Sergio Ramírez: “In Nicaragua, the Virus Has Become an Ideological Issue” 

By Sergio Ramirez Mercado  (La Nación)

Sergio Ramírez Mercado. Photo: Angel Medina (EFE)

HAVANA TIMES – Manuel Estrada Cabrera is the main character in El señor presidente (The President), a novel by Miguel Angel Asturias, and under his dictatorship of over twenty years official lies intended each day to substitute reality. 

When one of Guatemala’s many volcanoes erupted in the early 20th century, from his confinement in the presidential palace he sent a decree to be read in the streets, establishing the falseness of the alleged eruption, saying it was the lying result of a political conspiracy to destabilize the country, damage the economy and delay progress. 

But the rain of burning ashes from the volcano hid the sun, and it prevented the public servant in charge of disseminating the decree from carrying out his task, who in the absence of clarity had to be helped by a gas lamp; what’s more, with the violent tremors no one stayed to hear his proclamation.

In Nicaragua, according to the regime’s discourse there is no epidemic caused by Covid-19, because the country’s borders have been shielded, thanks to the official imagery, by divine protection. Everything else is the result of a conspiracy by deformed and sick brains, who only seek to slander and defame. And to destabilize the country, damage the economy and delay progress. 

The official propagandists began by stating that the Coronavirus was a disease of the idle rich, and it was not going to knock on the doors of the poor, so that staying home was an aberration of imperialist propaganda. The pandemic in the world is nothing but a divine punishment against capitalist exploitation. 

We are living through some type of health class struggle; the virus has become an ideological issue. To deny that it exists in Nicaragua, a revolutionary duty; to prevent its spread, a right-wing machination.

At the Health Centers doctors and nurses were forbidden to use masks and gloves when treating patients because this would cause unnecessary alarm. The medical staff was also warned not to give out any information about the disease, so as not to create a state of mass hysteria. 

To show that we are living in the healthiest country in the world, and that we are obliged to be happy by decree, the official propaganda has been displayed to induce people to gather at beaches, and the ports are still open to cruise ships, with the inconvenience that these stopped arriving. Food fairs and patron saint festivals are organized. The country is a contagion bomb.  

In addition to keeping schools and universities open, the unwary are attracted to stadiums, and boxing events are broadcasted through the international network ESPN, as if it was a poor circus performance, “oddities” of a picturesque Third World in times of pandemic. 

The results of the few tests done are not made known to the patients, and state hospitals and clinics have orders to register cases as “atypical respiratory diseases”. The official statistics therefore have no credit whatsoever. But while the disease is declared non-existent, the hospitals are filled with patients who when dead must be buried immediately, without the family, and under police surveillance. Likewise, the fear of repression spreads, because talking about the virus can become a subversive act. The relatives of the dead prefer to remain silent. 

The mechanism for falsifying the truth is the same one that was used in the wake of the repression that left hundreds of people dead in the streets two years ago. Those killed by AK rifle fire, and by accurate snipers armed with Russian Dragunov and Venezuelan Catatumbo rifles, never existed. The victims listed by human rights organizations, had died because of drug fights, street fights or traffic accidents. Cynicism in all its splendor, as now again. 

Now we have entered the community transmission stage of the virus, and the Citizen Observatory, a civil society organization dedicated to gathering information regarding Covid-19, reports many more cases in the country than those on the official statistics. A clandestine infection. Recently 645 health professionals, all renowned specialists who provide their services in clinics and hospitals, and in private practices, signed a public complaint with the support of all the medical associations. 

In this unprecedented declaration they demand the regime adopt effective common sense measures, including accurate information on the extent of the spread of the virus in the population, testing, restriction of mass gatherings, mandatory social distancing, isolation and quarantine measures as necessary, and protection of public health care personnel.

It’s already late, they say the more than five hundred doctors are affected, but, “as the curve of severe cases begins to climb, it is still possible to take mitigation actions that will reduce the catastrophic impact on the death rate and on the health care system”.

The doctors remind the regime that “health, in addition to being a constitutional right, is a human right and is a non-delegable responsibility of the State of Nicaragua”. 

It is a brave document, because many of the signatories risk being fired from hospitals for breaking the image of the perpetual state of happiness in which Nicaraguans live, imprisoned within this incredible and fatal mirage in which the government tells you that staying at home is nothing more than a bourgeois vice.