Vaccination rates have steadily increased in Venezuela in recent months, with the assistance of the WHO-linked COVAX initiative and the support of multilateral institutions such as the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and UNICEF. On October 9, the second shipment of vaccines acquired through COVAX arrived in Venezuela, bringing the total number of vaccines delivered to the country through the COVAX mechanism to 3,288,000 so far.
In the early hours of Sunday, October 9, a shipment of 2,594,000 COVID-19 vaccines developed by Chinese pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm arrived at the Maiquetía airport outside of Caracas, with Venezuelan Health Minister Carlos Alvarado stating that distribution of those vaccines would begin on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The first shipment from COVAX consisted of 693,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine and arrived in Venezuela on September 7. These initial shipments come after GAVI confirmed that the Maduro government had completed the necessary payment to access vaccines through COVAX in July, after months of complications in processing the payment in part due to U.S. sanctions on Venezuela. In total, COVAX has agreed to provide 12,068,000 vaccines to Venezuela, or enough to inoculate 20% of the country’s population. The distribution of vaccines acquired via COVAX has been advised and overseen by PAHO and UNICEF, which have provided equipment to store and preserve vaccines, support in the printing and issuance of vaccination cards, and assistance in communicating information about the vaccine to different sectors of the population. Venezuela has also acquired millions of vaccine doses from China, Russia, and Cuba outside of the COVAX mechanism.
Though the government recently claimed that over half the population has been vaccinated, PAHO reports that only 21.6% of Venezuela’s population has received both doses. Still, this marks a considerable increase from previous months; in May it was reported that less than 1 percent of the population had received the shot. This brings the total population of Venezuelans who have received at least one dose of the vaccine to 34.5 percent. However, health experts have reported hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans waiting months to get their second dose of the Sputnik V vaccine, or never being contacted to schedule a second appointment at all. Meanwhile, Venezuela is currently experiencing its highest weekly spike in new cases since the pandemic began last year. The Maduro government has yet to publish a comprehensive vaccination plan.
- Although the Maduro government claims that it plans to reach a vaccination rate of 70 percent by the end of October, current PAHO statistics suggest that current vaccination rates are far below the number that the government has boasted publicly, and the 70 percent required to reach herd immunity.
- Facing an unprecedented rise in COVID-19 cases in Venezuela, the Maduro government announced that it is considering implementing a “stoplight” technological system to easily verify the vaccination status of patrons and allow commercial activity to resume in the country.
- After General Raúl Baduel, Venezuela’s former Defense Minister, died on October 12 after contracting COVID-19 in prison, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on the Maduro government to conduct an independent investigation into Baduel’s death. Baduel’s death has raised awareness of the lack of access to healthcare for those in detention, with Foro Penal reporting that 50 of the 259 political prisoners currently imprisoned in Venezuela are in need of urgent medical attention.
- El Centro para los Defensores y la Justicia (CDJ) published a report documenting 49 attacks on human rights defenders in September, including 27 cases of stigmatization, 18 cases of harassment and intimidation, and 4 threats on human rights organizations and their staff. The September report brings the total number of documented attacks on human rights defenders in 2021 to 609.
- Monitor Salud, a Venezuelan medical workers’ union, recorded 625 threats to health care workers throughout the country between January and September of 2021 for participating in protests and demanding better working conditions. Many of these protests highlighted issues such as a lack of PPE gear, insufficient access to vaccines for public health workers, and extremely low wages.
- Venezuelan NGO Espacio Público documented 20 violations of the freedom of expression by state institutions over the course of September, bringing the total number of violations in 2021 to 312. The primary targets of these attacks in September were the news media, journalists, and the general public.
- The EU announcement that it would send a mission to observe Venezuela’s regional and local elections on November 21 has sparked controversy among opposition radicals and their international supporters. Shortly after the EU announcement on September 29, U.S. Senators Rubio and Risch published a statement criticizing the decision, stating that the mission may provide the elections with undue legitimacy. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell defended the decision, saying that the mission does not seek to legitimize the Maduro government, but that it will only serve to either legitimize or delegitimize the November elections. This statement, in turn, provoked a vigorous response from the Maduro government and was even criticized by opposition CNE member Enrique Márquez, who denounced this language as being contrary to the agreement signed between the EU and CNE. While the Financial Times recently reported that EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell ignored the advice of staff in arriving at the decision, this article has been disputed by Borrell’s office and characterized as “seriously misleading” by close observer and WOLA Senior Fellow David Smilde, who assessed the issue in a recent Twitter thread.
- On October 14, the United Nations announced that it plans to send a team of three electoral experts to accompany the November elections and assess the conduct of the process. The announcement follows debate in recent weeks over whether the UN would send a full observation mission, which a UN spokesperson ruled out earlier this week.
- Last week, the Duque government sent 14,000 military personnel to Colombia’s border with Venezuela. The personnel come from a new military unit called CENOR, which reportedly seeks to combat drug trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime.
- On October 8, the Norwegian embassy in Mexico announced that the government and opposition would hold another round of negotiations in Mexico City from October 17 to 20. This marks the fourth round of talks since negotiations began in August.
- This week, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) conducted a test of its voting system ahead of regional and local elections scheduled for November 21. CNE President Pedro Calzadilla declared the simulation, which was accompanied by members of the opposition and overseen by national and international organizations, a success.
- Julio Borges, Guaidó’s head of foreign affairs and coordinator of the Primero Justicia party, called on the opposition to unify after a series of public disagreements regarding the management of Venezuelan assets held in foreign countries. This comes after Primero Justicia published a statement on September 27 announcing that the party would no longer participate in discussions around Venezuelan assets abroad, following a controversial decision by the Colombian government to take over the Venezuelan company Monómeros, which was previously under the control of Guaidó.
- The recent murder of two Venezuelan adolescents, aged 12 and 18, in Colombia has been a source of deep controversy this week, with Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez announcing on Wednesday that Venezuela would present a case against the Duque government before the International Criminal Court for the persecution of Venezuelan migrants. The Colombian government publicly rejected claims of xenophobia and discrimination against Venezuelans, and accused the Maduro government of attempting to distract from its own human rights violations.
- This week, Amnesty International spoke out against the authorities of Curaçao for violating the rights of Venezuelan migrants and refugees, stating that Venezuelans in the country have been subject to detention, family separation, deportation, and the denial of their right to seek asylum.
- This week, Iván Duque announced that the Colombian government had distributed its first temporary protected status card to a Venezuelan migrant named Óscar Enrique Soto, after announcing a new plan to extend regular status to nearly 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees in March.