Crime & Justice

Venezuela: Harsh US sanctions violate int’l law, hamper vaccine rollout

Moscow, Jun 22 (EFE).- Venezuela’s government called here Tuesday on the United States to end harsh sanctions on the oil-rich country, saying they violate international law and blaming them for delays in the country’s Covid-19 vaccination drive.

“What do we expect from (US President) Joe Biden? For him to reflect, to rectify (mistakes) … so we can establish a relationship of mutual respect,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said during a conference at the Valdai Discussion Club, a Moscow-based think tank.

“If the United States wants to do business with Venezuela, it’s welcome to,” Arreaza said, though adding it first must return the industry and companies it “forcibly wrested away.”

Among other Venezuelan assets abroad that have been stripped as part of US attempts to drive leftist President Nicolas Maduro from power, he mentioned Citgo – a US-based unit of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA that operates refineries and a network of service stations there – and Monomeros, a Colombia-based unit of Venezuelan state-owned petrochemicals company Pequiven.

Citgo was turned over to Venezuela’s opposition in early 2019 after then-President Donald Trump said Maduro’s 2018 re-election victory was marred by fraud and recognized the then-head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as that South American country’s legitimate head of state.

Guaido also took control of Monomeros in Colombia, a close US ally.

Arreaza said sanctions by Washington on Venezuela, including ones imposed in January 2019 that aimed to drastically reduce that country’s oil exports to the US, “are illegal.”

“We know the (person) sitting in the Oval Office doesn’t make the decisions in the US, but he has some influence and his team does as well. And I hope they can reflect and … return to the legality of the United Nations Charter and establish a respectful relationship with Venezuela,” the foreign minister said.

The US government last Thursday eased some economic sanctions on Venezuela and other countries to allow them to acquire pandemic-related items such as vaccines, masks, oxygen cylinders and ventilators.

“They had to issue a particular license for that. It’s very probable that that license will be useless in practice because the global financial system goes into panic when it sees the initials … of Venezuela, Iran or Cuba,” Arreaza said, referring to three countries subject to US sanctions regimes.

He recalled that amid the pandemic $6 billion in Venezuelan assets abroad have been frozen due to international sanctions.

Because of a shortage of funds, “we haven’t been able to buy sufficient vaccines” against Covid-19, Arreaza said.

Venezuela has signed a contract with Russia for 10 million vaccine doses and has received 1.2 million of them to date.

“We’re very grateful to Russia. The vaccination process is now moving ahead. Not at the speed we’d like, not at the ideal speed,” Arreaza said in a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, after the two met on Tuesday.

If not for the sanctions, “practically all of Venezuela’s population would already be vaccinated,” the foreign minister said. “You don’t know how difficult it is for a country as sanctioned as Venezuela to make its payments,” Arreaza said at the Valdai Discussion Club.

He noted that Venezuela even has had difficulties obtaining vaccines through the Covax mechanism, a World Health Organization-led effort that aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have access to Covid-19 jabs.

“We had to pay $111 million. We paid 96 percent, but the Swiss bank UBS blocked the last payment, I think for $10 million. With them blocking it, even though we’ve paid 96 percent they’re not going to send us a single vaccine, because it’s Venezuela,” the foreign minister said.

He added that if Covax is not going to supply vaccines to Venezuela then “they should return our money and we’ll buy Sputnik V, Sputnik Light and EpiVacCorona” vaccines from Russia, Arreaza said at the press conference.



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