Photo: Iván Ernesto Reyes.
Oliver Sacks quotes Novalis, in ‘Musicophilia’, stating that “every disease is a musical problem; every cure is a musical solution.” I’m not quite sure I agree, but I thought of the phrase as I watched the videos of Italian opera singers and DJs playing music for their quarantined neighbors from their balconies.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown us, among other things, a wide contrast of cultures and governments handling the situation. It has served to showcase revealing truths about humanity.
Another quote that went viral this month, in another sense of the word, was the answer of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead to a student’s question as to what is the first sign of the beginning of civilization. Expecting to hear clay pots or arrows, the student was surprised to hear “a healed femur”. In any other species, a broken femur is an inevitable demise; only the capacity of a member of a species to take care of another injured member allows any possibility of a fractured femur victim to survive.
That’s a powerful image of what culture can be: “The capacity to take care of the vulnerable.” The pandemic has challenged our global human system to the limits of our capacity to take care of each other, from the ability to stock enough medical supplies to tracking the disease, the speed of transportation that moves virus from one corner of the planet to the other, to the individual decisions of staying at home or going out in order to avoid spreading it further, human interconnectedness has been stressed.
In this sense chavismo has responded in fashion: every social problem warrants a military solution.
The reactions of different presidents have also offered a quick personality test. From Boris Johnson’s “I must level with the British public, many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time”, to López Obrador’s hug-a-thon; from matter of fact, rugged tough guy coping, to outright denial.
In this sense chavismo has responded in fashion: every social problem warrants a military solution and every circumstance, bad or good, is an opportunity to further its ideological claims. Maduro has stated that Cuba has the cure. Meanwhile, the regime harasses local doctors and newspaper reporters who have warned about the risks in Venezuela.
Barrera-Tyszka, who has long reflected on chavismo’s relationship with sickness, pointed out the regime’s quick efforts to maneuver and pose as the victim of the crisis, not taking responsibility for the collapse of the health system that’s a central part of our current disaster.
We must not forget that, from the beginning, chavismo has considered doctors to be something short of enemies. The Ministry of Health has been a revolving door through which 19 ministers have passed in 21 years. Chavismo has disregarded the working conditions of doctors and nurses, dismissed their expertise, publicly demeaned and persecuted them. NGO Médicos Unidos has been reporting on the political persecution of doctors for years now.
The coronavirus crisis becomes an event not to support the medical establishment, but to threaten and incarcerate those who report new cases, as is the case of Dr. Freddy Pachano, director of postgraduate studies at the Universidad del Zulia’s Medical School, who was threatened by the state’s governor with a public instruction to counterintelligence officers (DGCIM) to investigate him because he reported two possible cases. There’s also the arrest of journalist Darvinson Rojas and the interrogation of the daily La Verdad’s director for reporting about a new case in Vargas State.
From the beginning, chavismo has considered doctors to be something short of enemies.
The Health Minister hasn’t appeared publicly, but Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino has been prominent, appearing at the University Hospital and showing how the Armed Forces were visiting 46 hospitals nationwide, later declaring that Venezuela is conducting “a battle for life” for which military exercises were ordered. In a rather cryptic tweet, he wrote that “when we raise our sights together, we’ll see where each question has an answer,” after which a photograph of military planes flying in formation appears.
Disease incites the Defense Minister’s epic fantasies. The arrow instead of the healed fracture. For Padrino, every question has a martial answer in the sky, even though the rest of us wonder what military exercises have to do with a pandemic: culo and pestañas.
Social psychologist Ignacio Martín-Baró observed in the ‘80s, in El Salvador, that the psycho-social trauma of the civil war culturally manifested itself as naturalized violence, militarization of daily life and the institutionalization of lies. It’s a list that hits close to home. We are, if we follow that checklist, a very traumatized society.
In military terms, we’re in war, we need to defend ourselves from enemy viruses, arm ourselves against threats. people will be saved by force. From an altogether different perspective, sickness is a sign of human vulnerability, which invites us to be careful, more aware of how our lives affect others, be more compassionate, and it alerts us to the needs of those in need, in short: caring.
The militarization of daily life goes against that logic. Chavismo, as in the case of Hugo Chávez’s cancer, has dealt with disease by appealing to denial and omnipotence. But the problem is that disadvantages multiply. One disadvantage adds on to another. Economic difficulties complicate health problemas and vice versa. Maduro’s arrogance bumps into reality.
Psychoanalyst Silvia Bleichmar wrote a passionate interpretation of politics in Argentina in 2002, and proposed the term “country pain” (dolor país) as a category to measure governments. She defined it as the “relationship between the daily amount of suffering that a country demands of its inhabitants and the level of insensitivity of those responsible for finding the least bloody solution.”
Our rate of dolor país is at a universal high.