Venezuela: to face the pandemic we do not need repression, debt payment, or the IMF

Marea Socialista statement

Capitalism is crashing worldwide with the coronavirus pandemic and the people of the world are living together the same tragedy and together we will have to fight against it and against everything that allowed it to happen. The Covid-19 pandemic has entered Venezuela, in a few days there have been dozens of reported cases, although rapid containment actions have been taken. This situation finds us highly unprotected in our health system, services and people´s living conditions, hunger and precariousness, wages at zero level for the vast majority, very low productive capacity and limited margins of action for the democratic social response. These are other “pandemics” that the Maduro government and the situation of economic blockade have contributed to create, which is why they are now aggravating the situation weakening us in the face of coronavirus.

As a primary measure of containment, which we consider correct and unavoidable, a “total social quarantine” and a State of Exception have been imposed, in the mode of a State of Alarm. But, we must be aware that this means greater discretion in the exercise of power, with a temporary suspension of a set of constitutional guarantees that have been restricted in practice for a long time, only now with much greater emphasis. This necessary social-sanitary containment, carries the danger of empowering the already existing authoritarianism and the existing arbitrariness, which would worsen the drama of the Venezuelan people and may diminish instead of increasing their possibilities of defense.

We have had several “pandemics” in Venezuela for a long time, against which the government has not acted, and which have claimed more lives or created sustained suffering. What is even worse, the government itself has favored the tragedies of misery, corruption and indolence, with its policies and with the behavior of the corrupt bureaucratic class it represents. All this is aggravated by imperialist sanctions and Trump´s blockade, sponsored by Guaidó. This undoubtedly takes away all of the government’s credibility and reveals the manipulative hypocrisy of its discourse. But now they will want to use this to reinforce authoritarianism, repression, and arbitrariness.

The bureaucratic and lumpen-bourgeois government of Maduro, the Military and the PSUV (not an insult but a political and class characterization) has thus far not presented any comprehensive and detailed emergency plan that goes beyond containment through quarantine and its repressive implications.

Economically and fiscally, in the midst of an emergency, the value of the Tax Unit rose by a disproportionate 2,900% and made all transactions more expensive. This after having applied exorbitant fees for registrations and notaries, passport rates, VAT increases (charged even upon food) and other measures of a neoliberal nature. All amid a devastating dollarization that leaves anyone who lives on a meager salary in Bolivares broke.

Maduro has not yet even announced compensatory measures for the support of families in the pandemic and barely mentioned that he considered a subsidy (miserable and absolutely insufficient) similar to the ones that the government has been granting to a part of the population and that he is assessing financing the payroll of small and medium companies.

The great “surprise” that is not really strange is the request for a quick loan to the IMF, which is absolutely at odds with the principles that the Bolivarian revolution always defended. It implies a complete turn that exposes the neoliberal drift that the government has been showing in practice for a long time. They went to the IMF, which they had questioned before, knowing that this always means assuming greater sacrifices in addition to the immense burden already placed on the people, and would end up stripping Venezuela of any residue of sovereignty. Meanwhile, despite the sanctions and the blockade, the government continues to pay a corrupt and illegitimate foreign debt that steals billions of dollars from us annually which go largely to the hands of the same capitalists who strangle Venezuela.

Guaidó seizes the opportunity to continue promoting imperialist interventionism:

Meanwhile, the bourgeois opposition, as Guaidó is already doing, uses the pandemic as an excuse to continue encouraging imperialist interventionism, camouflaged as supposed “humanitarian aid.” Guaidó has appointed a commission with members of unions of healthcare professionals, but he appointed them with his parliament and this is not, in any way, an exercise of democratic participation.

The national context in which the pandemic is inserted and how the government had been acting:

We have already introduced the severe problems with health, diseases and deaths, precarious living conditions, hunger and poverty, zero wages and destruction of labor rights, disaster in essential services, etc. that Venezuela is suffering with the current government.

It is no secret that the public health system of Venezuela has been collapsing for years from the point of view of infrastructure, equipment, personnel, operation, basic supplies, etc. which represents as a source of risk and lack of appropriate care for our population. It is even worse if we add to this the vulnerability generated by insufficient food. The government has not provided statistics on this for years, to hide the harsh reality.

Unofficial data that has been circulating reports extensive outbreaks of preventable diseases, some of them had been controlled decades ago, such as measles, diphtheria, malaria, tuberculosis, and a decline in the availability of antiretroviral treatments for HIV patients (a situation that is know accentuated among the Warao population). Malnutrition is tremendous; it suffices to take into account that a salary is less than the cost of a single family lunch. Vaccinations. The care of pregnant women, women in labor and newly born has noticeably deteriorated. For any laboratory test or elementary health supply, you must leave public health centers and use the private “commercial” network of services and pharmacies. HCMs no longer exist or have ridiculous coverage. Hospitals have closed rooms and bathrooms, and private clinics and impossible to afford for the people and the working class.

The Coronavirus develops against this backdrop and the only thing that the State really has is the application of quarantine, since there is no guarantee of the availability of the required reactives and medications. This is the reality of a State that has only served for embezzlement and profit by the few. This is why for us it seems that we have had a pandemic for a long time.

This is all part of an overall scenario that is completed with the socio-economic package that is being imposed, with high taxes on the poorest and exemptions for the new rich and importers, tariffs, de facto dollarization, destruction of collective agreements, zero wages, disinvestment in public services with serious failures in water (hygiene) and electricity, domestic gas, transport and even fuel, destruction of endogenous production, opening to foreign capital to the detriment of the sovereignty and benefits of the country, rampant corruption, embezzlement of the nation, payment of suffocating debt (corrupt and illegitimate). For this reason, everything coming from the treacherous bureaucratic government and the bourgeois opposition is pure demagogy if there is no alternative emergency and recovery plan for the people, not for capitalists, bureaucrats, creditors, foreign powers and multinationals.

Global context of the pandemic and measures: global capitalism in crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic began to occur as the world was experiencing global economic problems, falling stock markets and oil prices, a cold and trade war between superpowers (USA – China), widespread rise in struggles and protests in many countries. Attacks on the living conditions of the working class and popular sectors worldwide by bourgeois governments and cuts in public systems dedicated to health, education or social protection, wars, waves of forced migration, etc. All this has left human societies more unprotected, even in the countries with the highest relative development. A world where more money is invested in weapons than in meeting people’s needs or in repairing damages done to nature contributed to opening the space for the spread of coronavirus.

While Maduro in Venezuela is considering going to the IMF, in Europe some governments (France, Spain, Italy), contrary to what had been their practice, are being forced by the situation and social pressure to consider the possibility of certain nationalizations or interventions to make the private health system available, to suppress the payment of certain basic services and even the payment of rents, at least temporarily.

Even in the most extreme situations, the Venezuelan government is not willing to adopt socializing or anti-capitalist measures, but instead chooses to apply the policies of the most conservative and retrograde capitalist governments, increasing the burden that the workers and popular sectors bear. Of course, these governments proceed forced by the circumstances and by popular struggle, even despite the quarantines and other limitations imposed. In Spain there has been a “caceroleada” against the King to request that the money taken to tax havens be recovered in order to finance the health care of the people.

Marea Socialista and the ISL propose:

Marea Socialista, part of the International Socialist League (ISL) subscribes to its statement “Coronavirus: guarantee health, not capitalist profits” as we have a common understanding that “We are living a global crisis that has been triggered by the coronavirus.” that “has provoked the outburst of an economic crisis that had been preparing like a perfect storm and has revealed the consequences of austerity policies, growing inequality and the degradation of the public health system and public services. Governments responded with repressive measures that have not yet been able to stop the spread of the virus while enabling extraordinary profits for capitalists.”

Likewise, we subscribe to the proposals and programmatic tasks demanded by the current situation at the global level, set forth in the ISL Statement: “The fight for a working class and popular response to this crisis needs to be promoted. As immediate demands in the face of the emergency, we first need a shock of public health investment with specific budget allocations under social control. It is necessary to ensure that all tests, treatments and vaccinations are completely free for all. To do this, all the supplies and infrastructure to combat the pandemic must be declared of public utility subject to expropriation. We must demand free distribution of elements of prevention and treatment. In addition, all the installed capacity of private health services should be made available to the public system. We must fight to guarantee full payed sick and family leave, full wages for all quarantined workers and the prohibition of layoffs. Social wage for informal, self-employed and unemployed workers. Prohibition of evictions and immediate housing solutions for the homeless. End all persecution of migrants, no deportations and full access to the health system. Immediate recruitment, with full labor rights, of all personnel necessary for the health system and reversing any austerity measure. We must put an end to profiteering from healthcare by replacing the private system with a single payer national healthcare system under democratic control of its workers and users. Not one more dollar to Wall Street and speculators, nationalization of banking and the financial system. No payment and investigation of external debts. Down with all the flexibilization reforms of labor and retirement. It is time to put the resources to ensure the health of peoples, not for the IMF and capitalist corporations.”

We understand that facing the pandemic requires collaboration and social discipline, since the problem of the virus is its contagion capacity and speed of expansion, not its lethality. We know that by expanding more it can also reach more vulnerable people and that is precisely the problem due to the state of defenselessness and precariousness in which the Venezuelan people find themselves. From that point of view, with such a weak and battered health system it is better that the government has taken strict measures, but they undoubtedly also seek to take advantage of them to freeze political and social life and deepen control for their own interests and the conveniences of their caste. It remains to be seen for how long the quarantine and the State of Alarm will be imposed on us, but we will have to remain vigilant for possible abuses and demand if the limitations are excessive or prolonged more than what is reasonable, without neglecting, at any time, the need to appeal to autonomous social initiative as sovereign people. 

Here, with this corrupt bureaucracy, the nationalizations, understood as simple State takeovers, have ended up being like putting a vulture to watch over the meat, and therefore, everything that the State manages requires very close surveillance, participation and social and worker control. That is why, in Venezuela, we must propose “public control” with social participation, through democratic commissions, which include, for example, medical and health workers and unions in the health sector, with surveillance of organized communities, on democratic bases, although obviously there must be coordination with institutions. The contradiction is that in situations like this, firm discipline is also required, but we lack reliable controls.

We must make the following immediate demands to the Venezuelan Government:

1)  Emergency budget for the prevention and containment of the epidemic , in bolivars and in dollars, that allows injecting sufficient resources for investment and hiring of personnel in public health, in order to guarantee all diagnostic test kits, medicines, completely free treatments and vaccines and the repowering of health facilities. For this, we propose taking resources from the  Suspension of the Payment of External Debt  (instead of requesting loans to the IMF) and the use of gold and minerals that corruption and capitalist profits are taking outside of the country, as well as the recovery of money embezzled to the nation. No to the attempt to engage with the IMF.

) Clear and timely public information on the situation, including health statistics and conditions of the hospital system. Publication of all hidden social statistics.

3)  Social inspection of hospitals and clinics (with the necessary precautions) and urgent recovery plan for health services  (with extensive specialized social and technical participation). We reject the imprisonment of doctors or health workers for reporting and claiming poor biosecurity conditions in their hospitals.

4)  All the capacity of private health services must be made available to the public system, under social control. Immediately impose on the private health system free cooperation in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of cases, under social control, in safety conditions, by unions and health workers and in coordination with the health authorities. In case of resisting, incorporate them definitely into the formation of a exclusively public health system duly attended to. Discuss all this in social organizations, among workers in the health system and in general, to reinforce ourselves and face the contingency.

5)  Increase in the minimum wage to the level of the cost of the basic living goods as established in Article 91 of the Constitution , in order to guarantee working families subsistence conditions without which it is not possible to resist this crisis. Compensatory measures for those who are self-employed. Subsidies to workers before employers. Special bonuses to support families, especially those who are self-employed and prevented from exercising their jobs, that at least cover the cost of the food basket and not the miserable amounts granted by the government.

6)  Elimination of VAT and any tax burden that makes life, food and the acquisition of basic products for the people more expensive .

7)  Do not admit layoffs and protect the employment and income of those who quarantine at home.  Respect for labor rights and the conditions of prevention, safety and occupational health. Guarantee the payment of payroll for workers in the public and private sectors.

8)  Implement close vigilance and social pressure on the management of the pandemic crisis.  Obviously, this matter cannot be left to the corrupt bureaucracy. The debate on this should be opened in the health sector and in society as a whole, using social media and all means possible, rejecting any undemocratic restriction on reporting and expressing opinions or proposals.

9)  Claim the regularization of water, electricity, gas services and provision of hygiene supplies .These cannot be lacking in homes, much less in public health institutions (bathrooms in hospitals are closed or without basic hygiene conditions).

10)  Guarantee Internet connectivity  for the operation of social media, personal and family communication in quarantine, and the development of digital media, without blockages that have been applied to several of them as to the popular alternative webpage Aporrea.

11)  Solve the situation of lack of housing for people who live on the street or are homeless.

12) We strongly demand the immediate end of all sanctions and forms of economic blockade exercised by the Trump government or by any government, which affect the Venezuelan people. Faced with this pandemic, it is genocidal for the United States and the governments of other countries to maintain sanctions that compromise the economic survival and health of the population in Venezuela, or that they confiscate the country’s assets, such as Citgo. It is also genocidal to continue external debt payments with the sacrifice of nation.

The existence of social organizations and community distribution instruments, if democratized, can be an advantage to attend to the situation in Venezuela. On the other hand, it does not help that armed “collectives” self-assert themselves as “authorities” and seek to impose their will on the communities; something that the neighborhood, as a popular power, should not tolerate. Although this is not the time for large assemblies, within the necessary prudence, the exchange of opinions and contingency plans must be maintained, using social media, videoconferences or small meetings (with all the necessary precautions such as masks, gloves, avoidance of physical contact, etc.), with neighbors, coworkers and organizations (labor, health unions, community, articulation with service providers, etc.). Let’s discuss how the country is facing the crisis and how it should do it. Let us continue to defend democratic and human rights. Let us continue to resist the anti-worker austerity policies of the government, and the fight for the restoration of all our freedoms, and against the cutback of democratic-constitutional political processes. But, above all, let us join forces as a people to defeat the pandemic and to make this struggle in defense of our health lead to defeating the disastrous policies of the bureaucracy and capital that cause all our “pandemics.”

For an emergency plan based on the workers and the people, not at the convenience of the bureaucracy and capital!