In Venezuela, where everything is capable of being used as a political tool, COVID-19 has been no exception. In the government they did not hesitate to consider it a plot against China to end up returning to a xenophobic narrative that describes it as a “Colombian virus”, a mirror of the opposition where, in the wake of Donald Trump, they describe it as a “Chinese virus”.
It is a country that looks like a new chess board from the old Cold War and that’s why the accusations cross without possibility of reply.
The names of Russia, China and the United States, omnipresent when it comes to Latin America, multiply in Venezuela to refer to a virus and a disease that has nothing to do with politics, which infects and kills.
These are some keys to the narrative that the parties try to impose on COVID-19.
1. A “weapon of war” against China
Going back to the end of February is as much as trying to enter an earlier era of humanity when its memory begins to blur. However, going to the beginning of the pandemic is necessary to see the roots of the Venezuelan Government’s narrative about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
First, it was the media of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the government party or the party government, that fueled conspiracy theories.
From the opinion columns of these media, it took little time for the paranoia to jump to the authorities and reach the president himself, Nicolás Maduro, who at the end of the second month of the year of shame asserted: “There are many analyzes in the world since They demonstrate that the coronavirus may be a strain created for biological warfare against China. “
“There are already many elements seen in the global analysis and we must raise our voices, draw attention to ourselves and ring the bell, warning that the coronavirus is not a weapon of war that is being used against China and now against the peoples of the world in general ”, came to say the president with his peculiar intonation.
If only one preposition is changed, “against” by “from”, the theory agrees with that of other conspiracists who emerged from the most hidden corners of the far right hidden on the internet, together with terraplanists, 5G schizoids and other hoax and hoodoo disseminators usually.
For them, COVID-19 is a virus created in Chinese laboratories to attack the world.
2. The return
When the conspiracy theories against China were at ease, the new coronavirus had barely crossed its borders. In doing so, the discourse changed radically.
In Venezuela, citizens looked with fear at a virus that could spread terror in a country with an intensive care health system, but aware that they were (almost) completely isolated from the world.
The lack of international travelers and contact with the exterior in general delayed the arrival of the virus, along with radical measures to close airports and entry routes into the country. There was only one access left for COVID-19: the returned migrants.
Just as nearly 5 million left in search of a better present, thousands of Venezuelans have returned to the country, most of them on foot, which has left only a door open to the virus: the 2,200-kilometer border with Colombia, a porous boundary line that has not stopped giving headaches to both nations.
Like a pendulum, in the good years of Venezuela and the lousy ones of Colombia, it was Caracas that suffered the situation on the border, but when the tables were turned, it is Bogotá that suffers.
Along these sometimes irregular paths, more than 70,000 Venezuelan migrants have officially entered the country who, before crossing the limes, had traveled thousands of kilometers on foot, had slept in the open, had joined other citizens without biosecurity controls and, in short, they had been in constant contact with the virus.
Maduro put the spotlight on them and in Colombia the responsibility for the arrival of the new coronavirus.
3. An old internal enemy, a new xenophobia
Venezuela, a panacea for migrants in the 20th century, welcomed millions of Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, Germans, Colombians, Haitians, Peruvians or Ecuadorians.
As everywhere, the color of the skin and the social class in which they were received was fundamental in their reception and, both by number and by type of work carried out, Colombians ended up being the main object of xenophobia for those who should welcome them.
Still today old stigmas of xenophobia are heard against Colombians in a Venezuela that no longer exists. They accuse their neighbors of importing new forms of violence and criminality or humble trades, such as informal sales or “motorcycle taxism”.
Now that the realities have been exchanged, the accusations have changed sides and more and more Colombians accuse the Venezuelan emigrants of the same thing they were accused of when they had no other alternative but to emigrate.
Riding that popular wave of rejection of the different, Maduro baptized SARS-CoV-2 as “the Colombian virus.”
“We have the attack of the Colombian virus that (the president of Colombia) Iván Duque sends with the trochers,” said Maduro in mid-July, pointing to his other favorite enemy, uribismo, his nemesis, from whose ranks the current Colombian president left .
Curiously, Maduro has suffered more than anyone else from that xenophobia and, due to his maternal origins, some sectors of the opposition have tried to consider him Colombian, not only because the Constitution prohibits those who were born outside of reaching the Presidency, but because “Colombian” It can be used almost as an insult in Venezuela.
Without going any further, in the last virtual sessions of the parliamentary opposition, several deputies have referred to Maduro as “the Colombian” without being censured by anyone.
4. The Chinese Opposition Virus
The historian and columnist Elías Pino Iturrieta put the bell on the cat, or name the growing extremism of the opposition: “The Venezuelan trumpismo.”
And if Donald Trump calls COVID-19 “Chinese virus”, his acolytes in Venezuela run to imitate him, without asking many questions about the similarities between that name and the “Colombian virus” used by his antagonist theorist, so close in the rhetoric.
The concept became so popular that it even titled opinion columns and went viral on Twitter, where many Venezuelan heralds of the American president do not use another name to refer to a subject so serious that it has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the world.
Venezuelan trumpism resonated so much that the Chinese Embassy in Venezuela responded on the same social networks: “At this crucial moment in the fight against COVID-19, we suggest that some people also take the ‘political virus’ seriously. They are already very sick of this. ”
The virus as a political weapon, a tool to aggravate the confrontation and increase the abyss that separates Venezuelans. Regardless of the pain and death it causes.