Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza

CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP) – Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza claimed yesterday that without economic sanctions against the Government of President Nicolas Maduro, the country would already have purchased all 30 million coronavirus vaccines it needs.

The United States, one of many countries not to recognise Maduro’s re-election in 2018, has frozen millions of dollars of Venezuelan money in US bank accounts.

 

It views the election as fraudulent, and along with European and other countries recognises Opposition Leader Juan Guaido as the country’s acting president.

 

Washington has handed control of the frozen funds to Guaido.

 

“If Venezuela did not have its resources blocked we would have been able to buy the 30 million vaccines the country needs three months ago,” Arreaza said in an interview with AFP.

 

“As they are blocked, here we are.”

 

Venezuela has received 250,000 of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine doses to date, and half-a-million from China’s Sinopharm.

 

Health workers, teachers and government officials are first in line.

 

Guaido last month said he would allocate $30 million in the frozen funds towards vaccinations in Venezuela.

 

Caracas is negotiating to buy more doses from the global COVAX vaccine access programme.

 

The director of the Emergency Health Department of the Pan American Health Organization, Ciro Ugarte, has said that “negotiations and talks continue and efforts to unblock Venezuela’s resources abroad are still in progress”.

 

But no payment for COVAX vaccines had yet been made, he said.

 

Like the rest of South America, Venezuela is battling a harsh new pandemic wave fuelled, authorities say, by more infectious virus variants from Brazil.

 

Officially, the country has had 165,000 cases and some 1,700 deaths, but observer groups such as Human Rights Watch question the numbers, which they say are likely vastly underestimated.