The Covid-19 pandemic is not just a sanitary problem; it is also a first-rate security and disciplinary device. The fear of contagion forces people in search of their own survival to surrender to control and surveillance. Docility increases as medical and scientific evidence confirm the danger.
Panic is a solid basis for giving up all our rights to the old and worn-out Leviathan to protect us from this new absolute evil. Again -but now on another scale- it will need its full powers to face this threat. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures in all areas, especially in the normative, technological, and securitarian spheres. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that: the lesser the sanitary and scientific capacity, the greater the police, military, and propagandist measures will be. There will always be efforts made to confuse the former with the latter. When health becomes a national security issue, everything impregnates with punitive, military, and warlike logic.
Once the pandemic is over, the control mechanisms deployed will be difficult to reverse. They may remain among us for much longer than the virus itself, which had served as a pretext.
This past week, an analysis we conducted for the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) was published. The analysis focuses on the securitarian logic behind the attempts to contain Covid-19, which goes beyond the mere virus that generates it. We reflected on how the pandemic can be used as a political instrument, serving as a securitarian device to exercise power without limits. And, in turn, reduce the rights of citizens that can be extended and institutionalized. We take the case of Venezuela as an object of study.
The Venezuelan case as an object of study
Venezuela has been living in a state of emergency for years. The “quarantine” pre-exists the pandemic. The latter operates as an extension and justification of a government that has been in place for some time.
From 2015 to date, at least 10 state-of-emergency declarations have been issued at the national level. The State of Alert decree of March 13, 2020 that addressed the Covid-19 health emergency was nothing more than the continuity of the pre-existing, uninterrupted state of emergency that has prevailed in the country for over four years. Beyond its unconstitutionality and the evasion of the necessary controls, this is a de facto act in which the President authorizes himself to take any discretionary measures that he deems necessary, including the possibility of delegating this power to subordinate officials. In this context, the security forces can “take all the necessary previsions” to enforce this decree.
The country’s exceptionality is not only political-institutional and normative; it is also part of Venezuelans’ daily lives. The deterioration of basic public services such as water, electricity, health, transportation, gas, and the internet, is progressively increasing. The infrastructure needed to effectively fulfill social rights, especially within the health system, already collapsed before the arrival of Covid-19.
In the face of this scenario, it is worth asking: How can we demand that a population who does not live on its salary, who must earn its daily bread on the streets, to stay home for months? During the first two months of the quarantine, more than 1,700 protests were held throughout the country demanding social rights. There were also 44 reports of looting in nine different states.