Venezuela’s opposition has approved a measure to ask the U.S. government to unfreeze funding for a COVID-19 vaccine in the country, bringing the country one step closer to mass vaccination even as significant hurdles remain.
On March 19, the “Delegated Commission” that the Venezuelan opposition considers the only valid legislature in the country presented a measure that authorizes $30 million in funding to facilitate access to a COVID-19 vaccine. The plan amounts to a request that the U.S. Treasury unfreeze $18 million so that Venezuela can pay outstanding debts to the World Health Organization (WHO) and access the WHO-linked COVAX initiative intended to provide COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries, and another $12 million to bolster the country’s temperature-controlled supply chain for the vaccine.
The measure comes amid doubts regarding the future of a Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) mechanism in which the Maduro government and opposition have agreed, at least in principle, to coordinate the purchase and distribution of vaccines for the country’s population. A potential blow to this deal came on March 15, when Maduro’s Vice President Delcy Rodríguez announced that the AstraZeneca vaccine would not be authorized for use in Venezuela, in the wake of European governments’ concerns around certain potential cardiovascular side effects of the vaccine. Previously, PAHO authorities had announced that between 1.4 million and 2.14 million AstraZeneca vaccines had been set aside for Venezuela as part of the COVAX initiative.
Though Rodríguez stated in her address that the Maduro government is maintaining negotiations with a variety of vaccine providers “to guarantee the immunization of the entire population in the coming months,” a plan for the inoculation of the country’s population of 30 million remains to be seen. The government claimed to have secured a total of 700,000 vaccine doses between Russia’s Sputnik-V and China’s Sinopharm, but distribution has not been fully transparent. Out of the first shipments of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine intended to inoculate 100,000 individuals in the health sector, Tal Cual reports that only 66% have been fully accounted for to date, with the status of the remaining 34% unknown. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s National Academy of Medicine claimed this week that the government only has enough vaccines to immunize 38% of the population at this time.
- This week the Nominations Committee chosen by the National Assembly elected in the widely-questioned December 6 legislative elections announced that it would extend the period to submit nominations for candidates for the National Electoral Council (CNE) an additional 10 days. The announcement occurs amid credible reports of parallel negotiations occurring outside the National Assembly between the government and representatives of the opposition, with the support of independent civil society. For this reason, the announcement has been perceived by some analysts as a sign that negotiations are ongoing..
- In support of these negotiations, the civil society organizations that make up the independent Foro Cívico coalition are organizing peaceful protests around the country to increase pressure for the selection of an impartial electoral commission. On March 16, WOLA organized a widely-attended public event with electoral experts Griselda Colina, Eugenio Martinez, and Roberto Picon, all three of whom are among the 15 individuals the Foro Civico has presented as candidates for CNE. See an overview of the three experts’ main points here.
- On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Cape Verde ruled that Alex Saab, Colombian businessman and close ally of Nicolás Maduro, may be extradited to the U.S. where he faces prosecution for money laundering charges. The decision comes just two days after a regional court, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), separately ordered the immediate release and termination of all ongoing extradition proceedings against Saab in Cape Verde, where he has been detained since his arrest in June 2020.
- This week, opposition leader Juan Guaidó met with the foreign political leaders that make up the IDEA (Democratic Initiative of Spain and the Americas) group including former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana, former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, and former Venezuelan Foreign Minister Asdrúbal Aguiar. According to the Guaidó readout of the meeting, the politicians discussed the need for international cooperation to support the most vulnerable populations within Venezuela.
- Groups within Venezuela are raising alarms about the potential for diesel shortages in the country, the result of a Trump administration decision to end exemptions in U.S. sanctions to allow for diesel swaps with Venezuela, to trigger a national food security crisis.
- On Tuesday, The Senate Armed Services Committee held a public hearing in which Navy Admiral Craig Faller of the U.S. Southern Command discussed U.S. counter-narcotic policy in the Caribbean, and the role of Russia and China in supporting criminal networks in Venezuela. In his testimony Admiral Faller acknowledged that U.S. sanctions have not been successful in achieving their goal of regime change, and that they have aggravated Venezuela’s humanitarian and migratory crisis.
- Colombian President Iván Duque called on the country to refrain from “populist and demagogic discourse” towards Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the country. The address followed recent xenophobic remarks from Bogotá Mayor Claudia López regarding Venezuelan migrants as violent, and blaming them for rising security failures in the country. In response to the hateful comments by López, experts have provided statistics debunking the notion that crime has increased with the arrival of Venezuelan migrants in countries throughout the region.
- On Wednesday, the government of Curaçao announced that undocumented Venezuelan migrants who had been on the island for more than a year would be eligible to receive temporary regular status. This regular status will extend access to the formal economy, medical services, and education to as many as 4,000 Venezuelans in the territory.
- Xenophobia towards Venezuelan migrants is on the rise in Peru ahead of general elections on April 11, with political candidates promoting false information about Venezuelan involvement in violent crime in the country. Two candidates for the presidency, Rafael López Aliaga and Daniel Salaverry, have vowed to deport Venezuelan migrants if elected. According to an Americas Society/Council of the Americas overview of recent polling, neither are among the top two leading candidates though López Aliaga is a close third.
- On Wednesday, the Venezuelan Press and Society Institute (IPYS) reported that it documented 636 violations of the freedom of information over the course of 2020. This report coincides with the publication of similar statistics documenting persecution against members of the press and censorship of digital media since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Venezuelan NGO PROVEA found in its annual report that in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a rise in human rights violations against indigenous communities in Venezuela.
- In the last week Venezuela has received two shipments totaling 70 tons of humanitarian aid from the Red Cross including hygiene kits to protect vulnerable communities in the country from the spread of COVID-19.
- Venezuela continues to see signs of a surge in COVID-19 cases, despite the lack of credible independent testing data. Following a period of “radical quarantine” to mitigate the spread of the Brazilian variant of the COVID-19 virus in Venezuela, Maduro on Sunday announced a campaign to increase testing in the states of Miranda, La Guaira, Bolívar and Caracas. On Thursday the government reported 631 new cases of COVID-19 and 8 deaths.
- A new report published by the Venezuelan Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences (ACFIMAN) documented insufficient COVID-19 testing and reporting in Venezuela since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, warning that the true number of COVID cases in the country may be as much as 3 times higher than what the Maduro government has reported.