Nicolás Maduro, the autocratic leader of Venezuela, has used the COVID-19 pandemic to attack his political opponents, health workers, coronavirus victims and the United States, all while rejecting responsibility for the disastrous state of the country’s healthcare system. His callous response risks compounding Venezuela’s already-dire humanitarian crisis with an unprecedented public health emergency.
As of May 21, the Venezuelan government has confirmed 824 COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths amongst the country’s 28 million citizens, but numbers may well be higher given the regime’s record of underreporting and outright deception. Maduro, like many autocrats around the world, has both downplayed the lethality of COVID-19 and used the pandemic as an excuse to conduct political kidnappings of journalists and doctors who denounced the poor hospital conditions.
Maduro continued to minimize the reality of COVID-19 even after confirmations of several deaths in municipalities. He instead has spent his time curtailing political opponents and redirecting the blame towards the U.S. for their handling of the virus, using the pandemic as an opportunity to further his autocratic tendencies. The regime has blamed U.S. sanctions for hampering Venezuela’s management of COVID-19 as well – even though these sanctions exempt the acquisition of aid. Just a few weeks prior to the outbreak, Maduro sent numerous boats full of medical supplies to Cuba – despite the fact that years of rampant corruption and mismanagement have decimated Venezuela’s own healthcare infrastructure.
In contrast to Maduro’s callous disregard for his own people, the constitutionally-legitimate Interim President Juan Guaidó is working to form a national emergency government which will rely on humanitarian support and international funding to provide “hospitals with medical supplies, humanitarian aid [and] direct subsidies for the most vulnerable population.” The national emergency government would also delegate to a Council of State the power and jurisdiction to manage the emergency until free presidential elections can be held. This proposal received public support from members of the international community such as the United States and Colombia, who continue to show their commitment to a democratic Venezuela.
The sooner Maduro’s abusive regime gives way to free and fair elections, the sooner Venezuelans will finally experience a government that does what it is supposed to do: protect its people. The U.S. has already proposed a framework to resolve the crisis by means of a peaceful and democratic transition with free and fair presidential elections – a proposal stemming from the plan the Interim Government presented in 2019 amidst negotiations with the regime, which Maduro rejected.
Although Guaido is still offering to step down in favor of a transitional government, Maduro has chosen to focus on parliamentary elections that were to take place this year. However, these have already been postponed due to COVID-19, which is a weakness for the regime and provides a breather to the Interim Government, as they continue to focus on efforts to deliver what the people of Venezuela actually need: free and fair presidential elections. In the meantime, the Maduro regime looks poised to put the country in the worst possible position to cope with the effects of this disastrous pandemic – underscoring once again the life and death consequences of poor governance.