Venezuelan Indigenous Leader: Maduro Not Counting Our Coronavirus Deaths

TOPSHOT - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro salutes after a press conference in Caracas on September 30, 2019. - Virtually all countries sent diplomats to the United Nations for the General Assembly last week, but Venezuela was a special case -- it had two delegations, each dueling for recognition. (Photo by …
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The head of the Venezuelan National Assembly’s indigenous people’s committee asserted on Tuesday that the socialist regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro had left indigenous Venezuelans in “total abandon,” with no resources to fight the Chinese coronavirus.

Gladys Guaipo, the president of the Permanent Commission of Indigenous Peoples at the federal lawmaking body, also accused the Maduro regime of not counting indigenous people afflicted with the Chinese coronavirus in the official statistics of those infected and killed by the pandemic.

Venezuela claims hundreds of cases of Chinese coronavirus in the country but only ten deaths at press time, a significantly lower number of cases than those documented in neighboring countries like Colombia and Brazil. Given the dilapidated state of the Venezuelan universal health care system – where pharmacies have suffered chronic shortages of over 90 percent of medications considered vital for a functional medical system since 2016 – many experts believe the number of coronavirus cases in the nation is much higher than the Maduro regime claims it to be.

The National Assembly is the last Venezuelan institution made up of legitimately elected officials. Maduro himself is no longer legally president, having completed his last term in January 2019. As he controls the armed forces, however, he has successfully managed to keep President Juan Guaidó from exercising any authority in the nation.

“The grave situation caused by the COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic is affecting our indigenous peoples,” Guaipo said in a statement on Tuesday. “This is in addition to the absence of medical assistance to these populations [that are] in total abandon, which presumes a systematic violation of human rights.”

“The coronavirus is causing deaths among our Venezuelan Warao brothers and they are not including in national statistics,” Guaipo denounced.

The Warao people are native to northeast Venezuela. Guaipo said that the group had confirmed 40 cases of Chinese coronavirus among their population exiled in Brazil. Near the Brazilian Amazonian city of Manaus, Guaipo also said that Venezuelans on the border were seeing an increase in suspected cases, but that they “do not have the tools necessary to detect asymptomatic cases … among the indigenous and take social distancing measures according to W.H.O. [World Health Organization] protocol.”

Liborio Guarulla, the anti-socialist, indigenous former governor of Venezuela’s Amazonas state, made a similar declaration on Twitter. Amazonas is the nation’s southernmost state, far from the home of the Warao. Guarulla identifies as part of the Baniwa ethnic group.

“With [coronavirus] and without a hospital. The official news of four cases of coronavirus in San Carlos de Río Negro [Amazonas] could announce a tragedy,” Guarulla wrote on Twitter on Monday. “This is a population without a hospital … they are majority elderly.”

Guarulla also noted that extracting the ill to a less remote location could be “dangerous,” though he did not elaborate.

Venezuela’s indigenous communities have for years faced an onslaught of socialist violence, largely at the hands of gangs seeking to exploit natural oil and mineral resource in the country. Maduro has expanded the scope of illicit mining in regions like Amazonas, plundering gold resources and leaving behind an environmental catastrophe.

“The Maduro regime has used state enterprises and security forces to legitimize otherwise criminal mineral extraction, collaborating with criminal groups to mine, process, and transport minerals,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) explained in a report last month. “Though Southern Venezuela is home to 34 indigenous communities who have long been involved in environmental preservation, they were not consulted before the Maduro regime implemented public policies to promote mining in the region.”

Last week, indigenous activists denounced the murder of two members of the Yekuana ethnic community, identified as Cristian Flores and Franke Sarmiento, and a third unidentified person at the hands of armed groups operating illicitly in indigenous territory. Observers online noted the release of videos showing members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a Colombian Marxist terrorist organization, in Venezuelan indigenous territory.

The Organization of American States (OAS) issued remarks in April urging the Maduro regime to stop allowing human rights abuses against indigenous Venezuelans.

“We demand that the Venezuelan regime cease the violation of the human rights of its indigenous peoples, who protest for not having access to clean water, food, and the medical assistance necessary to confront the [Chinese coronavirus] crisis,” OAS chief Luis Almagro said in a statement on Twitter. At the time, Almagro was responding to the violent repression of a protest by members of the Wayuú indigenous community demanding access to food and water.

The Maduro regime claims to be an ally to indigenous Venezuelans. The regime has distributed propaganda claiming to be deeply involved in coronavirus response in Amazonas state, contrary to what those present in the state assert is happening. The regime’s official public defender, Alfredo Ruíz, claimed on Tuesday that Maduro had recently dispatched officials from Ruíz’s office to fight coronavirus in Amazonas state; it is unclear what the office of the public defender, a legal agency, could do to help with a medical crisis.

Ruíz’s remarks were featured in the Spanish edition of Xinhua, the Chinese Communist Party news agency.

The Maduro regime claims at press time 423 confirmed Chinese coronavirus cases and ten deaths.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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