UN, EU Urge Venezuela Sanctions Relief as Coronavirus Outbreak Intensifies

The South American nation has 91 reported COVID-19 cases so far.

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for the “waiving” of sanctions on Venezuela and other nations confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. (UN/Manuel Elias)
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for the “waiving” of sanctions on Venezuela and other nations confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. (UN/Manuel Elias)
By Lucas Koerner and Ricardo Vaz
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Mérida, March 25, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Several multilateral bodies have called for easing US economic sanctions on Venezuela and other global South nations fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter addressed to the world’s twenty largest economies (G20), UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres advocated relief from international sanctions targeting Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and Zimbabwe, Foreign Policy reported.

“I am encouraging the waiving of sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support. This is the time for solidarity not exclusion,” he wrote.

In a parallel effort, Guterres launched an appeal Wednesday for just over US $2 billion in aid to twenty Southern nations battling the virus, including Venezuela, as part of a global UN response plan.

Speaking from Geneva on Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet likewise urged that broad sectoral sanctions targeting Venezuela, Cuba, and other nations be “eased or suspended” on the grounds that “impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us.”

Bachelet had previously expressed concern about the humanitarian toll of Washington’s Venezuela sanctions as recently as August 2019, but she declined to call for the unilateral measures to be lifted.

Since 2017, the Trump administration has imposed harsh economic sanctions on Venezuela, which in 2019 were escalated to include an oil embargo and a blanket ban on all transactions with Venezuelan state entities. Washington moved to tighten the sanctions on March 12, blacklisting subsidiaries of Russian energy giant Rosneft reportedly involved in trading Venezuelan crude.

The former Chilean president’s remarks came on the heels of similar comments by European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who backed requests by Venezuela and Iran for emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“We are going to support this request because these countries are in a very difficult situation mainly due to the US sanctions that prevent them from having income by selling their oil,” the top EU diplomat stated during a virtual press conference on Monday.

Both Caracas and Tehran have sent formal appeals to the IMF for US $5 billion to address the pandemic. While the body has yet to respond to Iran, the IMF was quick to deny Venezuela’s request last week, claiming that it does not have “clarity on recognition” of the Maduro government

Addressing the nation on Tuesday evening, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro welcomed the “positive” statements by the EU and High Commissioner Bachelet, stressing the urgency of immediately lifting sanctions.

“There’s a growing conscience worldwide against the criminal [US] blockade and sanctions,” he said, adding that the country was preparing legal and diplomatic avenues to have sanctions removed at least during the coronavirus pandemic.

Maduro announced that seven new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several states, bringing the total in Venezuela to 91 as of Tuesday evening. Out of the total, two patients are in critical condition and 15 have recovered. Maduro indicated that the country now has cases of local transmission, as people who contracted the virus abroad infect others in their community.

The president added that over 13 million people have filled an online survey reporting possible coronavirus symptoms through the Homeland Card platform and that almost 35 thousand cases required door-to-door medical visits, 27 thousand of which have already been carried out.

The Venezuelan government imposed a nationwide quarantine in an effort to contain the virus . People have been urged to stay at home, with only food stores, pharmacies and some public institutions remaining open. Long distance transport has been suspended, while local public transport is reserved for healthcare workers, public officials and citizens attending activities deemed essential.

Caracas likewise announced measures to mitigate the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis, including the state covering the payrolls of small and midsized firms as well as a moratorium on rent payments.

Ricardo Vaz reporting from Mérida and Lucas Koerner from Santiago de Chile.