Special Coronavirus Focus: Venezuela

The 16th edition of Freedom House’s newsletter Keeping Democracy Healthy in a Pandemic addresses the human rights consequences of the COVID-19 response in Venezuela.

By Nate Schenkkan, Director for Special Research

Welcome back to Freedom House’s newsletter on COVID-19 and democracy, Keeping Democracy Healthy in a Pandemic.

In this week’s feature, Senior Program Officer Caitlin Watson and Program Associate Joanna Moley on our Latin America and the Caribbean team look at the situation in Venezuela, where the official count of coronavirus cases and deaths has remained relatively low, but unofficial counts are much higher. The government has also used coronavirus-prevention measures as a pretext to detain dozens of journalists; conduct sweeping, politically motivated arrests; and to push through electoral changes that would guarantee an unfree, unfair vote in December’s parliamentary elections. Freedom House calls on the UN Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission for Venezuela in order to sustain diplomatic and international pressure on the Maduro regime to respect human rights.

A man in a mask stands in a Caracas market. Image credit: Regulo Gomez /
A man in a mask stands in a Caracas market. Image credit: Regulo Gomez /

In the United States

The general election is two months away(!) and some media organizations are rising to the challenge of educating voters about unprecedented pandemic-related voting procedures. This week we highlight a great interactive guide by NBC News called “Plan Your Vote.” The guide lets you click on your state and answer key questions including “Can I vote by mail without an excuse?” and “Can I vote in person before Election Day?” and provides straightforward information about registration and vote-postmarking deadlines. Freedom House urges other media organizations to help educate voters about voting safely and efficiently during the pandemic.

Around the World

Here are more key stories we’re watching around the world:

  • As of August 25, large swathes of China’s Xinjiang region remained under lockdown, over a month after COVID-19 cases surged, before apparently plummeting. Residents of the region, where over half the population are Muslim, have shared content on social media that depicts excessive enforcement of lockdown restrictions by authorities, including handcuffing people to posts. There have further been claims of residents being forced to drink traditional Chinese medicines.
  • A recent report found that at least 30 people in Colombia have been killed by armed groups for allegedly violating quarantine. The movement restrictions had been imposed by the armed groups themselves in areas the government has historically neglected, where much of the population is composed of Black and Indigenous communities. 
  • Security forces killed over 20 prisoners attempting to escape a detention center in Madagascar due to unsanitary and overcrowded conditions amid the pandemic.
  • A Bangladeshi worker who appeared in an Al-Jazeera documentary investigating conditions for undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia amid the pandemic, and was critical of their treatment, was recently deported by the authorities.
  • In August, Mali’s president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was ousted in a military coup, following years-long tension and recent antigovernment protests. Despite the pandemic, the country had held parliamentary elections in March; with the help of a Constitutional Court ruling, Keita’s party was able to secure the largest bloc. The military junta intends to lead the government for three years.
  • The opposition-aligned mayors of Turkey’s two largest cities have stated publicly that the government’s official coronavirus statistics do not reflect reality. Istanbul’s mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and Ankara’s Mansur Yavaş each said that the case and mortality numbers for their cities were almost as high as the national official numbers. Independent medical associations in Turkey have cast doubt for several weeks on the official coronavirus numbers, even as the state has permitted a relaxation of lockdowns.
  • South Africa is mired in a corruption scandal related to government contracts for  medical equipment. One of the contracts was awarded to the husband of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson. Investigations into over 600 contracts are ongoing, and the government recently released a list of every company that had secured a contract connected to COVID-19.

That’s all for this week. Stay safe, and stay free.

For Freedom House’s continuing analysis of the COVID-19 crisis, with stories from around the world about how states are responding, please subscribe to Keeping Democracy Healthy in a Pandemic here.