Top Venezuelan Socialist Propaganda Show Suspended After Staffer Dies of Coronavirus

Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly (ANC) President Diosdado Cabello speaks with media during a rally with pro-government supporters on April 6, 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized by many members of the international community as the country's rightful interim ruler, called for protests throughout Venezuela to put …
Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images

Senior Venezuelan socialist regime official Diosdado Cabello canceled this week’s broadcast of his propaganda program, Con el Mazo Dando (“Hitting with the Mallet”), on Wednesday after a staffer died and several others tested positive for Chinese coronavirus.

Cabello officially serves as the first vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the ruling party, making him the most powerful person in the country after dictator Nicolás Maduro. Law enforcement officials have for years linked Cabello to the illicit drug trade and informants have identified him as the head of the Cartel de los Soles, a multinational cocaine trafficking outfit run out of the Venezuelan military. Cabello denies the claims and has attempted to sue journalists who have reported the evidence against him but lost the lawsuits after failing to disprove the reports. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who Cabello was rumored to have ordered an assassination attempt against, has referred to him as the “Pablo Escobar of Venezuela.”

Cabello reportedly fell ill last summer with Chinese coronavirus, forcing the suspension of his hours-long Wednesday night propaganda extravaganza. He returned to the program in September, having experienced visible weight loss and with notable changes in his voice. He since appears to have made a full recovery.

Cabello announced on Wednesday that the night’s episode of Con el Mazo Dando would not take place.

“Beloved compatriots, after evaluating the [Chinese coronavirus] situation and the loss of our brother Frank Bayola, a fundamental part of [Con el Mazo Dando], in addition to the apparition of a [Chinese coronavirus] outbreak on our team, we decided to suspend the program for the health of all,” Cabello wrote on Twitter. “We shall overcome.”

The government-run program confirmed Bayola’s death on Monday; Venezuelan outlets reported that he died after testing positive for Chinese coronavirus. Bayola was reportedly an “anthropologist” on the show’s “investigative” team who appeared on the show regularly as a commentator, applauding the Maduro regime and joining in attacks on the United States, which the Maduro regime regularly accuses of “economic war” against it.

Cabello dedicated the latest installment of the program on March 17 to urging Venezuelans to take precautions against the Chinese coronavirus.

Cabello spoke of his personal experience with the virus, crediting his recovery to his own “determination to get ahead.” Cabello addressed his audience in front of a photograph of late dictator Hugo Chávez holding a cross. The episode lasted nearly four hours.

Cabello is the highest-ranking member of the Maduro regime so far to have reportedly tested positive for coronavirus. Shortly before his announcement in July, Cabello canceled his television program and claimed that he was sick with “a strong allergy” and unable to properly host the show.

Venezuela has documented 152,508 cases of coronavirus within its borders and 1,511 deaths as of Wednesday, significantly less than its neighbors. For comparison, neighboring Brazil has documented more cases – over 12 million – than any other country but the United States. Colombia has documented about 2.3 million. Brazil’s and Colombia’s statistics are significantly higher than most of the world’s, though these include questionable numbers like Venezuela’s and other rogue states such as China and Iran, whose case totals experts have also questioned. China and Iran are close allies of the Maduro regime.

Scientists within the country have questioned the regime’s case count, insisting that the numbers looked nothing like the rates of infection in any other country on earth and noting the limited amount of formal PCR testing on patients exhibiting respiratory illness symptoms. The Academy of Physical, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences of Venezuela published a report in May warning that, without precautions, as many as 4,000 people a day could become infected nationwide. Venezuela has endured chronic shortages of nearly every drug in use in the healthcare industry today since at least 2016 and hospitals have limited access to pivotal equipment like respirators, leaving Venezuela particularly vulnerable to severe damage in the face of a highly contagious pandemic.

Following the publication of the report, Diosdado Cabello used his television show to call for government persecution of the scientists involved.

Further evidence has surfaced since then suggesting a much higher rate of infection in Venezuela than the regime has documented. In October, the polling firm Meganálisis found in a survey of Venezuelans nationwide that about 87 percent of people who lived with a person diagnosed with coronavirus said that the alleged coronavirus patient never received a PCR test. Those not confirmed through PCR testing do not appear in Venezuela’s official coronavirus statistics. Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed also said they treated the disease with no help from the government. Venezuela runs on a universal health care system, meaning private medical care is not available.

Maduro’s response to the pandemic has largely been dubious lockdown policies and the promotion of unproven treatments. Unlike anywhere else in the world, Venezuela has endured a “7+7” lockdown policy, meaning a week of strict lockdown followed by loosened restrictions, followed once again by lockdowns. No scientific evidence suggests this unique system prevents infections. Maduro has timed the loosened restrictions with holidays, such as the national Carnaval or the upcoming Holy Week.

Maduro has also promoted the use of ozone, a toxic gas, to treat coronavirus. Maduro opened a “National Ozone Center” in January for this treatment, which requires patients to ingest potentially fatal amounts of ozone, sometimes rectally, presumably to kill the virus. The American Food and Drug Administration has firmly denounced attempts to use ozone to treat coronavirus.

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