[News] How Venezuela Has Held Back COVID-19 in Spite of the U.S. Sanctions Stranglehold on Its Economy

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 30 11:21:28 EDT 2020


  How Venezuela Has Held Back COVID-19 in Spite of the U.S. Sanctions
  Stranglehold on Its Economy

by Vijay Prashad - October 30, 2020

Not for one minute during this pandemic has the United States stopped 
trying to overthrow the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. A 
seam of cruelty runs through U.S. policy, which by its sanctions regime 
prevents Venezuela from open trade of its oil to import key medical 
equipment to help break the chain of the virus and heal those infected 
by it.

Billions of dollars of Venezuelan government money have been seized by 
banks in the North Atlantic world, money which President Maduro says is 
needed to fight COVID-19; even though Maduro’s government says that the 
money held by the Bank of England can be turned over to the United 
Nations to buy goods for Venezuela, the government of the UK refuses to 
part with the funds.

Despite this, Venezuela’s people have been able to hold down the rate of 
infection, and its medical workers have been able to heal large numbers 
of those who have been infected with COVID-19. Former Venezuelan 
Ambassador to Mexico María Lourdes Urbaneja Durant was the second health 
minister in the government of former President Hugo Chávez. She is 
trained in the fields of social medicine and public health, training 
which made her a natural leader in the Bolivarian Revolution’s attempt 
to shift the foundation of medical care from the private to the public 
sector. In mid-October, I spoke to Ambassador Urbaneja, who left her 
embassy post in Mexico last year to return to Venezuela, where she has 
been weathering the storm of this pandemic.

Venezuela, she told me, has been able to face the challenge of the 
pandemic because of the “participation of the people” in every aspect of 
the fight against COVID-19. Popular participation is, she said, “a 
pillar of the Bolivarian Revolution,” and it can be glimpsed in the way 
people’s organizations are helping with testing and contact tracing, as 
well as in maintaining the basic functions of daily life. The government 
has developed the patria.org digital platform, where 18 million 
Venezuelans (out of the population of 28 million) have participated in 
surveys on the impact of the virus and on their needs in these difficult 
times; this process has allowed the government to target its resources 
toward the most affected communities. Venezuela has benefitted from 
material support from China, Cuba, Russia, and Turkey, as well as from 
the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization.

*Social Medicine*

Since 1999, when Chávez became president, the Bolivarian Revolution has 
struggled to create a robust public health sector. Ambassador Urbaneja 
joined the health ministry as director of international cooperation 
under Dr. Gilberto Rodríguez Ochoa. Venezuela’s medical sector had been 
assaulted by the structural adjustment policies of the International 
Monetary Fund, with the privatization of health delivery defining the 
industry. As Dr. Rodríguez Ochoa attempted to strengthen the public 
health institutions, the pro-privatization doctors’ unions in both 
public and private hospitals resisted the reforms; but the government 
was adamant that the country needed a robust public health system.

Ambassador Urbaneja followed Dr. Rodríguez Ochoa as the health minister. 
A veteran of the Revolutionary Left Movement in Venezuela, Ambassador 
Urbaneja had studied at the Institute of Neurosurgery and Brain Research 
in Chile with Professor Alfonso Asenjo Gómez from 1970 to 1973, during 
the tenure of the Popular Unity government of President Salvador 
Allende. During the coup against Allende, she was arrested, freed by a 
comrade as she was being taken to the Estadio Chile (now the Víctor Jara 
Stadium), and taken on a humanitarian aid plane back to Venezuela. She 
then trained as an epidemiologist at the National School of Public 
Health (FIOCRUZ <https://portal.fiocruz.br/en>) in Brazil, where she had 
a front-row seat as Brazil created its Unified Health System (SUS).

Ambassador Urbaneja’s commitment to social medicine led her into the 
Latin American Association of Social Medicine (ALAMES 
<https://bit.ly/3e5Swaj>), which she headed, and whose insights about 
the need for health care delivery where people live defined her 
approach. The creation of Misión Barrio Adentro in 2003 led to the 
construction of thousands of medical clinics across Venezuela. This 
followed from the Venezuelan Constitution of 1999, which enshrined 
the ALAMES principles, such as to create a decentralized and 
participatory health care system with community control over the 
policies of the system. Privatization of the system was prohibited by 
the constitution. This was the system that was created by the process in 
which Ambassador Urbaneja participated. The structure developed then 
continues to play a vital role—despite the shortages—to reach people in 
the pandemic.


After she left the Ministry of Health and Social Development in 
September 2003, Ambassador Urbaneja was deputed to be Venezuela’s 
ambassador to Uruguay (2004-2006), Chile (2006-2012), Ecuador 
(2012-2015), Brazil (2015-2016), and then Mexico (2016-2019). Her tenure 
as ambassador began with the election of the Frente Amplio government in 
Uruguay and ended with the election of the Morena party in Mexico: a 
long wave through Latin America’s pink tide. During this period, 
Ambassador Urbaneja participated in the construction of the Union of 
South American Nations (Unasur), which was to promote the sovereignty of 
the region. In a crisis, such as the pandemic, this platform could have 
brought the countries of the region together; but Unasur has been eroded 
by the rise to power of the governments of the oligarchy.

When Ambassador Urbaneja reminiscences about her time as a student in 
Chile—which just voted to rewrite its dictatorship-era constitution—she 
remembers a slogan—/I’m hungry and what about it! I’m still from the 
PU/. The PU is the Popular Unity government, which despite the 
challenges imposed on it by the United States still held the faith of 
the people. Much the same spirit governs Venezuela, she says; despite 
the pressure from the United States, and its allies, the people of 
Venezuela remain committed to the democratic project set in motion by 
the election victory of Hugo Chávez in 1998.

/This article was produced by Globetrotter 

/*Vijay Prashad’s* most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of 
Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015)./

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