The Venezuelan Red Death Mask

By Alicia P.
Photo credit: Image taken from eldukeoficial Instagram’s account.

A few days ago, a friend who lives in Caracas did some reading recommendations that echo the pandemic situation. Thus, among other things, he advised us to read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Mask of the Red Death”. This short story tells the tale of an epidemic somewhere in Europe, from which aristocrats seek protection by leaving cities full of infected people, locking themselves in a castle with food and everything necessary to pass their own quarantine. But, as aristocratic habits dictate, this quarantine began with a masked ball, a great feast during which the confined aristocrats enjoy their beautiful spaces and the extra food they have reserved for themselves, while the rest of the population is left to die sick or hungry. But a sick person manages to fit into the masked ball, thanks to a red mask which hid the signs of the illness that sickened him. Thanks to this strategy, this person manages to make the confined aristocrats sick, who therefore saw their red masked death approach.

In recent times reality and fiction are hard to distinguish from each other. For example, at the beginning of the new Coronavirus crisis in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro talked about a party held on an island, whose guests would later start to test positive for the virus. A few days later, the general public was able to know what happened. Indeed, a party was held on the very exclusive island (and therefore not affordable for ordinary Venezuelan tourists) of Los Roques; apparently to record a reggaeton clip. People travelled from the Venezuelan mainland and from other countries to Los Roques, and this in the middle of the Covid-19 alerts going around the world.

Nicolas Maduro swayed off criticisms for the “Coronavirus Party”, as it became popularly known. “I don’t know why it has been criticised”, he said on March 23. One of the hosts of the party was a son of Elvis Amoroso, the country’s Comptroller General. Jesus Amoroso called on his critics to use the quarantine to do housework. He goes by the alias of “The Duke”, a macabre detail which pays tribute to the analogy with Poe’s tale.

Sadly, the careless attitude of those who participated in this event has today great consequences. At this point we must think of the local population of the island, as their paradisiac status (few people, little infrastructure) keeps it far away from any medical care institution. We have to think about the staff that hosted the party, whose pay will never be enough to compensate for the health risk they were exposed to. We must also think about the trajectories the guests took when they returned to Caracas or to other countries, infecting who knows how many people on their way. We must also think of the guests themselves, to whom I would not wish any adversity in terms of health, but to whom I would wish a conscience as heavy as the consequences of their actions.

A pandemic is a political problem, which exists within our class, race and gender, and which affects us unequally, whether in terms of contagion, access to care, situations of confinement or the ability to move on after the crisis. The ethos of the dominant classes is a collective danger, as well as the survival of their privileges. And in Venezuela, those privileges have unfortunately taken a very indecent form, offering a place in reality for death behind the red mask imagined one day by Poe in the middle of the 19th century.

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