As part of a rare deal between Venezuela’s government and the opposition, some US$ 30.3 million of the country’s offshore funds that were frozen under U.S. sanctions will be used to pay for coronavirus vaccines.
The shots should arrive in the coming months through the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative, according to the opposition. The Pan American Health Organization and Unicef will have strict supervision over how the shots are deployed.
“This is the best opportunity we have so far to stop the virus,” said Juan Guaido, president of the opposition-led National Assembly. “We are going to make every effort to efficiently and quickly make these vaccines enter the country.”
The accord contemplates paying US$ 18.2 million for the first shipment of vaccines and US$ 12.1 million for the cold chain equipment that is sorely missing in many of the country’s hospitals which face constant blackouts.
Venezuela’s opposition will now ask the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for a license to use the funds which are under Guaido’s control after he was recognized as the country’s rightful leader by the U.S. and more than 60 nations after storming onto the scene in 2019.
In December, Guaido and much of the opposition boycotted fresh congressional elections, paving the way for the government to retain the National Assembly. But emboldened by sustained international support, Guaido continues to oversee a parallel legislative body with more sway abroad than at home.
So far, Venezuela has only received 200,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccines from Russia and 500,000 Sinopharm shots from China through the actions of President Nicolas Maduro’s administration. It’s still not clear which vaccine would arrive through the Covax facility.
Much of the WHO-backed initiative has depended on the inoculation developed by AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford but Venezuela said it wouldn’t approve that shot amid reports in Europe of potential blood clots. The European Union’s drug regulator has since said it’s safe to use.
Ciro Ugarte, the Pan American Health Organization’s head of emergencies, said this week that it’s likely Venezuela, as well as other countries, will review their decision once the WHO and other regulators determine it’s safe.
The official count of coronavirus cases in Venezuela is low compared to other countries in the region, with just 148,208 cases and 1,467 deaths reported by the government. However, in recent weeks cases are rising, ICUs have waiting lists and clinics are opening makeshift wards.