One Pandemic, One Dictatorship, Different Approaches

As the pandemic overwhelmed chavismo’s central power, governors and mayors start taking different approaches to deal with the emergency

Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

Beyond the Maduro regime reports spreading the idea that both coronavirus and society are under control, there are some nuances on the way the different echelons of power manage the pandemic in Venezuela. On one hand, some chavista personalities have decided to put an end to their differences with political rivals and work together to forge positive results; on the other, mayors and governors prefer to implement bizarre methods that serve to reflect their poor preparation in crisis management.

States like Aragua, Barinas, Carabobo, Cojedes, the Capital District, Lara, La Guaira (formerly named “Vargas”), Miranda, Monagas, Táchira and Zulia have applied stringent methods to keep people in their homes, but in a country where the minimum wage equals a little over $2 a month (at the time of writing), it’s reasonable that citizens will defy the lockdown to go out more than once a week, or even every day. 

In Lara, chavista governor Carmen Meléndez says that “we’re promising water, cooking gas and fuel during this quarantine.” But according to an official announcement on April 6th, the state only has 1,048 tanker trucks to furnish 8 million liters of water, for more than 2 million inhabitants. Meléndez also confirmed the arrival of ten gas trucks every two days to the state, but fuel won’t be available to everyone: only healthcare services, state officials and food transporters will have access to it. The same happens in Barinas, Cojedes, Monagas, and Zulia.

Governors like Argenis Chávez, in Barinas, use the system to distribute protein products under the Plan de Distribución de Proteínas. In Caracas, however, that same plan was applied to a delivery service where people can buy products door-to-door. 

The Dracula Method

In Carabobo, chavista governor Rafael Lacava (who goes by the “Dracula” moniker because of a popular joke at the time of his election) reduced the time people were allowed on the streets to seven hours, from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. 

Opinions about the governor and his methods vary. María Valencia passionately says that his actions are the reason why Carabobo still doesn’t have the first coronavirus case, despite being the third most populated state in Venezuela (2,7 million inhabitants, according to the National Institute of Statistics). She visits local minimarkets daily and I found her waiting outside a Chinese grocery store, wearing a mask and a cap for protection. She doesn’t want to reveal her age, but she’s clearly over 60. “His management has been excellent since the first moment he arrived in Carabobo. Even when there’s no water, because there are always problems with the pipe system, he’s found a way to solve our crisis a bit.” She hasn’t had cooking gas for the last 17 days and counting.

Fuel won’t be available to everyone: only healthcare services, state officials and food transporters will have access to it.

Luis Aranguibel, a doctor, thinks Lacava is turning politics into a social media show: “They just do small things and give the impression that they’re working, but they’re not. They’re just reopening, repairing old infrastructure, there’s nothing new.”

Even when opinions clash, they agree about Lacava’s public image being his best strength. During his first days in office, the governor launched a massive campaign in social media where he has direct contact with his followers, among which there are chavistas (who love his rebel attitude) and opposition voters (who think he’s funny, even in a clownish sort of way). Lacava has over 650,000 followers on Instagram and that’s his main platform to report what’s happening in Carabobo.

Domenico Fiore, a 51-year-old resident of the Naguanagua municipality, says that “it’s hard to imagine a state such as Carabobo with no COVID-19 patients because it has an international airport, a port, and connections to other states.”

Carabobo’s citizens have to endure power outages of more than three hours a day, while Lacava dances to trap songs on his Instagram TV. Other regions, however, are seeing a different approach to ruling amid a pandemic.

Bad Cop, Good Cop

Officers make people comply with an eight-hour community-work program on public roads, wearing an “I’m disrespecting the quarantine” inscription across the chest. Photo: Prensa Lamas

In what Lacava calls an “unbreakable system of prevention,” some states have closed their borders. La Guaira forbids transit between parishes. In Aragua, the third state with more infections, chavista governor Rodolfo Marco Torres has the police teaching lessons to violators of quarantine rules, who can be hosed and disinfected with hypochlorite. All of this while officers record it and share it on Twitter. 

In that same state, police officers make people comply with an eight-hour community-work program on public roads, wearing an “I’m disrespecting the quarantine” inscription across the chest.

Meanwhile, in Maracaibo, Zulia State (western Venezuela), citizens are forced to write the phrase “I should stay home” 2,000 times like school children. In Charallave, Miranda State, the police make detainees jog on the street as if they were part of a battalion. Something similar happens in Los Teques, Miranda, where detainees must squat and sing “I shouldn’t be on the streets”.

Again, communication plays a key part, and Miranda’s governor, Héctor Rodríguez, has begun talks with opposition mayors Gustavo Duque (Chacao), Elías Sayegh (El Hatillo), and Darwin González (Baruta).

Since March 13th, Rodríguez has used his Twitter account as a platform to communicate details on the health crisis, setting aside all kinds of chavista propaganda. “In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, all authorities, regardless of their political inclination, must unite efforts, and this is what we ask of society, too. It’s time to unite all of our Venezuelan families.”

Rodríguez has also clarified that the carnet de la patria isn’t a requirement to access government protection, an interesting move considering how that politically-tinted ID card has been used as a political weapon by chavismo to buy loyalties.

Not all of the decisions are productive, of course; in Bejuma, Carabobo, the local authority installed a coffin in the middle of the Bolívar Sq., to try to make citizens conscious of what happens when you ignore the quarantine. The result was just the opposite; people started posing in front of the coffin and taking pictures. The town hall removed the funerary allegory after only 30 minutes.