After the Guaidó coalition and Maduro government agreed in February to expand the PAHO accord reached in June 2020 to cooperate for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, negotiations are still underway to facilitate the delivery of vaccines through the WHO-linked COVAX initiative. The Maduro government remains steadfast in its refusal to authorize the AstraZeneca vaccine, doses of which had been reportedly set aside for Venezuela by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO). Instead, talks with the opposition are ongoing to receive other vaccines in the mechanism such as Johnson & Johnson, which would not be available for distribution until July.
Vice President Delcy Rodríguez announced in February that the Maduro government would not authorize the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine citing concerns over adverse side effects, throwing a wrench into efforts to distribute the doses that had been initially set aside. Critics have suggested that the decision to refuse authorization for the AstraZeneca vaccine is based on political incentives rather than health concerns, as Maduro seems to prefer to seek Russian and Chinese vaccines over giving the Guaidó opposition an early win. While Venezuela has received a total of 750,000 doses to date—500,000 of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and 250,000 of the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine—this alone will not cover the needs of Venezuela’s population of nearly 30 million. Though Maduro recently proposed a deal to receive vaccines in exchange for crude oil, the Russian and Chinese governments appear more interested in cash than Venezuelan crude, which they already receive in large quantities.
The complications around the authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine follow a landmark agreement reached between the Guaidó coalition and the Maduro government in February, in which the opposition agreed to unfreeze Venezuelan assets abroad to help pay for vaccines for Venezuelan citizens. In March, Guaidó’s Comisión Delegada announced that it would publicly request that the U.S. Treasury unfreeze $30.3 million USD in assets for this purpose, $18.2 million of which would be used to pay Venezuela’s debts to PAHO in order to access the COVAX initiative, and $12.1 million of which would be designated towards logistical and supply chain costs associated with the vaccine distribution.
However, PAHO authorities say that these funds have not yet been unfrozen by the U.S. Treasury, and that the joint opposition-government technical team are still working out the details of a national vaccination plan that would be implemented with the oversight of UN authorities. Notably, an anonymous representative of the U.S. Department of State recently expressed their support for the ongoing negotiations to Reuters, regarding the effort as a “positive sign.”
- On April 6, a coalition of 10 mainstream opposition parties announced a shift in their strategy, announcing a “unitary alliance” with new decision-making processes in coordination with civil society actors, with the stated goal of achieving free and fair elections and providing humanitarian assistance to the country. Few details have been provided about the new decision making structure. The announcement emphasized a ‘reconfiguration’ of the opposition political parties to be “more useful, broad, and inclusive”—however, this motive was questioned the following day, when anonymous opposition activists of three out of the four mainstream opposition parties making up the G-4 alliance told Cronica Uno they had not been consulted about the initiative.
- On April 7, Julio Borges, Guaidó’s Commissioner for Foreign Relations, publicly criticized Argentine President Alberto Fernandez for turning a blind eye to human rights violations committed by the Maduro government and framing Maduro as “victim” to U.S. sanctions. The criticism comes just a few weeks after Fernandez announced that Argentina would be leaving the Lima Group, in part due to the group’s alignment with the Guaidó-led opposition.
- In an interview with El Mundo, this week Colombian President Ivan Duque appealed to the European Union to increase pressure on the Maduro government to support Venezuela’s return to democracy, and to dedicate more resources to the regional response to Venezuelan migrants and refugees. On the same day, facing a potential escalation between military forces on the Colombia-Venezuela border, Maduro’s foreign minister Jorge Arreaza announced that Venezuela had requested that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres facilitate talks between the two countries, which have not had diplomatic relations since January 2019.
- The Spanish government is taking steps to repair bilateral relations between Venezuela and EU countries, after Spanish Secretary of State Cristina Gallach recently made a surprise two-day visit to Caracas to meet with members of the Maduro government, opposition, and Venezuelan civil society.
- This week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke over the phone with Colombian President Ivan Duque, discussing the “shared commitment to the restoration of democracy and rule of law in Venezuela.” Notably, the public summary of Blinken’s call with Duque made no mention of the escalating conflict on the Colombia-Venezuela border.
- On Wednesday, April 7, the Colombian Center for Legal Studies, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia) published a research report documenting the challenges facing civil society actors in Venezuela, and offering recommendations for the international community to support these actors from abroad. To commemorate the launch of the report, the result of a series of interviews with members of 30 different organizations across the country, WOLA and Dejusticia cosponsored an event discussing the findings and implications of the study. The event featured report authors Ligia Bolivar and Ezequiel Monsalve, along with Marianna Romero of the Centro para los Defensores y la Justicia, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor, and WOLA’s Geoff Ramsey, and can be viewed in English on WOLA’s YouTube channel.
- On April 6, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a statement reiterating its concern over the lack of sexual and reproductive health services in Venezuela, and called on the Maduro government to eliminate barriers to access these services and to reconsider its strict abortion laws. The IACHR statement expressed particular concern over the situation for pregnant women in Venezuela, and the fact that the Maduro government has not published official statistics on the maternal mortality rate in the country since 2016.
- This week, reports emerged that the PSUV-aligned mayor of Sucre, Luis Adrian Duque, has begun placing red warning signs on the homes of people infected with COVID-19, and has threatened to cut welfare benefits such as food handouts and publicly-distributed cooking gas for those who do not comply with quarantine restrictions. The Venezuelan Prosecutor’s office announced an investigation into Duque’s actions, which follow a trend of government persecution of individuals affected by COVID-19 in Venezuela.
- Guaidó’s Human Rights Commissioner, Humberto Prado, on Wednesday presented evidence to the opposition’s Delegate Commission of 525 cases of extrajudicial killings by the Venezuelan National Police (FAES) over the course of 2020. Prado also shared that 96% of households in Venezuela live in a state of poverty, with 79% of the population in a situation of extreme poverty.
- Thousands remain in shelters in the Colombian border city of Arauquita due to the ongoing armed conflict between the Venezuelan military and armed rebel groups in the state of Apure. At least 5,000 Venezuelans have fled across the border to Colombia over the last two weeks, though the true scale of the violence is unknown due to repression on the media and NGO actors reporting on the conflict in Venezuela. Amid the conflict, Colombian President Ivan Duque is reportedly exploring options to extend temporary regular status to those fleeing the violence in Apure.
- On Thursday, April 8, Refugees International published a report documenting the situation for Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Peru during the COVID-19 pandemic, and providing recommendations for the Peruvian government to provide additional support to Venezuelans in the country. The report, which draws on a series of interviews with Venezuelans in Peru, encourages the Peruvian government to fully incorporate Venezuelans in the national COVID-19 response and vaccination plan.
- This week, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced a $2 million plan to support Venezuelan migrants and refugees in host communities in Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Guyana. The funding will be allocated to a series of programs designed to support access to education, entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment, and inclusion.
- On Wednesday, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez announced in a press conference that the government would launch its mass vaccination plan in the second quarter of 2021. Rodriguez stated that the government would distribute the vaccine in a way that is “universal and free,” and denounced elitism in vaccine access in other countries. These comments were quickly criticized, as many pointed out that top officials within the Maduro government were first to receive COVID-19 vaccines in Venezuela.
- This week, students of the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) held mass demonstrations near the University Hospital of Caracas to protest the more than 400 health sector workers who have died from COVID-19 in Venezuela. The students demanded an aggressive national vaccination plan and guaranteed inoculation for all health care workers. The protesters staged bags full of papers to represent the lives lost to the pandemic, which were promptly destroyed by pro-Maduro counter-protesters.
- Medicos Unidos Venezuela, an NGO representing health care workers in Venezuela, has called on the Maduro government to declare a national emergency after a recent spike in COVID-related deaths among medical personnel. In March alone, 75 health professionals died from the virus, bringing the overall number of COVID-19 deaths among medical professionals since the beginning of the pandemic to over 440.