In a video posted to his official Instagram account on Tuesday, Mayor Luis Adrian Duque of Guama, a small village in the central Venezuelan state of Yaracuy, announced the measure as part of the city’s lockdown policy.
People caught removing Covid-19 signs from their homes would be fined 10 million bolivars, a sum out of reach for many in Venezuela, where the minimum monthly wage is less than one US dollar. Those unable to pay the fine would be required to serve days of “voluntary” community service, Duque said.
Some social media users praised Mayor Duque for taking a strong stand against the pandemic, which has increased stress on a health sector already damaged by seven years of economic crisis.
According to figures collected by the Venezuelan government, the country has reported a total of 169,074 cases and 1,693 deaths. However, health officials and the Venezuelan opposition have questioned the government’s ability to collect and analyze data and have warned that the actual number of cases could be much higher.
But the criticism of the strategy was also fierce. Local Venezuelan NGO “Access to Justice” condemned the signs as detrimental to the dignity of patients, and a civil rights group in Yaracuy called for a virtual demonstration on social media, as public gatherings are prohibited in the city. Venezuela under lockdown rules.
Miguelangel Delgado, 33, of San Felipe, lamented the signs as a way to instill fear. “People are afraid, there is a lot of rejection of this way of dealing with the pandemic, but there is also a lot of fear to be distinguished.”
Henry Narvae, 23, a local resident, told CNN that such extreme containment measures were a distraction from a real lack of health services. “The only solution the authorities have put in place is to limit the citizens without providing any assistance,” he said.
“Here in Guama, the mayor took to mark houses and terrify the population with the military, which reminds me of the Nazis, when the city only has an ambulance to move patients,” he added.
Neither Duque nor Daza responded to CNN’s attempts to contact the two mayors by phone and messages. A spokesperson for Yaracuy governor Julio Leon, who is currently in quarantine with coronavirus, told CNN that the governor’s office was aware of the signs displayed in Guama, but did not say whether Duque was facing censorship by local authorities. They also said they would get back in touch with a response, but that has not happened so far.
Late Wednesday night, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced an investigation into Duque’s actions, calling them “macabre” and unsanctioned by the Venezuelan government. Saab confirmed to CNN that Duque was under investigation, but said he could not comment on the pending case. The attorney general took several hours to intervene in the situation, and when he did, social media was on fire around the matter.
The two mayors are not alone in ordering drastic measures to try to contain the virus. Besieged President Nicolas Maduro himself has taken the extreme decision to order that all potential Covid-19 cases be hospitalized in local hospitals or quarantined in ad hoc facilities in hotels and recreation centers.
As of Thursday morning, however, at least one of the Covid-19 signs displayed in Guama had been removed, Narvae told CNN, describing it as a small sign of defiance. “The mayor wants to give the impression of control, but people do not agree,” he said.
CNNE’s Osmary Hernandez in Caracas and journalist Keren Torres in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, contributed to this report.