Official Pressure to Keep the Pandemic Quiet

The brief detention of NGO worker Luis Serrano puts the magnifying glass on the pressure that several sectors (and especially healthcare) are enduring through the pandemic.

Photo: Iván Ernesto Reyes.

On the night of April 6th, Luis Serrano, general coordinator of NGO Redes Ayuda, was outside his home receiving a package containing Personal Protective Equipment kits, when he was approached by a couple of police officers. While he tried to explain the situation, more officers arrived and he was told to come gently, or he’d be arrested.

Serrano had the presence of mind to alert Redes Ayuda director Melanio Escobar and others. Soon the news broke on social media and, an hour later, he was released along with four Farmarato employees who carried the delivery. The supplies were returned in full.

Serrano spoke with Caracas Chronicles about the incident, which sadly isn’t isolated. He says that his call to his colleagues was a precautionary move: “We’re receiving uncontrolled repression from the state in wake of the circumstances. There are abuses against journalists and NGOs. We maneuver, as there’s no safe-passage for human rights defenders.”

Redes Ayuda, which promotes human rights through the use of technology, is handing out facemasks, gloves, and sanitizers to journalists so they can cover the COVID-19 pandemic safely.

Its most exposed target is the medical sector, which struggles with scarce resources and faces harassment from authorities to keep things quiet.

The Maduro administration’s response to the pandemic has been harsh and its most exposed target is the medical sector, which struggles with scarce resources and faces harassment from authorities to keep things quiet, as this report from Crónica Uno’s Mabel Sarmiento (a frequent CC collaborator) shares with us. One hospital employee told her: “There’s a lot to say, but speaking is all they need to come for us. We don’t want to silence what’s happening, but we have children and the goons aren’t going about this with discretion or tact.”

He mentions the recent case of Trujillo State bioanalyst Andrea Sayago, detained by SEBIN agents after she shared on WhatsApp an order to run COVID-19 tests at Pedro Emilio Carrillo Hospital in Valera, where she works. She explained that it was a warning for his fellow co-workers, but the head of FundaSalud Trujillo (and first lady of the state) Jacqueline Peñaloza, insulted her and demanded her arrest, even if she resigned her post. Sayago is now under house arrest.

This comes as Nicolás Maduro tries to spin the pandemic response to politically attack Colombia and President Ivan Duque, by claiming that Venezuela is doing a better job treating the coronavirus and even daring to say that in Colombia “people are dying on the streets”. Journal Tal Cual fact-checked those claims.

Despite the state’s strategy, Serrano is not at all discouraged from continuing to do his part in this difficult time: “Our work has more value now. It’s the moment for documenting and demonstrating what really happens during the pandemic in Venezuela.”