Western mainstream media recently launched a campaign to smear Venezuela by alleging that there have been many thousand deaths from COVID-19 in the country and accusing the government of manipulating data.
Additional reading: Distortion and Manipulation: HRW/ Vivanco Alleges 30K Covid Deaths in Venezuela
By Maria Paez Victor
Published on CounterPunch, May 29, 2020
As of May 27th 2020, in Venezuela, there have been 1,245 coronavirus cases (44 cases per million inhabitants) and only 11 deaths. It remained at 10 for over a month. Venezuela has the lowest percentage of confirmed coronavirus deaths per population in the region (0.4%) and the highest ratio of testing, 31,561 tests per million people, more than any other country in the region.
How have these positive statistics come about when for years the mainstream media, USA, Canada and other allies and have been heralding the imminent collapse of the country? A “humanitarian” crisis and dysfunctional government have been continuously announced supposedly due to the “socialist” policies of vilified President Nicolás Maduro.
It is impossible to analyze the Venezuelan situation without taking into account the illegal economic unilateral coercive measures – ill named sanctions- that constitute an economic war that the USA, Canada and European allies have imposed on the country since 2014.
For 21 years the USA has backed the opposition led by the extremist right wing elite that had previously ruled Venezuela. It has carried out street violence, sabotage, targeted assassinations, coups attempts, the failed assassination attempt by drones of President Maduro and a devastating cyber attack that left the country entirely without electricity for 5 days. It is no covert operation because top USA officials have openly stated they wish to depose President Maduro, even with military intervention, as if they had a right to do so.
In January 2019, the USA promoted an “alternative” president for the country in the figure of an obscure National Assembly deputy, Juan Guiadó, trained by the CIA, who “declared” himself president. The USA, Canada and other allies immediately recognized him as such on the false pretext that the election of President Maduro was invalid.
In Feb. 2019, an invasion from Colombia under the guise of a false “humanitarian” aid was thwarted. In April 2020 the USA implemented a naval blockade with the Southern Command fleet to harass ships on the Venezuelan coast under the unproven excuse of Venezuelan drug trade.
Then in May 2020 there was a botched military invasion planned by Guaidó who signed an actual license–to-kill-contract with mercenaries and narcotraffic gangsters, led by two ex-US Green Berets. The invasion ended in a clear debacle for Guaidó and the USA. Eight invaders died and the combined forces of the military and citizenry have captured 91. Canada has not expressed any sympathy or condemnation of this blatant terrorism. 
However the USA’s most lethal weapon against Venezuela has been the illegal economic blockade that has impeded the sale of its oil, the country’s main source of revenue, and prevented it from importing food and, most importantly, medicines. It contravenes the most fundamental international laws that preserve world peace.Between 2017 and 2018, it caused the deaths of 40,000 Venezuelans due to the lack of medicines. In the midst of a world pandemic, impeding the purchase of medical supplies makes the blockade particularly cruel. It is three times more costly for Venezuela to buy medical equipment because the financial and transportation barriers are great.
The USA has ignored the appeal of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Gutierres and that of Pope Francis to cease economic sanctions during the pandemic. Canada has added to the US sanctions and set up the ad-hoc Lima Group, composed some of the most corrupt and violent governments of the region. Its sole purpose is to promote the ouster of President Maduro’s government.
The USA and Canada insist that the 2018 re-election of Nicolás Maduro, monitored by numerous international observers including a number of Canadians, was fraudulent, despite all evidence to the contrary.
The USA and Europe, like modern pirates, stole Venezuelan assets deposited in their banks to the amount of 238 million Euros. The USA illegally appropriated the Venezuelan oil company CITGO in the USA representing a loss of $300 million. All in all, the economic blockade has cost Venezuela more than $130 billion. During the pandemic, the blockade has become not just illegal, but immoral. No other country in modern history has been subjected to this intense economic warfare outside of active military war.
Yet, in the midst of the pandemic, apart from Cuba, it is the nation that is best coping in the region. The reason for this success lies in a combination of sound leadership, excellent welfare infrastructure, public health measures, social cohesion and real international solidarity.
Social Determinants of Health
In 1845 Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) carried out a seminal study on public health, which drew the link between death and the living conditions of workers. It indicated that the conditions of employment and its capacity to provide access to food and shelter were crucial to the health and life of the working class. Economic and public policies came under the eye of those interested in health.
During the 1854 cholera epidemic in London, England, Dr. John Snow (1813-1858), discovered that the source of the cholera epidemic afflicting London were the water pumps around the city. By removing the pump handles, he managed to control the epidemic. This effective public health measure resulted in the protection of the population from a lethal disease for which they had no medical cure. Public health then went on to become an important consideration for epidemiology.
Ever since these early vanguard studies, science has recognized that the health of a population is determined, not just by a germ, virus or a vaccine, but in large part on the manner in which societies provide food, education, income, employment, housing, health services, sanitation, clean water, social equity, and community support, in short, the living conditions. These are the social determinants of health, which the WHO defines as follows:
” …the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. These forces and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies and political systems”. The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (1986) further identifies social justice and equity as the prerequisites for health.
The situation of Venezuela demonstrates the importance of the social determinants of health, most especially in the midst of a world pandemic for which there is yet no vaccine and no sure method of treatment.
During 21 years, Venezuela has used the country’s oil wealth to right 40 years of mis-rule by elitist governments that left the bulk of the population in abject poverty. The corruption of those years was such that the equivalent of 18 Marshall Planes were squandered or appropriated with little benefits going to the population.Venezuelan oil revenues now have been used to make massive investments to reduce poverty in all its ramifications and it is accomplished with anti-poverty programs called Misiones. 
Poverty, like health, is multifaceted; not simply a question of having some money, but of having a better quality of life. So the achievements of the government lie in a dramatic reduction in poverty by providing employment, unemployment insurance, old age pensions, free universal and comprehensive health services, free education, elimination of illiteracy, good transportation system, pollution control and environmental protection, clean water access, food security, housing security from building 3 million public housing units in the last in 9 years; all these provide social support for those who had previously been marginalized from society.
Venezuela increased 7 places in the UN Social Development Index; however, the USA’s economic war has created unprecedented hardships for Venezuelans and has had significant adverse impacts on these achievements.
Venezuela has implemented some relevant measures to cope with the economic effects of the pandemic: banks must extend debt payment deadlines without penalties, the State takes up the payroll of small and medium sized businesses, there is a firing freeze until December. There was immediate suspension of rent payments for 6 months and evictions are prohibited, salaries and pensions have been raised and a special stay-at-home bonus has been issued.
Food security is fundamental to health. Due to the blockade, the government has been providing subsidized food packages regularly feeding over 6 million households. Because of social isolation, these are now delivered directly to homes by the solidarity of a host of social organizations: communal councils, communes, multiple grass roots collectives and movements, governing party units (PSUV), armed forces, police, so that people do not have to leave home. And the 1,860 Food Houses that deliver meals to 372,000 needy people remain open.
Part of the political culture in Venezuela is the fight against marginalization and involves empowering people’s organizations, to combat the historic marginalization of the poor, handicapped, Afro-Venezuelans, women, and all minorities. There are over 40,000 Communal Councils and over 5,000 Communes that are the important political players in determining local needs and taking decisions that most affect their communities. There are a myriad of “collectives” relating to many issues: water, land, women, environment, neighborhood safety, and production. There are now 4,156,567 civilian members of the Bolivarian Militias, an arm of the regular Armed Forces, who are asked, like the Swiss, to be prepared to defend their country. This community solidarity has been crucial in protecting from the coronavirus by helping to educate the public about it, volunteering to help those who need it, and encouraging each other to keep the guidelines. The Bolivarian Revolution has promoted values of solidarity and community
Venezuelan Heath Care System
Venezuela’s public health care system is based on the fundamental, constitutional principle that health is a human and social right. It is publicly funded, free to all patients and focused on quality, holistic, comprehensive care. Nobody has to worry about paying for Covid-19 tests or treatment. The system includes hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centres and the Barrio Adentro network started with the help of Cuban doctors to give access to care to poor neighbourhoods. It delivers primary, secondary and tertiary care and includes dental and sports programs all over the country. It has been in operation for 17 years with an investment of $120 billion and it has saved at least 1,779,015 lives. There has been international recognition of the achievement of Barrio Adentro in providing access to health care.Thousands of Venezuelan doctors are now trained in the Cuban program of Community Medicine. 
Specific hospitals and clinics have been designated as pandemic centres and those who have the virus are taken there, not to the general hospitals or clinics.
Venezuela has sufficient anti-viral medicines for 115,000 cases. In the public sector there are 11,000 hospital beds, 450 intensive care beds, 573 beds in the Neighbourhood Clinics (Barrio Adentro) and 4,000 beds in the Comprehensive Diagnostic Centres. The private sector has 4,760 beds plus over 1,200 intensive care beds. With its own reserves, Venezuela has bought 60,480 molecular tests and related testing instruments.
At present there are 253 active cases, 110 are in hospitals, 1 only in intensive care, 125 in specified second level of care centres, 18 are in private clinics, 165 have presented no symptoms, and there have been only 10 deaths in the country. 80 % of the infected have been from travellers or contact with travellers. For isolation of the mildly sick there are 4,000 hotel beds designated to isolate anyone who has only minor symptoms of Covid-19. Venezuela expects to be able to lift the stay at home precautions by July 2020.
Controlling the Pandemic
On March 12, 2020, one day after the WHO issued a global pandemic alarm, President Maduro on TV, issued a state of emergency of the health system despite not having yet a single coronavirus case in the country; but he warned that it was only a matter of time when the pandemic would hit Venezuela.
On March 13 the first two cases were detected at private clinics and it was ascertained that they had been on a flight returning from Spain. They went into home quarantine and their contacts were followed up by a team of doctors, along with all the passengers on that plane.
On March 15 President Maduro declared a state of voluntary social quarantine, restricted air flights and later suspended them, and monitored borders with Colombia and Brazil. Social quarantine is seen as voluntary self-isolation, strongly advised especially for seniors. Large gatherings were forbidden; public spaces were closed. The churches were asked to suspend services. Wearing of masks was enforced in all public spaces. Venezuela was following the advice and protocols of the WHO.
School classes were suspended as of Monday 16th and children would be taught at home through TV and online programs. However the School Meals Program continued. Parents bring their child’s lunch bag to school and pick up food to take home both the child and for them.
All non-essential work was suspended except in the crucial industries of agriculture production and distribution of food, health and transport workers, pharmacies, electricity and communication, which meant that production, was not put on hold. However, restaurants are closed except for pick up or delivery and other close-contact services also closed.
The private sector clinics and hospitals started working in cooperation with the 46 public hospitals to fight together the virus. This type of private/public coordination has been unusual in the past but is now effective and invaluable.
Evidence Based Policies
The Venezuelan coronavirus protocol is based on a plan elaborated by a Presidential Committee for Prevention, Detention and Control of Covid-19, integrated by high government officials and the Presidential Scientific Advisors. Policy has been developed based on scientific principles, national and international experiences and a continuous analysis of the scientific literature. The strategy consists of:
Widespread testing: Venezuela has carried out 897,695 tests in all its territory, a ratio of 31,561 per million inhabitants, the highest in the region. Venezuela combines quick tests and PCR for screening and confirmation and testing is guided by the social questionnaire data and an active search for cases done by medical teams visiting house by house.
Social questionnaire: A voluntary health digital questionnaire was issued using the Social ID card, and 11 million Venezuelans quickly answered. Asking people to self-identify symptoms allowed a triage of the population. 18,000 people reported cold/flu symptoms, and then medical teams of 20,000 Cuban and Venezuelan physicians did a follow up, house by house, visiting those who self identified as feeling ill. One thousand were diagnosed with the common cold/flu, 135 were deemed “possible” and they and their contacts were examined and went into isolation. On May 13th, 19,542,862 people answered a second questionnaire. Medical teams visited 210,678 of which 23,688 were further tested. On May 16th, an antibody testing was carried out on a statistically representative sample in all the 335 municipalities of the country to detect coronavirus antibodies.
Home visits: Medical teams follow up of each case at their home and their contacts
Quarantine of all arriving travellers for 14 days
Self-isolation and social distancing is voluntary but police enforce wearing masks in public and the prohibition against large gatherings.
Border control: There is strict medical testing on the borders with Colombia and Brazil, and there are medical stations all along the access routes to the country since thousands of Venezuelans have been returning from neighbouring countries fleeing the pandemic and the appalling xenophobia unleashed against them by the extremist governments of neighbouring countries. From Colombia alone 55,888 have returned.  Social workers are also on hand to receive them.
Flights: All national and international flights have been cancelled.
Cleaning: 20,000 workers and the armed forces regularly disinfect public spaces, public buildings, and plazas.
Intense public education campaign has been carried informing about the virus and the appropriate preventative measures to be taken.
The early actions of the Venezuelan government, and all the above measures have helped Venezuela control Covid-19.
On March 18, in a shameful example of anti-solidarity, the IMF denied Venezuela a $5 billion loan it asked to buy much needed medicines and medical equipment. The IMF inhumanely denied this aid in the midst of a pandemic under the ridiculous pretext that Nicolás Maduro was not the president of Venezuela.
Venezuela has received genuine international solidarity from Cuba, China, Russia, WHO, United Nations, UNICEF, the Pan American Health Organization, and the Red Cross all bringing medicines, medical supplies, and or food.
On March 16th, Cuban medical specialists arrived in Venezuela having the experience of helping in Wuhan. Among them was the Cuban physician that invented Interferon Alfa B, the medicine that has been successfully used in China and elsewhere, to treat the sick, Dr. Luis Herrera.
Early on China sent a commission of experts to Venezuela for a week. The Venezuelan physicians and scientists were able to have an intense interchange with them about their experiences with respect to epidemiology, diagnostics and treatment. China has established an air bridge between Beijing and Venezuela, and has already sent 4 planes with tons of medical supplies: masks, tests, medical personal protection supplies, test kits, ventilators, medicines. For example, on May 12th, 46 tons of equipment arrived that will allow the country to conduct 80,000 new PCR tests, plus 4 million masks and other personal protection equipment for health care workers. China is, in fact, providing humanitarian help such as this to 160 countries.
Russia has sent planes with tons of medicines sorely needed, such as insulin. Farmers are unable to deliver food to cities or run their tractors because of the lack of gasoline as the country is unable to buy the special thinner its refineries need to dilute Venezuela’s dense oil. Iran is now defying the US sanctions and naval blockade by sending oil tankers with the desperately needed gasoline and thinners needed to produce gasoline in the country.
Venezuelan scientists and physicians have also had the benefit of having access to top influential international scientific journals, which, in a gesture of solidarity, have allowed free access to their work in this critical time.
The USA, the global epicentre of the pandemic, with a death rate of 309/million, has over 100,000 deaths, more than the combined USA deaths of the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. There appears to be a disorganized approach to the pandemic, inequality of medical services, inadequately equipped hospitals, civil authorities competing with each other, and a president contradicting medical experts and concerned more with re-election than the health of his own people.
Thousands of Venezuelans are returning to their country although the mainstream press does not report this. It is no wonder: today the death rate per million for coronavirus in neighbouring countries is:
In Venezuela it is at a steady 0.4/million.
Venezuela has been following the best science advice available, has benefitted from genuine international solidarity and, despite the hardships of the economic siege, is doing everything it can to save the lives of its people during this pandemic. And succeeding.
The respected Hinterlaces public opinion survey shows that 85% of Venezuelans approve of how President Maduro is handling the pandemic. Opposition parties (except the violent extreme party backed by President Trump) are cooperating with the government.
The fishermen of the humble village of Chuao heroically captured mercenary terrorists who tried to invade the country on May 3rd. One young fisherman said to a TV interviewer, “We are not used to violence here, the country is very united and our town is paradise.”  His idea of what is a good life is obviously at odds with what the mainstream press says about life in Venezuela, even in a pandemic.
4) In 2019 alone, the New York times, Wall St. Journal and Washington Post ran 800 articles on Venezuela, only 4 of which refer to the government programs and only to dismiss them. See: Gregory Shupak, US Media Erase Years of Chavismo’s Gains, FAIR, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, 20 Feb. 2019, http://fair.org/home/us-media-erase-years-of-chavismo-gains/ ↑
6) Intellectuals and Artist in Defense of Humanity, USA, Statement Against Recent Threats and Unfounded Accusations by USA against the Government and People of Venezuela, 1 April 2020, https://mailchi.mp/7e1518e2e7bc/p1riqc1c5o-4616850?e=ec1c7176fd ↑
Alan Macleod, Stranger Than Fiction, 4May 2020, https://www.mintpressnews.com/new-details-latest-us-hatched-coup-attempt-venezuela/267224/ ↑
8) Nino Pagliccia, Canada Must Ask Questions About Mercenary Raid on Venezuela Common Dreams, 14 May 2020, https://www.globalresearch.ca/canadians-must-ask-questions-about-mercenary-raid-venezuela/5712996 ↑
9) Common Dreams, US Sanctions, Economic Sabotage that is Deadly, Illegal and Ineffective, June 17,2019; www.brasildefato.combr/2019/05/06/articulo-orvenezuela-bloqueo-economico-como-arma-de-guerra-y-crimen-de-lesa-humanidad ↑
10) The targeting of civilians to achieve political goals, through sanctions or other means, is explicitly forbidden by international law and constitutes a crime against humanity, as stated in major international documents – the Geneva Convention (art.33), the UN Charter (Art. 2), the Organization of American States (Chapter IV), the Hague Convention, the Vienna Declaration, and the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court. ↑
11) Mark Weisbrot, Jeffrey Sachs, Sanctions as Collective Punishment: the Case of Venezuela, Centre for economic and Policy Research, 2019, http://cepr.net/images/stories/reports/venezuela-sanctions-2019-05-spn.pdf ↑
12) Joe Emersberger, Media Struggle to Defend Washington’s Cruelty Towards Venezuela and Iran as Coronavirus Spreads, Venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14836
13) Maria Páez Victor, Canada Trapped by its own Folly, COUNTERPUNCH, 20 Feb. 2020 https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/02/20/canada-trapped-by-its-own-folly/ ↑
14) Ken Stone, Justin Trudeau Should Lift Canada’s Economic Sanctions Now, 7 May 2020, https://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/views-expressed/2020/05/justin-trudeau-should-lift-canadas-economic-sanctions-now
Canadian Intellectuals, Artists and Professionals Calling on the Canadian Federal Government to Cease its illegal Attacks on Venezuela, Toronto Star, 8 March 2019.
Peggy Mason, Canada’s Misguided Venezuela Policy and the Inhumanity of Sanctions, The Conversation, 24 July 2019, https://theconversation.com/canadas-misguided-venezuela-policy-and-the-inhumanity-of-sanctions-120319 ↑
16) Forty financial institutions in 17 countries have appropriated $5,470 millions belonging to Venezuela. (Resumen Latinoamericano, 21 May 2019) On April 19, 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic, Donald Trump ordered CITYBANK to transfer $342 millions belonging to Venezuela to be deposited directly into the US Federal Reserve. (https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/14850) ↑
17) Colombia: 262 deaths per million; Ecuador 133 per million; Brazil 66 per million; Peru 69 per million; Chile 19 per million; Venezuela has only 0.4 per million. ↑
18) Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1845/1987, Penguin Classics, NY ↑
21) Arturo Uslar Pietri, Uslar deplora despilfarro de 265,000 millones, Inter Press Service, 16 May 1996; http://www.ipsnoticias.net/1996/05/venezuela-uslar-deplora-despilfarro-de-265-000-millones/ ↑
22) Julia Buxton, Social Policy in Venezuela, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Working Paper 2014-16, Nov. 2014; http://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BCCF9/(httpAuxPages)/1D4EF25E12C57738C1257D9E00562542/%24file/Buxton.pdf ↑
23) Muntaner, C., Salazar, R., Rueda. S. and Armada F. 2006. “Challenging the neoliberal trend: the Venezuelan health care reform alternative.” Canadian Journal of Public Health 97:6. ; Muntaner, C., Armada, F., Chung, H., Rosicar, M., Williams-Brennan, L. and Benach, J. 2008. “Barrio Adentro: Participatory Democracy, South-South Cooperation and Health Care for All.” Social Medicine 3: 4; ↑
25) E.R.B. Cruz, R.S.S. Perea, National Training Program for Comprehensive Community Physicians, Venezuela, 2008, JOURNAL OF SOCIAL MEDICINE, VO.3, NO. 4 ↑
28) All data on testing, cases and deaths from www.worldometer.info ↑
30) The questionnaire was entirely voluntary. People were asked if they had symptoms, if they had underlying medical conditions, if they had visited foreign countries this year, if they had contact with anyone who was sick. ↑
31) Leonardo Flores, Venezuela’s Coronavirus Response Might Surprise You, COMMON DREAMS, 26 March 2020, https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/03/25/venezuelas-coronavirus-response-might-surprise-you ↑
33) Recognizing Nicolás Maduro, the UN General Assembly voted his government onto the Human Rights Council with 105 votes in favour despite fierce lobbying by US agents. ↑
37) José Andrés Bolívar, TELESUR.TV, YouTube, 6 May 2020 ↑