The government of President Nicolás Maduro denounced on Thursday that some 10 million dollars were “blocked” as a result of the international sanctions imposed on the country by Washington, preventing Venezuela from completing the amount required to be a beneficiary of the COVAX mechanism, created by the United Nations to ensure equitable access to immunization.
The blocking of funds comes as the Venezuelan government seeks to boost its massive vaccination plan against COVID-19.
The sanctioned countries “also have the difficulty of blocking our peoples to access treatments, equipment, vaccines,” said Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez in statements broadcast on state television.
The government “with great sacrifice managed to pay the fee of 120 million dollars that corresponds so that Venezuela has access to the batch of vaccines”, through COVAX.
On Monday the notification was received in Switzerland that the last portion of the amount to be paid was in limbo.
COVAX reported in a statement that since April 13, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI, for its acronym in English), “has received 12 transactions from Venezuela” for an amount of more than 109.9 million dollars, highlighting that Some 10 million dollars are still pending, Rodríguez said.
“Why this balance? Venezuela paid the full fee that COVAX requires, “but” the last four payments were blocked, “he said. The vice president indicated that COVAX received the notification from the Swiss bank UBS “that the payments have been blocked and are under investigation.”
The “US lobby has the power to block resources that go to immunize the population of Venezuela,” he said.
Citing “legal and regulatory reasons,” a spokeswoman for the Swiss bank told The Associated Press that she could not comment on matters related to potential clients.
Without giving details, the spokeswoman assured that UBS complies “with the legal and regulatory requirements applicable in all jurisdictions, including the respective sanctions regimes, which include at least the sanctions currently imposed by Switzerland, the UN, the United Kingdom, the EU. and the USA ”.
Washington froze all Venezuelan government assets in the United States and banned Americans from doing business with Caracas to pressure Maduro to leave power.
The sanctions also mean that the Venezuelan government can carry out financial and commercial transactions abroad, access international assets and carry out operations with oil, gold or other resources.
Through COVAX, Venezuela expected to receive a supply of 11,374,400 doses from the basket of different vaccines it provides. This volume represents 20% of the vaccines needed to immunize the population, estimated at about 30 million.
The day before, the Pan American Health Organization indicated that the processes for COVAX to make the vaccines available for Venezuela are underway, and next week it could be known what type of dose and the amount. Then the South American nation should decide whether to accept them or not.
“We do not have information on the full payment,” said Ciro Ugarte, PAHO’s director of Health Emergencies, in a virtual conference of the organization. “There is still a balance of 10 million,” he said.
Ugarte clarified that the vaccines would not be available soon, but said that they hope that “Venezuela will have priority” because it has not had access to enough.
It is feared that the blocking of payments will significantly slow down the vaccination process in Venezuela. The authorities have said that after the amount required by COVAX was canceled, that agency proceeds to negotiate vaccines with the different world suppliers and allocate them according to “what each country chooses.”
Venezuela has stated that it will not authorize the use in the country of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the coronavirus and has asked COVAX to allow it to choose between the different vaccines that are available.
Venezuela —which has expressed its willingness to consider “all the vaccine candidates that they have”, has said that it will choose the vaccine “based on the scientific sovereignty” of the country. He dismissed AstraZeneca, citing reports of negative effects in some people after being inoculated.
Venezuela began on February 18 the first phase of vaccination focused on the health, safety and education sector, and on May 29 it added to the process those over 60 years of age.
Since February 13, at least 380,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine have arrived, representing 3.8% of the total of 10 million initially agreed in December between the governments of Caracas and Moscow.
Venezuela also received on March 1 a batch of 500,000 doses of the Vero Cell vaccine from the Chinese state company Sinopharm, donated by the Asian giant. On May 23, Maduro announced the arrival of 1.3 million vaccines from China, without giving details.
In Venezuela – where the coronavirus has not hit as hard as in other South American countries – there are 2,764 deaths and more than 246,700 positive cases, of which about 14,400 active cases remain.