Socialites in Venezuela defying lockdown with “coronaparties”

By Hector Pereira

Caracas, Apr 30 (efe-epa).- Music, dancing and parties. Diversions that had been rather innocuous parts of modern life have become lethal weapons at a time when social distancing is being observed in most of the world to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even as most Venezuelans are heeding official guidelines and staying at home with their family members, some well-heeled socialites in that crisis-hit South American country have been flouting government orders and risking infection by taking part in banned gatherings known as “coronaparties.”

Some of these celebrations have ended with their participants facing criminal charges, shamed in the media or even infected with the novel coronavirus, leading to intense discussion on social media about how serious these violations are and what punishment should be doled out.

Police and health officials have had to break up several of these parties, all of which have conspicuously taken place in wealthy areas and been attended by jet-setting Venezuelans and foreigners, including models, recording artists and beauty pageant models.

“There was a party some place, on an island. Practically all of the people who were at that party are testing positive (for the coronavirus),” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said in mid-March when the country was reporting its first cases and shortly after a mandatory nationwide lockdown order had been instituted.

He said a few days later that the party had occurred in the Los Roques archipelago and announced that two new cases had been confirmed at that ultra-exclusive Caribbean tourist destination.

“Two cases, the result of that party … A party where there was a group of people who didn’t know they were sick,” Maduro said then.

Several local media reported that among those attending the party were local and foreign reggaeton singers, some reportedly with ties to members of Maduro’s government.

Those outlets published images confirming the presence of those recording artists at the party, which despite the official condemnation did not result in any arrests.

A second “coronaparty” took place days later in the affluent Caracas district of Chacao, a bastion of opposition to the leftist Maduro, although on that occasion there were legal consequences.

Attorney General Tarek Saab announced in a national television broadcast the names of 18 people who had attended the party and been detained for violating the lockdown orders, confirming that two of those individuals were present despite knowing they had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“That’s biological terrorism,” Maduro said for his part.

The police later published photographs and videos of the detainees, all of whom could be seen wearing surgical masks, and the news was splashed on the front pages of the tabloids.

The long list of detainees included a Spanish model identified as Maria Chuecos, a Venezuelan model, a young Romanian woman, a Moroccan disc-jockey and some individuals who had attended the Los Roques coronaparty, although nearly all of them were taken to clinics rather than detention facilities.

The only person to face charges was the owner of the residence where the party took place, who was accused of possession of amphetamine tablets and four other crimes.

In recent days several other people have been booked at police stations and shamed on social media for attending a third coronaparty.

One model who attended that social gathering – Gabriela Coronado, a finalist at “Miss Earth Venezuela” 2019 – had her result voided. Another model – Laura Zabaleta, a participant this year in the Miss Venezuela pageant – has been disqualified from that contest.

Due to the backlash on social media, several coronaparty attendees have closed their Instagram and Twitter accounts or changed their privacy settings.

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