Geovanni Peña, the director of the National Institute of Prevention, Health and Worker Safety, and on the left Angel Suarez, a member of the national federation of healthcare workers.
(Fight Back! News/staff)
Caracas, Venezuela – Geovanni Peña, the director of the National Institute of Prevention, Health and Worker Safety, states, “Capitalism is the biggest reason for COVID deaths. Here, the Venezuelan government protects the working class and the people feel a collective social responsibility to protect each other. This is why we only have six Delta variant cases, while Delta increases exponentially throughout the USA and other countries.”
The United States, one of the major epicenters of the world for capitalism, is leading the world in COVID deaths and COVID cases, with over 36.5 million cases and over 600,000 deaths. India and Brazil are capitalist countries with far-right leadership and they are second and third for the number of COVID cases and deaths. Compare these countries with anti-capitalist countries, such as Cuba, with 440,000 cases; and Venezuela with 311,000 cases detected and 3682 deaths.
Fight Back! interviewed Geovanni Peña, the director of the National Institute of Prevention, Health and Worker Safety, to learn more about how Venezuela has handled the pandemic. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
“Unlike the USA, Venezuela has implemented countrywide regulations, since the pandemic began, that continue today. During ‘closed week’ in Caracas, the streets are far more empty. The only open shops in the afternoon are essentials, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, healthcare clinics. Every other week is closed week.
“Schools have also stayed closed the entire pandemic, with students learning virtually, through WhatsApp texts – if they only have phone but no internet – or by picking up materials every 15 days. Teachers and parents have been very creative in helping the children. Schools may open in their fall semester, in October and we expect all teachers will be vaccinated by then.
“We will look at the rates and the data to decide if schools will open in October. We will only open if it is safe. We will not put children or staff at risk. In Venezuela, lives are more important than schools opening. While the schools have been closed, the government continued to provide the meals to the children.”
Geovanni also discussed the laws including wearing masks in stores and outside.
“One of the biggest dangers in the USA was the propaganda and lies about COVID. Here, Venezuelans are immune to lies. They support the science. The people here use masks because they are conscience and responsible. They are conscious of themselves and our society. Venezuela was unlike Brazil, USA or England, where the cases were exploding everywhere or Ecuador, where they had so many cases, they were throwing dead bodies in the street. Our successful control of COVID during the pandemic is due to President Maduro and the regulations he’s put in place. And he didn’t do it alone, he set up a council of the various ministers of the government and health experts. We had very high full recuperation rates and very low deaths.
“Here, the town decided to take care of one another. We have a united sense of community. We significantly increased protections. There is a low risk of catching COVID here because everyone wears masks, the closed weeks and we have a great healthcare system.”
Former President Chavez turned their for-profit healthcare system into a universal free healthcare system. The government also built more clinics all over the country, especially in areas, like the countryside, which didn’t have close access to them.
“Healthcare should be a human right in every country. In Venezuela, we use diagnostics, free and easy access to healthcare and free treatment for COVID. To help COVID patients and support businesses, the government converted hotels into hospitals. There was also strong communication between the government and the communities. If someone called in with symptoms, a nurse would bring the COVID test to the person’s house.”
Supporting the people through this pandemic is not only about healthcare, but also about maintaining people’s income. During the pandemic, the countries that did not provide sufficient funds to the people resulted in more people taking public transportation and working, thus increasing the chances of COVID spreading.
“President Maduro and the government provided 100% full income to public workers and subsidized private businesses, as long as they continued to fully pay their workers’ salaries. The government also passed a law that immune-compromised people do not have to work, won’t lose their job and will continue to receive their salary.
“The government implemented safety measures in jobs. Each job has a safety delegate and committee. So far, there are over 6000 registered. If there is a suspicion that a worker has COVID or there are unsafe working conditions, the safety committee is immediately activated. They can make a person with symptoms take a COVID test and report unsafe working conditions to the government.”
Other than salaries, rent has been a top concern in many countries, like the U.S. The U.S. had an eviction moratorium in place for a period of time, but it just ended, leaving millions at risk for eviction and homelessness. Venezuela was a different story. The Venezuelan government continued to build more free housing through Gran Misión Vivienda, which has built 3.6 million homes since 2011. The government also issued executive orders, which continue today, concerning rent.
“The government told the people that they don’t have to pay rent, nor do they have to pay rent back, when the pandemic ends.”
Including rent forgiveness, people receive bags of food monthly from the government through the CLAP program for 42 cents per bag. Each box includes items such as rice, pasta, oil, sardines, beans, flour, milk, sugar, etc.
Contract tracing and vaccines are another important aspect of the pandemic procedures to keep people safe.
“When we find a COVID case, we ensure the person and people in contact with the infected person are quarantined. In Venezuela, we have solidarity with one another in the battle against COVID. If someone finds out a neighbor is sick, they will call a doctor for them. We have a little more than 12,000 active cases, including only six Delta variant cases. We have a ton of beds available for patients. Other countries or states in the USA, are running out of beds.
“Due to the blockade, we can only receive vaccines from China, Russia and Cuba. This has slowed down the rate of vaccines coming here. So far, 4 million people here have been vaccinated. We are guaranteeing that 6 million more will be vaccinated very soon. By October, we will have 50% vaccinated.”
The U.S. has a plethora of vaccines, but only 50% of the people have been vaccinated, with some aeras as low as 20%.
“One pillar of our pandemic plan is the importance of educating the public and informing people of the benefits of the vaccine. I don’t know of any anti-vaccination movement here and I would’ve heard about it because I am the director of the National Institute of Prevention, Health and Worker Safety.
Director Geovanni Peña addressed the blockade as well: “I believe we need to stop the blockade and all nations need to join in fighting against COVID together. And all the governments need to protect their people.”
The Venezuelan government and people have done tremendous work in controlling COVID and supporting people through the pandemic.