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That feeling of international solidarity. This pandemic has brought terror in daily life to many, including this home where a 79 year old with COPD resides. Global calls of “we are all in this together” have served to blunt the bleakness in the face of unprecedented threats to our collective health. However, the initial rush of this solidarity– along with people like Mitt Romney talking about a permanent Universal Basic Income, or multiple European leaders muttering about ignoring sanctions on Iran– has hinted that maybe, just maybe, there is more than rhetoric to the idea that the very best of human beings emerges in times of great crisis.
What more can be said about Cuba’s global leadership role in acting like the very best human beings have to offer? The most human and humane solidarity has come from Cuba, who (despite being blocked from a deal with First Nations to help on Rez services in Manitoba by deputy PM Chrystia Freeland. This long planned containment operation was set up by elders and chiefs with Cuba, and blocked by Freeland on ideological grounds.) have volunteered or coordinated responses in almost 2 dozen countries, most recently getting a heroes welcome upon arrival in South Africa. From Jamaica to Italy, China to Venezuela, Cuba has served the cause of shared humanity in typically exemplary fashion. But examples go far, far beyond Cuba alone.
Common humanity has been winning out over traditional national and class divisions. Except when it comes to the United States (and those political leaders like Ms Freeland who take their foreign policy cues from Washington). In the case of the US, the type of response elsewhere began with trying to turn up sanctions upon Iran, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying out loud that the coronavirus was possibly going to help America achieve their regime change goals. Not alone was Iran targeted, as attacks on Venezuela have gone to a new place of evil– pure dark, absolutely spiritually dead evil. They have conspired to deliberately provoke a massive Covid-19 outbreak on the entire country, and to simultaneously make doing anything about it impossible.
In fact, Venezuela is part of a global trend, along with Cuba of course, but also as far flung a location as Kerala, India. Kerala has been lauded by human development index data for years, being run uninterrupted by the Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (M), The many groupings of the Left Democratic Front and so on, in various coalitions and groupings over the last several decades. This has Kerala enjoying collectively run communities that have strong education and health systems in place as well as a culture that automatically prioritizes human health over the economic status quo. The result?
Three months on, Kerala is being hailed for not just flattening the curve of the deadly infection even as it spikes in many parts of the country but for having an extremely low mortality rate. Only three of 400 reported cases have died so far – less than one percent, significantly less than the rest of India or in many parts of the world. About two-thirds of the patients, including a 93-year-old man and his 88-year-old wife have been cured – the country’s best recovery rate.
Health experts attribute the state’s success to two factors — what they call a “formidable” primary health care system and the experience it gleaned in the last two years when it handled another deadly virus outbreak.
Ruled by a coalition of communist and left-wing parties, Kerala spends the most in India on health and has the highest literacy rate in the country.
“We have doctors, nurses and paramedics in every village,” said K.N. Harilal, a member of the Kerala State Planning Board. “So, we have a strong army of health care workers to fight epidemics.”1
As if general rules were not enough, the entire dynamic is made most abundantly clear in Brazil’s state of Maranhão, run by Flavio Dino of the Communist Party of Brazil. Shameless a famously, Jair Bolsonaro, who only became president because of a soft-coup against his predecessors, including the infinitely more popular Lula Inacio de Silva of the Workers Party. Having a president that is trying to ignore a pandemic threatening to dismantle the health systems and entire functionality of the country, Dino organized the acquisition of critically needed health supplies the same way one might arrange a heroin or ground up rhino horn shipment:
“The communist-run Brazilian state of Maranhao has brought much-needed ventilators from China via Ethiopia in a “war operation” against coronavirus.
Governor Flavio Dino bought more than 100 of the artificial respiration machines for the north-eastern state but, fearing that they would be confiscated en route by the United States or Brazil’s federal government, he had them sent by sea to Ethiopia for onward shipment.
The shipment, which also included 200,000 masks, arrived last week in Sao Paolo, where, instead of passing through customs, it was immediately loaded onto a chartered plane to fly the 3,000 miles north to Maranhao.
This stratagem was prompted by fears that, if secrecy was not maintained, the goods could be seized by the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Previous attempts to buy the medical supplies had reportedly been hampered by Germany, the US and the federal authorities.
“If we didn’t do it that way, it would take us three months to get this number of ventilators,” said Maranhao’s Secretary of Industry and Commerce Simplicio Araujo.”2
So here we have leaders needing to procure emergency equipment and smuggle it, because the imperialist government of the United States is already stealing the ventilators of poor countries, blocking them from others, and not even supplying them to their own population properly. If the shipment could avoid the international piracy that has become the hallmark of current devolving American imperial policy. Made it past America by using Ethiopian shipping lanes? Now you have to get past the far right government and their death cult leader itself, and then transport it to the state. The kind of leadership that has the nerve to do this now emerges from the socialist camp.
In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte’s far-right authoritarian state has been allowing and calling for the shooting of Filipinos who venture out during a lockdown, mass repression, heading incompetent testing regimens and severely underfunding the people’s basic needs during the pandemic. They are among the countries unable to stop the rising curve as of early May.
Yet in liberated zones controlled by the Communist Party and the New Peoples Army, terror has not been the answer:
In Bicol, around 260 individuals from three barangays received rice from the NPA during the last week of March. The said barrios were affected by the food crisis brought about by the regime’s lockdown. The NPA unit and mass organizations supervised the the distribution of emergency aid. The funds used by NPA in the relief operations were revolutionary tax collections.
NPA units in Panay, Quezon and other areas also launched information drives.
These efforts are in line with the CPP’s call to immediately help those in need. At the same time, the Party advised all its forces to carry out emergency food production and intensify economic work in revolutionary territories. The CPP issued the call amid Duterte’s restrictive lockdown in Luzon and other parts of the country which is causing severe problems on the people.3
This global trend is that locations with a socialist leaning leadership, combined with collectively organized social systems at the community level, are weathering this coming storm remarkably better than other nations or communities. Even in countries where socialism is mostly part of their historical claim to power, the collectivist roots remain strong enough to create a far better response for countries such as Vietnam, Laos or the (eventually) heroic responses in Wuhan itself inside the PRC.
The relative health of the people of Venezuela stems from the ethics and principles upheld in their response. While the government declares the aim of socialism, the country is still very much class divided. Nonetheless, in working class areas, both rural and urban, collective life is the basic form of society.
Even in the face of the recent attacks of US and Colombian paramilitaries off the north coast of Venezuela (and likely elsewhere), the Bolivarian Revolution’s pre-existing community-organized structures have helped make Venezuela’s early experience of Covid19 far, far less painful than all her neighbours. The attempted abduction of the President, combined with terrorist assaults on electrical grids, are designed to provoke or expand a pandemic in order to facilitate the kind of chaos that fascist coups marinate in the most successfully.
Before we get into the details of that, let’s look at why Venezuela has not yet been hit as hard as Colombia, let alone Brazil or Ecuador, where right wing governments have left the populations with next to no organized medical services, and without leadership that seeks to do anything to prevent catastrophe at all.
Right from the get, we can note that Brazil and Ecuador recently expelled the Cuban doctors that prior left-leaning governments had invited into communities. The expelled doctors have not been replaced. This is also true in Bolivia– outside the cities, indigenous communities formerly served by Cuban doctors are now without medical care, locked down in a police state and denied medical services, instead being left to die– from hunger, Covid19, or other diseases.
Regardless of the international news media and their painting of Venezuela as a top-down authoritarian state, lived reality is that community organizing has been sustaining people during the ever increasing illegal blockade of their country for several years now. The constitutional government of Bolivarian Venezuela is supported critically by the grassroots communities, and is simultaneously afraid of them. The organized people have kept the PSUV (United Socialist Party) in power, their future reluctance would spell the end of the PSUV and the constitutional order in the face of imperial aggression.
Seeing the proverbial truck heading at them while already being denied the ability to procure medical needs, food and other basic supplies by a brutal sanctions regime (begun under the Obama administration), the constitutional government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela focused on human rather than financial capital. This has meant taking quarantine actions before most other nations and before taking the same “wait and see” approach as many of their neighbouring countries, North America or Europe.
The result has been a remarkably lower spread, small death rate, and as of May Day, a flattened curve. These realities have seen an early ‘bump’ in popularity for the president, the beleaguered Nicolás Maduro, in terms of responding to the crisis– even among opposition supporters.
Venezuela immediately began a testing regimen towards anyone exhibiting symptoms, but also going beyond that. Venezuelan and Cuban doctors are going home to home, checking for base symptoms (including checking breathing rate for the silent pneumonia akin to so many in New York, only just now being discussed in the larger public of North America). If people show any signs, they are immediate taken for thorough testing (including the testing units sent to them by China).
Mass action, contact tracing, quarantines and proactive medical testing in the community itself are keys to what appears at this point to be Venezuela’s ability to flatten the curve, prevent overwhelming an artificially weakened and isolated medical system through prevention and community mobilization.
Community mobilization has been the key to the participatory aspects of the Bolivarian Revolution that not only brought much local popularity, but have proven the decisive social factor that has defended the constitutional government time and again in the face of externally attempted coups, externally led regime change, and years of terrorist operations and paramilitary attacks.
This same community level consciousness has the ability to act in the face of pandemic threats that is simply all but unavailable in Favelas of Brazil where right wing state terror and tolerated gang presences have served primarily to keep poor barrio dwellers unorganized and divided (and despite this, these same Brazilian gangs have done more to prevent pandemic deaths than the central Bolsonaro government).
In recent times, the gross shortcomings of the Venezuelan medical system has been brought up by the New York Times in some of their most disturbing propaganda of the year. While a literal naval blockade denies even raw materials into the country, the medical equipment shortfalls of the economy have been attributed to a failing of the current government, while making invisible the heroes of Venezuela, who– as always– are the people that are not governmental functionaries, but are fully committed community level revolutionaries.
A discussion among Venezuelans about who is acting as a drag anchor on community empowerment and the long declared move towards the communal state is not long overdue, but has been underway since Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias was President and declared the need for “Comuna o Nada!” as the end result of the struggle. Many, many forces within the governing party have held back power from the popularly organized working classes of Venezuela for years, while paying lip service to the same commune movements and communities. Yet the government of today relies on the organized working classes, no less than in 2002 when the people restored their president after a coup instigated by Washington took place.
The dedication of working people in Venezuela, despite their serious setbacks during the presidency of Maduro, to preventing a coup comes from a desire to protect their constitution, unions, millions of constructed free homes, food price controls, and most importantly by a long shot: the public space to organize on a community, class level in the face of multiple aggressions or other external threats.
Today, the mere existence of the PSUV government headed by Nicolas Maduro is proof of the dedication of working people to protecting themselves. The US mercenaries captured along the north coast were spotted by Venezuelan fishers who alterted authorities of this paramilitary force trying to slip into the country. And, in the nearly two months since Venezuela declared a state of emergency, communal organizing has proven the capacity to save thousands upon thousands of lives.
In an interview with Venezuelanalysis.com, Doctor Gutierrez (a 29 year old Venezuelan graduate of Cuban training from the Integral Community Medicine Program and member of the Altos de Lidice Socialist Commune in Caracas) explained communal capacity in dealing with Covid-19:
Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, the organized community committed to carrying out a social quarantine. This, however, requires organization and developing a plan to address the needs of the most vulnerable sectors of the community. If we don’t address that situation, particularly their food and medicine needs, the community will not be able to carry out the confinement, and the risks will grow.
In addition to that, since Tuesday, we have been focusing on giving prevention talks in our house-to-house visits. Since we have “mapped” the community over the past few months, we’ve located the most vulnerable, the elderly, and those with respiratory afflictions. Reaching them is one of our objectives in this phase.
Our main goal now is prevention. However, for it to be effective, we must understand where we stand and address the needs of the most vulnerable people immediately.4
The “we” Dr Gutierrez is speaking of is the doctors, and those they must stand with, the commune organizers and resident members. As Jesus “Gsus” García, spokesperson for the commune, explained:
“So, reflecting on our communal construction process, I would say that there are two keys to understand our success. The first is having a methodology that is conducive to action and results. The second is having a clear project centered on being self-governed and self-sustained.
There are two things to take into account. First, because of the crisis and the US blockade, it is clear to us that the government can’t provide everything. We try to solve our problems through self-management. We have the pharmacy, which is autonomous and self-run but also dependent on international solidarity. And we have a Communal Savings Fund, which is there not only to keep the community clean but also to solve infrastructure problems.
The second thing to keep in mind is that there are some reformist tendencies within the government. That is no secret to anyone! That means that we are the ones who have to keep Chavez’s communal dream alive… It’s no small responsibility!”5
Communes do not yet make up anywhere near the majority of the population as yet, despite Chávez’ exhortations to do so from his final speech. As alluded to above, the government has acted to either not promote enough or outright stall communal development through the last few years, with the economic situation itself ironically acting as the communes greatest advocate among grassroots Chávista Venezuelans in historically marginalized communities.
So how is it Venezuela has not been home to the scenes of Covid19 horror we have seen from Ecuador, or Brazil, or the United States outside of the communes? As stated to VA by Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ) national coordinator Kevin Rangel:
“Venezuela, like much of the rest of the world, is traversing through a very difficult period as it attempts to confront the COVID-19 crisis. However, unlike many other countries, in Venezuela, the government is working with the people to confront the crisis, with “a lot of consciousness, a lot of discipline and a lot of solidarity.”
“To tackle COVID-19, the government has moved to quickly employ a mass testing regime, modeled on steps taken in countries such as China that have demonstrated, concretely, how to stop its advance[.]”6
Outside of the communes in Caracas or in rural areas, there are community councils that operate to deliver services in cities like Valencia. Local council member Yolimar Semprum was visited last week by a Covid19 screening team, in this case led by Cuban medical professionals:
“I was informed through the Community Council that they come to visit house by house. The Cuban doctor and us were in the communal council meeting with the respective screening sheets. The house-to-house visit is the screening of COVID-19 to break the chain of spread in the country and to carry out a registry of where the virus could possibly be.”7
In Venezuela, the need to track, test, isolate and prevent propagation is even more critical than the United States, where the scientific community is in consensus that such is needed to “re-open” and resume something like a normal economy, human interactions, and public events. Having medical professionals go home to home is far, far in advance of North American responses by the end of April. With no medical breakthroughs as yet available or even predicted, prevention is the only real treatment. With a blockade of food, medicines, capital or even raw materials now being led by the US Navy, prevention is the treatment to prevent an outside-induced, planned deliberate pandemic striking Venezuela.
Given this extreme global situation, and how those of us here in North America are constantly told that the “silver lining of all of this” is the great acts of solidarity, kindness and basic humanity showed by average people towards one another, and how this is supposed to be a horrible experience that, at least, has at the end of the day a stark reminder of our base humanity? Is it actually happening that way?
These stories are everywhere– from youth who are delivering materials to the elders in community after community, to medics coming out of retirement to protect the vulnerable, to people paying others wages out of pocket given the scale of the emergency. Whether it’s street level stories from New York or humane leadership in New Zealand, the best of humanity has shone through, when one does not look towards power in the imperialist states.
But when one gets to leaders and economies that are beholden to global finance capital, the brave visions of newly woke neighbours disappears faster than the price of a barrel of oil. This is true of “centre left” leaders no less than far right wing populists. Imperialism is the common thread.
The world has watched in stunned horror as Donald Trump has made a mockery of his own claims to being a human being, but the first real sign of where this might go within the corridors of power came from Mike Pompeo, who in 2019 had already blatantly described American sanctions as designed to hurt Iranian civilians: “Things are much worse for the Iranian people, and we are convinced that will lead the Iranian people to rise up and change the behavior of the regime,”8 but even this beast could show signs of humanity in the face of a pandemic, right?
As the first country outside of China to be hit massively by Covid19, the response to Iranian Covid19 has been to weaponize it and tighten sanctions, nevermind relief. Tightening sanctions at the start of the pandemic,
“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran at a press briefing Tuesday, arguing the administration has “done remarkable work to deny the regime the resources they need to continue to carry out their terror campaign.” The top U.S. diplomat hoped for a new Iranian government “with a change in outlook.” 9
This base demand to overthrow the government in order to receive help during an international pandemic health emergency has received condemnation around the world, as has ramping up sanctions and now military encirclement of both Cuba and Venezuela. While the world has started to see the incredible heroism of the Cuban people, who are now helping more than two dozen countries– including Spain, Italy, France, Jamaica, South Africa, Venezuela among many others– the recent establishment of a naval blockade against Venezuela has received less opposition, despite it also targeting Cuba while their leadership in tracking and treating Covid19 goes international.
The inhumanity of the US response to Iran, despite being more widely opposed, is perhaps less evil in intent than their response in terms of Venezuela. Venezuela has led South America by being able to mobilize a quarantine of the population. As people have returned home from countries now economically and health wise reeling from Covid19, the possibility of new ‘hotspots’ of infection are real, but the bigger threat is American sanctions seriously hampering gasoline production in a country where food is distributed without any railways. As the minimum wage is not sufficient for the prices imposed by a black market operating in a time of quarantine and sanctions, the next few weeks will see more Venezolanxs start to venture out of their homes for money to get basics.
So how to provoke a pandemic to weaken the Bolivarian state? Apparently, Juan Guaidó, who doesn’t even take a breath without American permission, spends hundreds of millions of stolen PDVSA funds to hire American ex-military mercenaries, some who have worked directly for Donald Trump in the past (and once called Canada home as well) to attempt to kidnap the President to drag him back to the United States. This colossal failure, while seemingly a badly written Hollywood script, is both real and still unfolding (as of this writing on May 6, yet more invading paramilitaries have surrendered).
While this operation has gone splat, the threat it poses is real. All such operations have, as a matter of consequence, more resources diverted, more people coming into contact with one another, and less ability to focus on prevention methods.
This is the desired outcome for the Americans– and the Canadian, Brazilian and Colombian leaders of the Lima Group of international right wing puppets. When Canada’s former foreign minister Chrystia Freeland began organizing the various right wing governments that would help set up a “parallel government,” the goal of starving Venezuela into submission was well under way.
In Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil, the sending home of Cuban doctors has been followed by pandemic disaster– Ecuador has been in utter collapse, Bolivia has simply abandoned the indigenous peoples outside of the cities like La Paz, Brazil has seen a leader who is competing with Trump for global idiot. In all three countries, ideological attacks on the Cuban doctors they had only a year ago or less, has led to thousands of dead. But in Venezuela? The ability to resist and survive with society basically intact has been undertaken and shown results. The only thing that can cause a massive problem now is to deliberately provoke not only a continued economic attack, not only military encirclement, but a series of strategies with the design of bringing Venezuela’s population back into the streets, interacting, & waking the dormant Covid19 monster and destroying their elders and vulnerable.
Right now, there is no other way to say it: The US, Canada and Colombia are trying to start a pandemic that will kill thousands and thousands of elders and disabled or otherwise compromised people, along with thousands of non-Chávistas. This is their strategy to conquer Venezuela, for the sin of not following Washington and Ottawa and being economically and politically independent.
Thing is, Venezuela is organized and resilient, and even if the ‘Boligarchs’ within the state who want to surrender (and they exist in every ruling caste within every state) were able to quickly dispatch the heads of the PSUV and “transition” to an American occupied fascistic state, the people will resist. As soon as news of such a move hit the people, hundreds of thousands or millions would answer the call– as they have done repeatedly over the last 21 years– and flood the streets. This would happen with even Maduro himself asking people to stay home while the Americans and the Opposition took over. This is the very opposite not only of humanity and decency, but is on a moral par with experimenting with nuclear weapons on Nagasaki, or dropping mustard gas on an entire people in their tens of millions.
Many have opposed what is being threatened upon Venezuela, but not on the level of other states (such as the planned genocide of Iran). Nonetheless, many people remain opposed to imperialist war, starvation sanctions, attacks on medical shipments and stand in solidarity with Venezuela (and other targets of US & Canadian Imperialism).
The feeling of the outpouring of global solidarity has been remarkable in its humanity. The needs of humans still being met when forced to physically distance in times of great need are some of the most beautiful aspects of what makes us human. But what makes us inhuman? Class divisions and the pursuit of wealth over and above the pursuit of health. Where are inhumane responses coming from?
The reality of such a globally contracted economic situation is roughly this: Everyone everywhere is living off borrowed funds. Are countries stealing money from the poor, to protect the wealth of the few at the expense of the heath and safety of the many? This is what is happening when we see Bezos is now far, far richer than before the pandemic. We are trapped in our homes and we are being bled dry by the ruling class.
In Brazil, the US, Ecuador, Colombia, the UK, Japan and places where the willingness of the ruling elites to let more people die in order to not tinker with the structures of economic privileges has made their responses utter disasters, leading to mass graves, health systems on the verge of collapse and economies that are still being crushed. The economies cannot be saved, but the economic structures– i.e. capitalism itself– is what they want to protect now. The attempts to “re open” or “strike the right balance” are extending the spread of the virus, which also extends the emergency. The longer the virus emergency goes, the worse the situation for capitalism. There is no way out of the pandemic without taking capital from the ruling class to help people survive, or the pandemic will exterminate capitalism, capitalists, and make capital itself disappear from bank accounts that become mere paper and digital lies.
When I realized the kind of moves being carried out by the United States to try to make the horrible situation in Iran worse, I was temporarily reassured by my desire to be assured, combined with the strong statements from many European countries against continuation of sanctions, with some previously hostile countries stating their intent to defy sanctions because of the scale of the pandemic and shared humanity.
But when it became apparent that not only did the US have no intention of trying to help Venezuela simply survive, and that they were not only willing to use the pandemic, but to deliberately try and provoke a massive calamity otherwise averted? When the US Empire, in conjunction with Canada’s increasingly bloodthirsty support, made it clear that they were this anti-human, my feelings changed.
The reality is this: We now know, because we are living through it, there is no level of inhumanity that is too much for the Empire, Canada included, to defend the privileges of its global fascist bourgeoisie. Yet the entire experience of resistance to Covid-19 has demonstrated two indisputable facts based on actual lived reality: Socialist or at least community-based planning that already exists is how societies have been able to prevent utter ruin. International solidarity is a beautiful, loving, breathing thing.
Capitalist societies– even the richest ones who are spending the wealth of the rest of the world to produce their PPE’s, ventilators and more– are structurally incapable of dealing with these kinds of situations. They organize their prisoner society by keeping us disorganized. That structural division amongst us as neighbours is by design.
And at the end of the day, that means the same societies that are destroying themselves slowly through inaction around Covid-19 are also the same ones who are trying to kill the peoples who have found a way to save elders, protect the vulnerable, and who act in solidarity and love instead of spending the entire pandemic trying to “balance” the needs of multi-billionaires and oil companies with sick and dying human beings.
While the Americans are trying to submit via virus entire countries in order to steal resources, they are grotesquely weakening their own state to the point of breaking. Given the options have become now American destruction or planetary destruction, Pompeo, Trump, Mnuchin, Freeland, Bezos and yes, even Gates have thrown aside the calls for humanity and instead are having debates about the fate of the US Empire.
The imperialist monsters are no longer the enemies of socialism and the working class, and the environment and health systems alone. They are now fully the enemy of all of humanity, and their goals right now are to maintain their privilege and power first, try to save human life second.
Try as I might, the leftist inside me can’t be as callous as the imperialists. As much as the death and destruction inside the United States is essentially a natural virus running rampant in an artificially constructed clusterfuddle, and as much as this is weakening the US hopefully beyond where international influence and power can be sustained, I can’t mimick Pompeo, Freeland and Trump. I can’t cheer for the dead and dying inside the various places in the US so devastated, hoping it crashes the US Empire once and for all. I realize that the time for the world to be held hostage by this 5% is long, long past; I realize that the mere existence of the United States as this Empire is the number one threat to make sure that if not Covid19, the climate change, if not climate, then nuclear annihilation, so many of humanities existential threats come from the US. I can’t desire such a collapse, nor cheer it on. I could never deny food to starving Michiganers, deny a ventilator to a New Yorker, etc.
But if they continue to destroy themselves, we must not only speak of but get busy building a real world that cares for its old, its sick, who refuse to starve the poor of food and the illiterate of books. We write and disseminate books. We create collective meals. We deliver essential goods– including love– to our isolated elders.
And we end all sanctions on Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and others immediately. We act like human beings. And in this image, we re-fashion the world.
7Personal interviews, April 28, 2020.