US blockade reportedly hampers Venezuela’s COVID-19 vaccination

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Venezuela has purchased 10 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine. (Prensa Latina)

By Paul Dobson

Mérida, (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government has denounced that its capacity to purchase coronavirus vaccines has been hindered by the US-led blockade.

In his first COVID-19 -19 report of 2021, president Nicolas Maduro cited Washington-imposed global financial restrictions, secondary sanction threats and blocked foreign assets as some of the obstacles his administration has faced in fighting the pandemic.

“Venezuelan resources to buy vaccines are frozen and plundered in England, Portugal, Spain and the USA. We have demanded that they hand the money over but they have refused,” he explained on Sunday, calling on the United Nations and World Health Organization to mediate.

Maduro also criticised how the vaccines are being distributed and sold on the global market, stating that they “should be in the public domain and for international benefit, but this isn’t being achieved. They shouldn’t be objects of savage mercantilism.”

Venezuela managed to purchase a reported 10 million doses of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine last Tuesday and is reportedly “coordinating” with Cuba for the possible purchase of locally produced vaccines when ready.

“The Russian vaccine is not blocked off to Venezuela. We paid for it with generous financing plans which Russia offered us,” Maduro explained last week, without offering further details. The vaccine is due to begin to be administered in Venezuela before April.

The Caribbean country is also taking part in clinical trials for a Chinese vaccine, and it is unclear whether it has approached US- or UK-based vaccine manufacturers which would be hampered from selling their product to Venezuela due to sanctions.

Washington’s unilateral coercive measures open the way for secondary sanctions against third parties trading with Venezuela, with a host of shipping firms, food suppliers and tech firms the latest to be castigated by the Trump administration. They also have seen billions of dollars of Venezuelan assets frozen or transferred to opposition groups, as well as seriously limiting Caracas’ access to the global banking system and credit lines. Likewise, the Treasury Department’s measures have also severely hit Venezuela’s exporting industries such as oil, which remains the nation’s main source of income. Washington’s close allies in Europe have followed suit and frozen a number of Venezuelan resources, including US $1.8 billion of gold in England which was destined for UN-mediated healthcare purchases.

An ample chorus of international voices calling for sanction relief during the Covid-19 pandemic, including UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Pope Francis, has had little effect, with the Trump administration doubling down on the policy through 2020.

As a result, the Maduro government has increasingly turned to countries with minimal US exposure for international trade and foreign investment, including China, Turkey and Iran. Relations with Russia have also been strengthened in recent years, especially in industry, oil, and the military.

Apart from Venezuela, Sputnik V has also been approved for use in Bolivia and is already being rolled out in Mexico and Argentina, where authorities were forced to debunk a host of false stories de-legitimising the vaccine on social media over the weekend.

The US-developed Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently being administered in Chile, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Mexico, has been approved for use in Colombia and Ecuador, and is expected to be approved in Uruguay in the coming days. Britain’s AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine has been approved in Brazil and Colombia but is yet to be supplied to Latin America.

As part of its fight against the pandemic, Venezuela resumed its week-on-week-off lockdown model this Monday after culminating four successive weeks of more flexible measures during December.

Despite describing the December period as a “success,” authorities have announced that they expect a “large-scale increase” of COVID-19 cases in January and are calling on the population to resume strict social distancing and facemask wearing. The government is also looking to increase the local production of DR-10 molecule-based treatments and monitoring of localised outbreaks closely.

Under the week-on-week-off model, generalised economic activity and citizen movement are restricted for a week before being permitted the following week. During “flexible” weeks, a range of locations and shops are allowed to open in normal hours, including parks, tourist hotspots, bars and churches. Schools and universities, however, remain closed, and internal flights suspended. International flights are only arriving from Mexico, Bolivia and Turkey.

According to government spokespersons, the model will continue in place until vaccination begins.

Venezuela reported 147 new coronavirus cases on Sunday and two deaths, bringing its official tally to 114,230 identified cases and 1,034 deaths. According to government data, 108,268 patients have successfully recovered and there are currently 4,928 active cases in the country.

As in other countries, official figures have been questioned by some sectors, with many pointing to deteriorated medical services, a lack of PCR tests and vast numbers of people choosing to self-isolate without taking the test.

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