By Reinaldo Iturriza
On April 6, 2017, Julio Borges, then president of the National Assembly, and deputy for the ultra-right-wing Justice First party, offered controversial statements at the exit of a meeting with the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro. According to Borges, the “crisis in Venezuela,” and specifically the “social problem of migration,” should be considered a “contagious disease for the entire region.” After referring to the number of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Argentina and Brazil, he described Venezuela as “the focus of what social degradation means” (1).
Such statements were amply noted across public media (2), and at least part of Venezuelan society reacted indignantly, describing them as ominous, denigrating and unjustified.
However, it was not the first time that Julio Borges expressed himself in such terms. On March 1 of the same year, in an interview with a Dominican newspaper, he declared that the Venezuelan “is a society that is completely dehumanizing.” Without offering further details, he said: “Last week one brother killed another for a piece of bread.” Later, he added that the “Venezuelan problem” represented a “regional problem,” that is, “a kind of contagious disease that has to do with the issue of mass migration,” among other problems, and that these threatened the “destruction of peace and stability in the region” (3).
A few days later, on March 7, through his Twitter account, he said: “Latin America is now another region and the (Venezuelan) government is a contagious disease that puts its democracy and progress at risk” (4).
On March 31, at a press conference from the National Assembly, he declared: “Venezuela has become a country that is a problem for the entire region and a contagious disease… Not only because of the immigration problem… It is not just about this sad disarray and exodus of Venezuelans, but also of problems that are linked to those in power in Venezuela: drug trafficking problems … terrorism … militarism … of armed paramilitary groups on Venezuelan soil. Today, the peace of the region depends on democracy in Venezuela ”(5).
Days after his meeting with the OAS Secretary General, The Washington Times published an interview in which Julio Borges insisted: “Venezuela is no longer a local problem of governance and authoritarianism, but a contagious disease that has roots and tentacles in all the problems of the region” (6).
Surely, an exhaustive review of Borges public interventions during the first months of 2017 would show that the deputy used the same speech on other occasions. The relationship made here is sufficient in the sense that it allows us to verify this discursive regularity, the indiscriminate repetition of the same topics, and particularly the relationship established between the migratory phenomenon and the metaphor of the contagious disease.
Beyond even the figure of Julio Borges, and without this implying at all his political responsibility be saved, the important thing is the content of the discourse, the historical conditions that make it possible and the effects of power that he pursues and produces.
There is no doubt that Borges is deliberately repeating a learned speech or, more precisely, a speech that was most likely decided or set elsewhere. The deputy is relevant above all to the extent that he is the agent that conveys that speech.
First, Borges is an agent of lines of power that actively pursue the involvement of other power factors in the Venezuelan political struggle. These lines of force have a national presence, but are also beyond national borders, primarily in the United States, which also acts as an imperial sovereign on a global scale.
The calculation is more or less as follows: the involvement of other power factors is essential to resolve the Venezuelan political conflict in favor of the national and transnational forces that Borges embodies, just a vector of a thick global plot; what happens is an indirect recognition of the relative weakness of these (local) forces: by themselves they have not been able to resolve the situation.
In this context, described in a very schematic way, is that the use of the metaphor of the contagious disease makes sense: the “Venezuelan problem” is no longer such, and became a problem that threatens peace, stability, Democracy and progress throughout the region. The sad disbanding of Venezuelans, their growing presence in several Latin American and Caribbean countries, would be the clearest proof of that.
However, the most problematic of the discourse that Borges transmits is that the contagious disease is not embodied exclusively by the authoritarian or dictatorial regime, to express it in its (own) terms, but by the migrants themselves, agents of “social degradation”, which spread throughout the region as a kind of virus. In other words, not content to create a “society that is completely dehumanizing,” the Venezuelan regime would be exporting degraded and dehumanized contingents.
How to contain the contagion? Precisely through the active involvement of the host nations, and therefore victims of these agents of social degradation who are Venezuelan migrants, added to all the effort to “create maximum international pressure” (7) against the Venezuelan government, supposedly led by the Trump Administration. Revealingly, in the interview with The Washington Times, Borges highlights the relevance of the role he plays: it is “very important for us to be a factor that helps” create such pressure.
In the same interview, Borges went further, and dared to recommend measures that the Trump Administration could implement: “[They could block] political or commercial exchange with Venezuela … which would mean the complete isolation of the country, a country under quarantine”.
The recommendation was perfectly consistent: to contain the contagious disease, a quarantine is required.
Almost exactly two years later, on April 1, 2019, on the outskirts of the White House, an American journalist asked Donald Trump if he was considering imposing a “blockade” or “quarantine” on Venezuela, given its close relationship with governments such as those of China and Iran. The answer was a laconic: “Yes” (8).
And it was as if Trump responded affirmatively, at least for the first time in a public way, to his agent in Venezuela, although, to tell the truth, it has been a while since Julio Borges has been on Venezuelan soil. Of course, in the case of Borges, who since the end of August of this year has been acting as “chancellor” of the deputy Juan Guaidó, it is possible to speak of an exile, persecuted by the Venezuelan dictatorship, and not of an agent of “social degradation.”
(1) Borges: “Crisis in Venezuela can become a contagious disease . ” Voice of America, April 6, 2017.
(2) Julio Borges says that Venezuelan emigration is a “contagious disease” for the countries of the region . Alba City, April 16, 2017.
(3) Abel Guzmán Then. “Our Venezuela is dehumanizing, and it’s like a contagious disease . ” Diario Libre, March 1, 2017.
(5) Julio Borges: Venezuela is a contagious disease for the entire region . March 31, 2017.
(6) F rederic Puglie. Venezuelan opposition leader sees positive effect from Trump’s blunt diplomacy . The Washington Times, April 17, 2019.
(7) Frederic Puglie. Venezuelan opposition leader sees positive effect from Trump’s blunt diplomacy . The Washington Times, April 17, 2019.
(8) Jennifer A Dlouhy and Samy Adghirni. Trump Says He’s Considering Blockade or Quarantine of Venezuela . Bloomberg, August 1, 2019.
Translated by JRE/EF