By Sabela Bello
Caracas, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- “Disciplined quarantine, voluntary and responsible” are the words repeated at every appearance he makes by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, And meanwhile, security personnel and government employees move through the streets in official vehicles, megaphones in hand, reminding people of their “obligation” – as enunciated by the government – not to leave their homes except in the special circumstances outlined in the quarantine measure.
Trips to buy groceries or medicine are allowed, and certain people – such as healthcare workers, supermarket or food store employees – can go to work with a specially-issued safe conduct pass.
On March 16, the date on which the government implemented the quarantine, a number of establishments in assorted economic sectors opened their doors to customers, but they were forced to close when they were visited by police ordering them to immediately cease their activities.
The voluntary nature of the quarantine, as described by Maduro, also confused a number of people who organized private parties, but – where detected – these were also shut down by the authorities.
Now, a month into the quarantine, Maduro continues to say that the quarantine is voluntary even as members of the armed forces continue to enforce the order everywhere in the country.
Venezuelans are having a hard time threading the needle, with Maduro saying one thing over and over but security authorities telling people something different. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the president is the head of government and also of the security forces.
Maduro says he is “proud” of the public for the “responsibility” they are exercising in dealing with the pandemic by voluntarily remaining at home and setting an “example for the rest of the world.”
This premise is breaking down in certain parts of the country, however, and the fact that most people are wearing masks is the only thing that distinguishes the current situation from an otherwise “normal” day with streets and shops jammed with people, where it’s impossible to maintain social distancing of 1.5 meters (5 feet), one of the standard precautions recommended by the World Health Organization.
But the crowds disperse when military patrols or other government officials appear, ordering people sternly to return home. There is silence from the public, nobody dares to complain or contradict them, despite the fact that Maduro himself has been saying that the quarantine is voluntary.
Failing to abide by the quarantine measures can bring serious consequences. At the start of the stay-home period, a number of arrests were made – resulting in a significant public outcry – when individuals were caught away from home.
For instance, police arrested 18 people at a party in an apartment in Altamira, one of the exclusive districts of Caracas. The Mission Truth research group, which supports the Chavista government, said on its Twitter account that two of the 18 people tested positive for Covid-19.
Members of the community councils created years ago by the Chavista government to allocate assorted benefits – including food and money for certain disadvantaged families – now provide “mobility passes” to people if they have to leave their homes, a newly implemented measure along with other new monitoring responsibilities by the councils.
The increased social and movement controls come even as Maduro continues to repeat every chance he gets his current mantra of “Disciplined quarantine, voluntary and responsible.”