The Venezuelan government is reportedly cracking down on potential COVID-19 victims as "bioterrorists," and harassing experts and doctors who contradict its official line on coronavirus.
The Nicolás Maduro government is also rounding up Venezuelans who have been abroad, for fear they could be contagious, according to The New York Times.
The returning Venezuelans are held in hotels, schools and bus stations, under military guard, with limited access to food, water and personal protective equipment, the Times reported.
One Venezuelan nurse who returned from Colombia told the newspaper she had been held for 70 days.
The Maduro regime has tightened border security from its inception, combating smuggling of goods that are in short supply, and labeling Venezuelans who return through unofficial trails as "troncheros."
A Twitter account run by the Venezuelan military last month said troncheros are "bio-terrorists," asking people to denounce the smugglers to authorities.
¡DIFUNDE POR LA SALUD DE NUESTRO PUEBLO Y FAMILIA!— @ceofanb (@Libertad020) July 14, 2020
Un trochero es un Bio-Terroristas, que deja en riesgo la salud de todos.
Envíe un mensaje al correo electrónico, con los datos de la persona y su ubicación exacta.
⚠️#DenuncieAlBioterrorista #CEOFANB #Venezuela pic.twitter.com/oqI8mavWo1
When caught, the troncheros placed in internment are treated with medicines not recommended by the World Health Organization for coronavirus treatment, according to the Times. The drugs reportedly include hydroxychloroquine, which has been peddled as a COVID-19 cure by world leaders including President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE and the leaders of Brazil and El Salvador, and ivermectin.
The crackdown is part of a coronavirus policy that's seemingly designed to hide any evidence of the pandemic in the embattled South American country, rather than a strategy of actual containment.
Venezuela has reported fewer than 300 COVID-19 deaths, a number that's almost certainly a fraction of the real total.
According to the new report, the official death count is around 70 in just one hospital in the state of Zulia, but a group of doctors in the state say 294 people have died in that hospital of the disease.
Because of the government's lack of transparency, both death statistics and contagion numbers have become unreliable. Officially, Venezuela has had fewer than 15,000 cases of coronavirus, a tenth of similarly sized, neighboring Colombia.
And given the government's attacks on potential victims of the disease, private citizens are also not reporting potential transmission, for fear of reprisals.
“When people feel sick, they think they have a legal or a police problem, as if they were delinquents,” Venezuelan doctor Julio Castro told the Times. “So they prefer to hide.”