Venezuelan Children Continue to Die Under US Sanctions While Washington Funds ‘Democracy Programs’

Deadly sanctions and opposition funding remain high on the US agenda.


Venezuelan human rights organization Fundalatin recently announced the death of Gabriel Cisneros, a Venezuelan child who could not receive a liver transplant because Washington’s murderous sanctions continue to paralyze the state-funded program that covered these procedures.

Gabriel is sadly one more in a long list of victims of the US economic war. The Simón Bolívar Foundation is the social program of US-based Venezuelan oil subsidiary CITGO. It was created in 2006 by former President Hugo Chávez to help patients with rare cancers, especially children with leukemia, receive transplants and other life-saving treatments in hospitals abroad when these were not available in the country.

However, financial sanctions imposed in 2017 against Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, CITGO’s parent company, blocked the Venezuelan government from using the international financial system, thus impeding payments for kids’ treatments. The situation was later compounded when Washington seized CITGO in early 2019 and put it under the control of the US-backed self-proclaimed “interim government” led by Juan Guaidó.

Although the opposition-appointed board could have continued the social program easily bypassing US sanctions, it decided to no longer pay for treatments for critically ill patients anyway. To make matters even more infuriating one of Guaidó’s associates, Roland Carreño, was detained in 2020 carrying paperwork showing US $8,500 transfers from the Simón Bolívar Foundation to four major opposition parties every six months.

The consequence has been 14 children dying between 2017 and 2020 after not receiving transplants. Some 190 cancer patients, including 53 kids, remain stranded in the countries they went to for treatment, according to a report by United Nations (UN) independent human rights expert Alena Douhan.

Last year, the UN rapporteur visited Venezuela and brought attention to the “disastrous” health situation caused by US sanctions. Purchases of basic medicine, blood reagents, vaccines, antibiotics, anesthetics, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS treatments have been blocked, and only 20 percent of the equipment in hospitals is functioning due to the inability to obtain spare parts.

For anyone doubting how serious this problem is let me tell you another story. Last year, my uncle, who lived in Maracaibo, western Zulia state, had a stroke and was rushed to several medical centers but none had a functioning CT scan or radiotherapy machine. Doctors presumed he had a brain tumor due to his rapidly deteriorating state but they were never able to adequately examine him and prepare for a surgery that might have saved his life.

Several weeks after my uncle’s stroke that gradually left him in a vegetative condition, a family member found a private clinic with an operative radiotherapy machine but the cost was so high that it took days to gather the money and by then my uncle passed away. Not to mention that all of this happened amidst severe fuel shortages due to US sanctions against the oil industry, making the whole ordeal even more horrifying.

Undoubtedly, both Gabriel, who couldn’t receive his liver transplant, and my uncle, who was never even properly diagnosed, are direct victims of US murderous sanctions. Same as the 40,000-100,000 Venezuelans that died between 2017-2020 due to sanctions undermining human rights, according to separate studies by the Washington DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) and UN Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas.

Recently, the Nicolás Maduro government and the US-backed hardline opposition resumed talks in Mexico and reached an agreement to release some US $3 billion in Venezuelan funds seized by Washington and its European allies. The resources will reportedly be administered by UN agencies for urgent social needs, such as obtaining vaccines for children, medication for 60,000 cancer patients as well as HIV/AIDS treatments and recovering the country’s radiotherapy system.

Although there’s no clear timeline for when the funds will be freed given that it depends on Washington and their Venezuelan opposition puppets’ willingness to comply with the deal, one can only hope that it happens soon because many lives depend on it. It is worth pointing out that $3 billion is only a tiny fraction of all Venezuela’s frozen assets abroad, which ranges between 24 and 30 billion dollars, according to the government.

That said, surely we can all agree on how outrageous it is that the Venezuelan government had to sit at a negotiating table with a criminal opposition faction, one that has spearheaded violent coup attempts for years while boycotting elections, in order to access funds that rightfully belong to the Venezuelan people.

It is worth recalling that Guaidó and his acolytes have repeatedly endorsed US sanctions and have gleefully cheered for every single murderous measure levied against Venezuela. Of course, sanctions don’t affect them the same as working-class citizens. On the contrary, they have lined up their pockets with seized assets and bank accounts as well as direct US financing for this incredible scam they call “restoring democracy.”

On December 19, the US Senate approved the 2023 spending bill which includes $50 million for “democracy programs” for Venezuela, upping from the $33 and $40 million allotted in previous years. So it is no wonder that Guaidó is fighting tooth and nail to preserve his pretend presidential seat as former opposition allies look to replace him with an “executive committee.” Washington’s dismissal of Guaidó is in the winds as well.

With his most die-hard allies souring on him, Guaidó has no popular support to rely on because people saw through his self-proclamation fraud, a façade to steal Venezuelan resources and assets abroad. Recent public appearances have ended up in an egg-throwing festival while international recognition has fallen to Washington and a handful of European lackeys.

But if Guaidó loses his post as the number one US puppet, does that mean he’ll finally be prosecuted for his crimes? Very unlikely. Arresting Guaidó will be another excuse for Washington to ramp up its murderous sanctions regime. As Hugo Chávez once said:

“We are not fighting against the Venezuelan political opposition. We are not fighting against outlets that continue to be political instruments of the opposition. We are not fighting against the old, decayed, moribund parties of the Punto Fijo Pact. No! What we are fighting against is the most powerful, immoral, cynical, and murderous empire that has ever existed: the United States of America.”

And although it might be curtains for Guaidó, the opposition is not about to give up the stream of resources sent directly from their northern benefactor, like a sadistic version of Santa Claus. The three opposition forces want to end the “interim government” but wish to maintain the 2015 National Assembly — whose term expired in January 2021 but carried on through Zoom meetings while boycotting the 2020 legislative vote — as well as the ad hoc boards for CITGO and the “parallel” Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV) in order to continue controlling foreign-held frozen assets worth billions.

The opposition groups reportedly also seek to focus on primary elections scheduled for mid-2023 ahead of the 2024 presidential vote (although it could be held earlier) after failing to oust Maduro through coups and sanctions. The Venezuelan president was democratically elected for a six-year term in 2018 and only Washington and its allies alongside the ever-faithful corporate media have refused to recognize this.

Whether the US-backed right-wing forces will manage to choose a unitary candidate remains to be seen. They famously burned all the electoral books in their 2012 primaries before the last presidential election in which they participated and there are also other opposition factions that have completely disentangled themselves from Guaidó and the extreme right-wing camp while running for office and carrying separate talks with the Maduro government.

In the end, the imaginary “interim government” might continue under Guaidó or some committee, the government-opposition talks might move forward or not, and more Venezuelan frozen funds might be released next year or not. All we know for sure is that regime change remains a priority for Washington, be it through “democracy programs” or sanctions that will continue killing Venezuelan children.