CARACAS – The number of officially confirmed COVID-19 cases relative to the overall population has remained relatively low thus far in Venezuela, although one group has lately seen a spate of coronavirus infections: politicians.
With just 10,000 cases reported thus far nationwide, the statistics indicate that only one in every 3,000 Venezuelans has been infected.
But the proportion is much higher for the country’s mayors, governors, ministers and lawmakers, who are placing themselves at greater risk of contagion with frequent public appearances.
The president of the plenipotentiary – and illegal – National Constituent Assembly (ANC), Diosdado Cabello, announced on July 9 that he had contracted the disease. He has provided updates on his condition since then via Twitter, saying that he is strictly adhering to a “tough” treatment regimen.
Cabello, who also is the vice president and driving force behind the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), thus far is the highest-ranking official to come down with the virus.
His illness is regarded as an affair of state. Leftist incumbent Nicolas Maduro is keeping close tabs on Cabello’s health and has said that he is “doing well in his battle.”
Cabello gave a speech and moderated a debate at a session of the more than 500-member ANC a week before testing positive, making only intermittent use of his face covering during that gathering.
After the powerful politician announced his infection, three other members of the ANC – a body exclusively made up of Maduro allies – also tested positive: Carolys Hernandez, Gerardo Marquez and Fidel Madronero.
All say they have “isolated” themselves from the population and are not in serious condition. It is unclear if any of the three has been hospitalized, which Maduro has said is obligatory for all Venezuelans who contract the coronavirus.
Another high-ranking official – the economic vice president and minister of petroleum, Tareck el Aissami – announced on July 10 that he also has tested positive for the coronavirus.
In his statement, he said he is remaining isolated and following medical protocols, although as with the case of Cabello and other political figures, there is no word on whether he has been hospitalized.
Maduro also has said he is personally monitoring El Aissami, an official who is wanted on drug charges in the United States and since April has been leading a restructuring of Venezuela’s oil industry.
The economic VP has received numerous messages of support, with Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona saying in a video recording that he would organize a prayer chain for his prompt recovery.
The governor of the western border state of Zulia, which accounts for one-fifth of confirmed coronavirus cases and a third of official COVID-19 deaths in Venezuela, has not been spared either.
Omar Prieto, also a member of the PSUV, announced his positive test on the same day that Cabello did. Maduro said the governor contracted the novel coronavirus in part because “he doesn’t stop” and always “is in the streets.”
Hernan Aleman, an opposition lawmaker from Zulia who had fled to Colombia after a warrant was issued for his arrest, died of the coronavirus in that neighboring country. To date, he is the only Venezuelan politician to fall victim to the pandemic, which is blamed for 104 deaths in the Caribbean country.
Opposition lawmaker Jose Antonio España – as well as a pair of mayors in the northeastern state of Sucre and the northwestern state of Yaracuy, Jonny Acosta and Amado Torres, respectively – are three other politicians who have come down with the coronavirus.
Unofficial information points to a longer list of infected individuals in the political sphere, including at least a deputy minister, a former governor and aides to some of those who have tested positive.
These more privileged members of the population have access to treatments that are unavailable to ordinary Venezuelans, who either are languishing in dilapidated hospitals or self-medicating at home to avoid the mandatory hospitalization order.