On most days, Venezuela’s authoritarian government reports a daily Covid death toll of about 17 victims, a strikingly low number given that South America as a continent currently records the highest mortality rate of the pandemic.
But Venezuelan funeral service operators say they regularly cremate at least six times more bodies a day than the official toll—a telling indicator because health authorities want those who have died of respiratory disease to be cremated rather than buried.
Health-sector advocates and rights organizations say Venezuela is greatly underreporting the pandemic’s toll in a country where the regime has long been accused of hiding and manipulating health data, arresting doctors who publicize deficiencies in hospitals and failing to report on epidemics to international organizations.
The country of 28 million has officially recorded 2,500 Covid-19 deaths, a fraction of the more than 180,000 lives lost in Peru, which has a slightly larger population, or the 105,000 who have died in neighboring Colombia, which has a bit less than double Venezuela’s population.
Some health experts say there could be 20 times more citizens dying each day from the virus than the government says, which could mean tens of thousands of fatalities since Covid-19 arrived.