Today, Easter Sunday, the world continues to be affected by the devastating effects of the COVID-19, which is spreading rapidly, as it knows no borders, political or religious beliefs, leaving behind a trail of pain and fear, with 1,777,515 people infected and 108,862 deaths in little more than two months after the disease was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
Some countries have been hit harder than others, despite having robust, public, well-resourced health systems. Some of the images circulating on the internet are heartbreaking – plain burials, seemingly endless coffin trucks, and mass graves, all of which are an indication of the hopelessness and helplessness that many of us are currently feeling. Many political leaders, from Boris Johnson to Jair Bolsonaro, have been victims of their arrogance, and their true nature has been exposed. World powers such as the United States have collapsed in the absence of a public health system free of charge for all citizens. The situation in New York City is alarming; the images of the mass grave on Hart Island in The Bronx are disturbing.
Leaderships in developed countries and their ability to respond to the crisis have been tested, with different reactions that have in turn yielded different outcomes; their decisions will be evaluated later on, once everything returns to normal, although nothing will ever really be the same again. Those who dared to carry out cost-benefit analyses, weighing the economic impact of the pandemic against the death of the elderly or the sick to decide which aspect should be given priority, have been crushed.
COVID-19 has hit even the most developed countries, as the virus infiltrated them, like an «invisible enemy», catching them off guard and severely disrupting their societies.
Mass media has been in charge of analyzing and discussing the issue, and of divulging information to the whole world, thus alarming the entire population but also raising awareness of the dimension and the characteristics of the pandemic.
Everyone now knows that this virus does not discriminate; it is impacting us all equally, and it is no longer just «somebody else’s problem», unlike those issues we believe to be too geographically distant from us that they cannot possibly concern us, such as the war in Syria, in Yemen, ISIS, the situation in Iraq, Darfur, Palestine, the Saharawis. Think about the tragedy of the Latin American migrants trying to reach the USA or cross the Andes by foot from Venezuela, or the thousands of Africans who die trying to cross the Mediterranean in an effort to escape poverty or the violent conflicts raging in their countries.
Hopefully, one day hunger, war, violence, the unjust economic system, the destruction of the environment, and colonialism will also hit the headlines and become hot topics, food for thought that will make us realize we need to take action.
This COVID-19 pandemic has put a lock on the giant wheel of the world economy, on capitalism, a globalized predatory system that ruthlessly exploits natural resources with the sole purpose of feeding individualistic greed and profit. Ours is a world where everything has become a commodity, where human beings are trapped in a dynamic they are not even aware of. But there are also some positive sides to it, and the consequences of this sudden interruption in the infernal dynamics we have all been subjected to for so long are there for all to see. Animals are taking back their place in the world, as dolphins, whales and fish return where they used to thrive; gas emissions decrease, the hole in the ozone layer is getting smaller, the quality of the air we breathe is significantly improving.
Human beings, overwhelmed by their biggest fears, start looking around them again, reconsidering loved ones, spending more time with them when possible, due to the self-isolation measures in place worldwide, currently affecting 3 billion people. People are more sympathetic than ever, expressing solidarity to neighbors, even from their balconies. Big cities are witnessing examples of detachment and sacrifice; medical personnel, nurses, auxiliary personnel, and civil protection agents are all applauded because they are in the frontline daily fighting this battle against COVID-19 to take care of the old, the sick, the most exposed and vulnerable to the virus.
Human beings are going back to simplicity, to his wonderful condition that is allowing them to overcome difficulties, to have and spread positivity, to help others. Their resilience is showing in their will to fight, their organizational capacity, their sensitivity. There is hope that this tragedy will leave us with the awareness that we need to stop destroying our world.
The virus is now spreading to Latin America and Africa, poor countries that usually fall into the realm of the unknown, where regular clinical testing and testing for the presence of Coronavirus are not done, where there are no health statistics. These are countries where there is no information, there are no epidemiological bulletins, where health systems do not work properly or are not accessible to everyone, where people can die anytime from anything, due to the lack of medicines, medical assistance, fundamental services, water, electricity, food, or even because of diseases that had been eradicated years ago, such as malaria, diphtheria, etc., and which once again hit the poorest. Very unfortunately, this is the case of Venezuela.
Our country is suffocated by a real economic and social tragedy, to which the Coronavirus is now adding trouble. The government has ordered a quarantine to be implemented and has used the instillation of fear in the population, their anguish, to declare a true state of siege, where people must stay at home without any possibility of sustaining themselves.
The numbers and statistics given by the most prominent people responsible for this disaster are false; they lie, they manipulate. They act with the indolence of those who know they are not accountable… for now.
The quarantine has become an excuse to leave people to their fate, isolated. They can be kept in quarantine, that increasingly reduced sector of the population that has the resources to acquire food at any price, or that lives in Caracas, or that gets water or electricity. But that’s not the majority, nor are they the most vulnerable.
But how do you sustain in quarantine, or without it, a population that receives a minimum wage of $2.12 a month, 7 cents a day, far, far below the poverty line established by the UN of $1.9 a day; with a frightening devaluation, where the exchange rate has reached levels never seen before in history. Today, one dollar is worth 117,395 bolívares; with unprecedented hyperinflation of 145.37 % between January and March of this year; poverty that reaches more than 90% of the population; a shattered economy, with a 63% accumulated fall in 6 years, before the effects of the COVID-19; with our main company PDVSA destroyed by the government’s intolerance and irresponsibility
How do people sustain themselves in the neighborhoods, in the interior of the country, in the fields, in a country where, for the first time since the oil sabotage of 2002-2003, there is no gasoline, no diesel, no cooking gas; where there is no water for hygiene, no water for consumption; where there is no food, no medicine; where there are blackouts and power cuts for more than 4 to 12 hours a day, and in large states like Zulia, there is no electricity; where there is no transportation, no means of communication, no internet; with a country that is militarized, violent, with atrocious crimes, with the paramiltar police FAES, with fear, with political prisoners, with workers kidnapped, with the companies in ruins; PDVSA destroyed and finished off; with the Mining Arc looted, with the little agricultural production rotting in the fields, because there is no way to get it out, to take it to the markets?
A country that more than 4.7 million Venezuelans have fled, among them excellent doctors and health personnel; a desperate, fearful, cornered, hopeless people with an indolent, criminal government, with an intolerant, clumsy opposition.
On the occasion of Easter Sunday, Pope Francis at the Easter Vigil gave some reflections that seemed to be addressed to Venezuelans and that I allow myself to quote.
Referring to the moments after Jesus’ death on the Cross, he said: «They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts. Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master? (….) A painful memory, a hope cut short. For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.»
In this context, the Pontiff said: «(…) Do not be afraid, do not be afraid,» and continued: «Tonight we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope (…) So, let us not give in to resignation; let us not place a stone before hope.” In conclusion, «darkness and death do not have the last word.»
The fundamental problem in our country is the resignation of the people to live in this tragedy, to accept the accumulation of calamities and problems that have neither justification nor reason to exist. Today is a time for reflection and faith, but also to reaffirm the need to do something to get out of this abyss, where our country faces the greatest challenges for the future. Let us neither leave aside hope nor the sacred reasons to fight; our people deserve a country and a destiny different from this one, where we are immersed in the darkest hour.