Quarantine (X): The Day After the Pandemic

22 March 2020 — Internationalist 360°

Reinaldo Iturriza López

https://elotrosaberypoder.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/jornadacomunamst-12.jpg?w=1024Photo: Giuliano Salvatore

Thinking about the world we live in

In our homes, as most Venezuelans are, and as it should be, occupied with the care of our sons, daughters and relatives, the occasion is propitious to think about the world in which we live, instead of becoming absorbed in fear.

Perhaps there is no more important exercise than this. To take advantage of the forced confinement, necessary to think not only about the circumstance that keeps us isolated, but to think of ourselves as part of a whole that goes far beyond the narrow limits of our family nuclei.

It is very likely that what several have already said to date is true: after the pandemic, the world will never be the same again. The question is: what kind of world will it be?

We cannot postpone this reflection until the day after the pandemic is over. The time is now. Because it is now that we have to conjure up the possibility of a more unjust and unequal world, something that is the aim of the actions, initiatives and decisions of economic and political forces that are very well equipped to take advantage of “disaster capitalism “, as Naomi Klein recently pointed out (1).

Venezuela was already a “contagious disease”

In the specific case of Venezuela, it is essential to consider that the decision of the national government to declare a state of emergency, in its state of emergency mode (2 ), is preceded by an exceptional situation decided de facto by the monopolistic and oligopolistic economic agents, around 2015, aimed at ignoring any state regulation of the economy, and therefore at regaining total control of the market (3 ).

Fundamentally from 2016, when a sort of pragmatic governmental turn takes place (4), the state withdrawal has been remarkable, without this implying, of course, an improvement of the material situation of the popular majorities, a situation that has been significantly aggravated by the coercive measures unilaterally imposed by the US government, which constitute a flagrant crime against humanity.

Thus, the official collective quarantine, decreed by the national government to face the pandemic, has been preceded by the permanent and systematic siege of political and economic forces of radically undemocratic affiliation, which have not hesitated to refer to the Venezuelan people as a “contagious disease” (5), and have even openly expressed their support for subjecting the country to “quarantine” (6), thus totally paralyzing our economy.

The infernal vicious circle

What has become evident again during the pandemic? That the monopolistic and oligopolistic economic forces, and the political caste that has served as a ventriloquist’s dummy, are acting primarily for their own benefit, and are therefore not only absolutely ineffective in managing a crisis situation, but, worse still, are doing everything in their power to take advantage of it.

This is the reason, and not any other, why governments such as those of the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Chile and Colombia, to name but a few, have taken so long to implement the containment measures recommended by the World Health Organization: between the reproduction of capital and the social reproduction of life, they opt for the former. Then, when it comes to the accounts, the conclusion is always the same, as if it were a divine plan: the State must come to the aid of monopolies and oligopolies, and the working class must pay the price.

If the pandemic is an opportunity to think about the world in which we live, it must help us envision a world in which humanity is able to break out of this vicious circle of hell. To use José Romero-Losacco’s expression, if anything must be confined, it is capital. The economic pandemic must be stopped (7).

Reversing the de facto exceptional situation

We know that one of the immediate effects of the neoliberal economic pandemic that has been sweeping the world since the mid-twentieth century, and Our America, with unusual force, since the 1970s, is what is known as “social spending” cuts, including those aimed at strengthening public health systems. Well, it has been amply demonstrated that in order to address a situation such as the one created by the COVID-19, not only do all the countries of the planet require solid publicly managed health systems, it is absolutely necessary to ask ourselves about the relevance of health institutions in private hands, which put the desire for profit before the Hippocratic oath. The discussion should focus on how to effectively manage public health, just as there should be no discussion of the imperative need to subordinate private health to the service of the common good.

The same considerations should be made with respect to other areas. The state of emergency decreed by the national government allows us to identify the activities that are essential to the functioning of life in society: those for which the order to suspend activities does not apply (article 9). These are:

  1. Establishments or companies producing and distributing electrical energy, telephone and telecommunications services, handling and disposing of waste and, in general, those providing public and domestic services.
  2. Fuel and lubricant outlets.
  3. Public and private sector activities that provide health services throughout the national health system: hospitals, outpatient clinics, comprehensive care centers, and other facilities that provide such services.
  4. Duty pharmacies and, where appropriate, duly authorized medical outlets
  5. The transfer and custody of valuables.
  6. Companies that sell short-term medicines and medical supplies, carbon dioxide (dry ice), oxygen (gases or liquids needed to operate medical care centers)
  7. Activities that make up the distribution chain and availability of perishable and non-perishable food at the national level.
  8. Activities linked to the National Port System.
  9. Activities related to the transport of drinking water and the chemicals necessary for its purification (liquid or solid aluminum sulfate), polyaluminum chloride, calcium or sodium hypochlorite gas (up to 2,000 lb cylinders or 150 lb bottles).
  10. Companies that sell and transport gas for domestic use and fuels destined to supply land transport service stations, ports and airports.
  11. The activities of production, processing, transformation, distribution and commercialization of perishable and non-perishable foods, issuance of single guides of mobilization, follow-up and control of agro-food products, conditioned, transformed and finished, the transport and supply of inputs for agricultural use and of harvests of agricultural items, and all those that ensure the operation of the National Integral Agro-food System.

This list gives us a fairly rough idea of the activities that must necessarily remain under the strictest public control, not as a matter of principle, but precisely because they are essential activities. We would have to add the economic activities that, by constitutional mandate, are reserved to the Venezuelan State. This does not imply the non-participation of private capital in some of these activities, which is also provided for in our Constitution, but it does imply unrestricted state regulation, particularly in matters referred to health (numbers three, four and six), as I have already stated, and to food (numbers seven and eleven).

The approach is clear: the state of exception decided by the President of the Republic, in the form of a state of alarm, is an opportunity to begin to reverse the de facto exceptional situation decided by the monopolistic and oligopolistic economic agents more than five years ago, and to reconsider, with all the firmness required by a state of emergency, the strategic political viability of the pragmatic turn introduced by the Government itself around 2016.

Among other issues equally or more important, is now, and not after the pandemic, the time to evaluate with thoroughness, candor and responsibility whether the various “strategic alliances” with private capital have put us in a better position to face a situation like the pandemic. We must ask ourselves, for example, if the majority private management of domestic gas (numeral ten) guarantees an efficient provision of the service, in circumstances that force the immense majority of the Venezuelan people to remain in their homes. We must also ask ourselves if the same “alliances” with private agribusiness guarantee not only the supply of the domestic market, at least of some essential items, but also their timely distribution at fair prices. Likewise, do not circumstances force an investigation and very severe penalties for those elements that have been betting, with an astonishing margin of manoeuvrability, on disinvestment in essential areas, in order to justify the privatization of public goods or assets?

It is not at all a question of denying the relevance of such “alliances” as a matter of principle, but rather of questioning their practical effects, taking as a starting point what the Constitution mandates. Specifically with regard to the socio-economic regime, section 299 establishes that this “is based on the principles of social justice, democracy, efficiency, free competition, protection of the environment, productivity and solidarity”. The mandate is unequivocal: if what prevails is “free competition” and everything else disappears, not only is the Constitution a dead letter, but the price is paid by the popular majorities with their lives.

Most certainly, the future will not allow us another opportunity to finish assimilating that, far from being self-regulating, the market must be democratically and firmly regulated by the State.

We are not the navel of the world

Unexpectedly, the social panic produced by the pandemic has allowed us to learn in real time about situations that, until very recently, many believed could occur “only in Venezuela.

From almost every corner of the planet, with particular emphasis on the nations of the global, rich and “developed” North, we hear of crowds of people who are sweeping the shelves of shops, compulsively buying food, as well as antibacterials, mouthwashes, toilet paper and medicines, just to name a few, as well as unscrupulous resellers of these same products, not to mention the numerous episodes of people trying to circumvent the health checkpoints or ignoring the recommendations or instructions of the authorities, or of irresponsible politicians belittling the seriousness of the crisis or appealing to explicitly racist and classist discourses.

Keeping due distance, the exceptional de facto situation suffered by the Venezuelan population for more than five years, exponentially aggravated by the unilateral coercive measures of the US government, systematically made invisible by the global media, now acquires planetary scope, because of COVID-19.

Images of chaos and desolation, rather typical of post-apocalyptic films and television series, are now part of the usual landscape.

For a long time, the global media, with their respective national and local agents, tried to persuade us, and indeed succeeded in persuading many people around the world and within our borders, that our “humanitarian crisis” had its origin in the “Bolivarian virus”. They tried to convince us that the Venezuelan people were the “patient zero” of their own terminal illness.

It turns out that we are not the navel of the world, for better or for worse. We are not the sum of all misfortunes. We are, in any case, responsible for our own fate, but not irremediably guilty, as we have been led to believe. As Claudio Katz summed it up: “The powerful seek out emissary goats to exculpate themselves from the dramas that they create, enhance or conceal. The coronavirus is the great danger of the moment, but capitalism is the enduring disease of today’s society” (8).

An important clue to follow: note how the same global media that eventually will echo the global expressions of solidarity that allow us to overcome the situation caused by the pandemic, deliberately mute and ignore the manifestations of identical character that have allowed us to face with dignity the de facto exceptional situation we have suffered for years. The same, by the way, applies to the other countries “sanctioned” by the United States.

Addendum

At least one article could be added to the decree by which the Bolivarian Government orders a state of emergency throughout the national territory. That is, to do what the legal profession calls an addendum.

It could be written more or less as follows:

Article x. The most severe penalties shall be imposed on any authority, natural or legal person who, taking advantage of the state of emergency, incurs:

The arbitrary eviction of tenants.
Aggressions against properties occupied by peasants, men and women.
Aggressions against workers.
Fragrant violations of due process, and of any other right not subject to suspension in a state of alarm.

And the rest of the numbers that are considered appropriate to incorporate.

References

(1) The perfect storm: Naomi Klein and the coronavirus as a shock doctrine. March 17, 2020.

(2) Presidency of the Republic. Decree No. 4160, by means of which the State of Alarm is decreed throughout the National Territory. Official Gazette of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela No. 6519 Extraordinary. March 13, 2020.

(3) Reinaldo Iturriza López. Quarantine (IX): State of emergency and the place of popular majorities. February 18, 2020.

(4) Reinaldo Iturriza López. Quarantine (VIII): Neoliberalism and popular classes: the mutation in progress. February 4th, 2020.

(5) Reinaldo Iturriza López. Quarantine (I): Contagious disease. October 3, 2019.

(6) Reinaldo Iturriza López. Quarantine (II): Venezuela as a biopolitical experiment. October 6, 2019.

(7) José Romero-Losacco. Let’s confine capital, let’s stop the economic pandemic. March 15, 2020.

(8) Claudio Katz. A crisis trigger powered by profit. March 13, 2020.

Translation by Internationalist 360º

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