How Do You Fight COVID-19 in a Municipality on the Venezuelan Border with Colombia?
Since March 13, Venezuela entered into a general emergency, following President Nicolas Maduro’s announcement, among other measures, of the beginning of a social and collective quarantine for seven states in the country as of Monday, March 16. The president announced the first official measures against COVID-19 after Vice President Delcy Rodriguez had confirmed the first scientifically diagnosed cases in our territory. The seriousness of the presidential speech and the severity of the first measures immediately made the entire population feel that the matter had to be taken seriously. Much had been said about the COVID-19, many things had been elucidated, a great deal of false information, a great deal of false alarm. Maduro’s words and the measures taken by the national government erased all doubt and led to a comprehensive awareness throughout the country. This was deepened and broadened a day later, when the social and collective quarantine was extended to the whole of Venezuela.
He also asked international organizations to be intermediaries so that he could have contact with the Colombian authorities to combat the virus.
The measures, which were completely correct and timely, represented a major challenge for the country, for our people. The context in which the COVID-19 pandemic arrives in Venezuela is that of a blockaded country, with the capacities of the State to act severely diminished by the effect of the illegal coercive measures of the United States, which involve billions of dollars seized by the world financial system, enormous difficulties to acquire in the international market medicines, food, equipment, spare parts, supplies of all kinds. However, that same context of blockade and foreign aggression that Venezuela has been resisting for years has meant the development of other capacities that are being tested today: discipline, popular organization, solidarity at all costs, conscience, national unity and civic-military unity. This, as well as the effective deployment of national authorities with the support of the planet’s main international organizations, has put an end to the dark and catastrophic predictions that the interfering, anti-democratic and pro-American opposition had made about what would happen in Venezuela in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The quarantine was implemented with discipline throughout the territory, there was no chaos in the cities due to supply problems, the entire population complied with the use of masks in the streets, strict sanitary measures began to be applied in airports, markets and other public places, significant amounts of tests were distributed in the country to diagnose the virus, the distribution of subsidized food was organized in such a way as to avoid large crowds of people, although the supply of fuel remained reduced. Daily, news reports broadcast the gradual development of these actions throughout the country. Although the passing of the days will undoubtedly generate new complications, especially of a social nature, so far all evidence shows that Venezuela is facing the pandemic calmly, in an orderly and successful manner.
In Guasdualito and in the entire municipality of José Antonio Páez de Apure, on the border with Colombia, with the limitations and difficulties of being a border municipality located 900 kilometers from the center of power, an important phase of this battle is being fought. The municipality’s mayor’s office, led by José María “Chema” Romero, in coordination with the regional and national government, with the power of the organized people, with the FANB and with the UN agencies acting in the area, are providing a convincing demonstration of how, in the face of adversity, the only way through is to redouble efforts and popular organization.
As soon as the emergency was declared, the Municipal ODDI (Integral Defense Body) and the parish ODDIs were installed, made up of the mayor, those responsible for the Psuv, the municipal heads of logistics, education, security, health, communication, public services, production, mobilization, international relations and the public prosecutor’s office. From this inter-institutional body, the different actions aimed at attending to the emergency and maintaining constant dialogue with the population will be defined, directed and coordinated, reinforced through daily TV and radio programs and social networks.
In terms of health, the municipality is guaranteeing attention to suspected cases of COVID-19, after reports of the presence of symptoms, which are immediately attended to by the staff of the José Antonio Páez General Hospital. After 5 days of quarantine, all these reports have turned out to be negative cases, although personal follow-up is maintained for each of the patients attended to over the subsequent days. In addition, care and accommodation hostels were set up to provide care for the refugee population, i.e. people entering from Colombia and transiting to other regions of the country: UNELLEZ hostel (Universidad Nacional Experimental de los Llanos Ezequiel Zamora), Aramendi Primary School hostel, Francisco Aramendi Agricultural Technical School hostel, El Mereicito School hostel, and La Victoria School hostel. In these shelters people receive medical attention, food, water, a place to sleep, and sanitary facilities. This is a significant difference in relation to other countries in the world where people on the streets are abandoned to their fate, thus spreading the disease among the most vulnerable population. It is the intention to sustain this population as long as the national quarantine and the preventive impediment to movement between states is maintained. In total, 251 people are housed in these spaces. This measure is supported with the collaboration of the national government, being a policy that is applied throughout the country.
In addition, house-to-house vaccination days, which had been in place before the quarantine, are still in place. In the area of health, the initiative of the Red Popular de Ayuda Solidaria in Guasdualito is noteworthy. Similar initiatives are being replicated in different communes of the municipality, through the different structures of the people’s organization. In the rest of the country these solidarity practices are also observed. In the case of the Red Popular de Ayuda Solidaria in Guasdualito, this is done in coordination with the personnel of the hospital of the municipality, which provides the necessary materials.
A central aspect in the organized response to the pandemic in the municipality is the installation of the Situation Room, in which information is collected and classified from the entire territory of the municipality, both from those responsible for attending to the emergency from the parishes, as well as from the people’s organizational spaces, and from the population in general. The room works every day, with public attention in the headquarters of the mayor’s office, and phones that people can call until the end of the watch, at 11 pm. The room has rotating schedules of guards, and the attention and operation of the same is in charge of the teachers of the municipality, under the command of Professor Alba Guedez.
Another key aspect is the guarantee of public services in the middle of the quarantine.
The coverage of the drinking water service increased from 30% to 80% in two years, as a result of the efforts of the mayor’s office. But it is still necessary to cover with cisterns the distribution of water to 20% of the population. This is being done daily in conjunction with Hidrollanos, with more effort in this quarantine, since water is essential for health care against Coronavirus. At the same time, work continues to extend the drinking water network. A clear example of this is the Manda del Río community, whose work is being carried out in co-management with the territory’s commune. The distribution of gas also continues: daily, bottles are collected and delivered to different communities simultaneously, a task that is carried out jointly by Claps, communal councils, communes, UBCH and the Bolivarian Militia.
And for all this to be possible, there is a lot of hard logistical work behind it. It is essential to guarantee the rationed and prioritized supply of fuel, the daily granting of special permits for traders who move food, medicine and hygiene items to the villages. Food is guaranteed on a daily basis for staff who are actively working on emergency care and service for all health personnel. This is done through the building where the food distribution center of the municipality operates, where some vegetables are also produced and rabbits, chickens and pigs are raised. In addition, among its own resources and others sent by air by the national government, the structure is guaranteed for more than 200 people in the shelters for refugees.
In response to a clamour from the people, even more so in emergency situations such as the present one, as a way of controlling speculation, hoarding and other vices that are always present to obtain profits and benefits at the expense of the people’s needs, the popular prosecutors that the mayor’s office has formed and organized are permanently deployed. Every day they go around the commercial establishments to verify the legality of the sales. In each establishment they check the deposits, count the merchandise, and verify prices. They have the power to fine or close down businesses that violate the rules. In recent days they have closed some, and others have been forced to make controlled and supervised sales. One of the main lines of action of these prosecutors is the permanent verification of the more than 40 butcher shops in the municipality that are supplied. Along the same lines of guaranteeing access to food, in addition to the daily deployment to guarantee the distribution of CLAP boxes house by house, is the development of the Sovereign Field Markets, where proteins and vegetables are sold at cheaper prices than at the market, through the structures of street chiefs and community leaders.
These and many other actions are the tangible demonstration that political will, the capacity for inter-institutional organization and the power of organized and conscious people are the key to facing this and other difficulties. When one hears that the people in Venezuela are even prepared to face situations of invasion of their territory, one does not just quote a slogan, this describes reality. Our greatest strength lies in the unity between the people, the FANB (including the Bolivarian Militia), the political forces and the institutions. Therein lies the fundamental fuel to successfully confront the greatest difficulty even in the midst of the economic adversities imposed on us by the elites that govern the United States and their local puppets. As Mayor José María Romero says: “Here in Paez, in everything we do, the participation of the people is crucial. Our work at the head of the mayor’s office has always been marked by difficulties. Without self-management, people’s participation and co-management we would have been unable to do what we have done. Today, to face the pandemic, we continue to work along these lines”.
People are showing levels of organization and awareness that allow the country to be an example to the world. Solidarity, organization. The love for the country. In the face of any threat, be it from the north, be it from the south, be it in the air. The disposition is always the same. Do not let yourself be defeated.
Translation by Internationalist 360º