, and the internet, is progressively increasing. The infrastructure needed to effectively fulfill social rights, especially within the health system, already collapsed before the arrival of Covid-19.

In the face of this scenario, it is worth asking: How can we demand that a population who does not live on its salary, who must earn its daily bread on the streets, to stay home for months? During the first two months of the quarantine, more than 1,700 protests were held throughout the country demanding social rights. There were also 44 reports of looting in nine different states.

During the first five months of quarantine more than 1,171 people died at the hands of state security forces

In the face of this scenario, it is worth asking: How can we demand that a population who does not live on its salary, who must earn its daily bread on the streets, to stay home for months? During the first two months of the quarantine, more than 1,700 protests were held throughout the country demanding social rights. There were also 44 reports of looting in nine different states.

Deadlier than Covid-19

During the first five months of quarantine - a period in which a reduction of street violence was expected due to reduced social mobility - more than 1,171 people died at the hands of state security forces. That is eight deaths a day, which does not seem to shock anyone. In that same period, and according to official figures, Covid-19 had killed 259 people, i.e., two people per day. So far, state security forces are five times more lethal for Venezuelans than the pandemic that is sweeping the world.

The emergence of other violations of rights is predictable in the face of the presented breaches of the right to life. The examples in the case of Venezuela are many. There are hundreds of arbitrary detentions (many motivated by political reasons), deprivation of liberties, and the stigmatization and precariousness of returned migrants.

In this last case, the official discourse stigmatizes and criminalizes these groups, pointing at them as scapegoats and carriers of all kinds of evils, even going so far as labeling them as "bioterrorists" or "biological weapons" the Colombian government used to contaminate Venezuelans. Dehumanizing processes that allow massive violations of the human rights of these sectors.

The pandemic generates multiple functionalities for any authoritarian state. It is the perfect excuse for the state of exception to extend at a global level. The Venezuelan government does not escape this logic; on the contrary, it takes advantage of it in the best way it can. These situations strengthen authoritarian regimes; they are an instrument to expand their power and diminish citizens' rights. In this manner, meetings, rallies, demonstrations, and any other forms of street resistance can be put to an end.

In the face of new forms of domination, there will also be new forms of resistance. Freedom, equality, non-discrimination, along with the fight for the redistribution of resources, public health, and our relationship with the environment, are, once again, objects of dispute. These seem to be the challenges in the face of this global totalitarian pandemic, where the ideological and partisan differences of the rulers of the moment are no longer clearly distinguishable, as they finally coincide in their pragmatic objectives. Some just hide it better than others.

Click the following link to access the full report:

https://www.academia.edu/43997305/_Qu%C3%A9_es_m%C3%A1s_mortal_en_Venezuela_sus_fuerzas_de_seguridad_o_el_COVID_19_Inquietudes_securitarias_en_tiempos_de_pandemia

http://www.ildis.org.ve/website/administrador/uploads/DemoraciaySeguridadCovidKavila1.pdf


Originally published in Efecto Cocuyo.

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