Venezuela Extends COVID-19 Quarantine as Pope Criticizes Sanctions

This is the first time the Pontiff has spoken out against the measures.

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Vice President Delcy Rodriguez announces the extension of the emergency decree, as well as awarding honours to the Chinese medical team which has been in the country to assist in efforts to contain the coronavirus. (MPPRE)
Vice President Delcy Rodriguez announces the extension of the emergency decree, as well as awarding honours to the Chinese medical team which has been in the country to assist in efforts to contain the coronavirus. (MPPRE)
By Paul Dobson
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Mérida, April 13, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government has extended a national lockdown to prevent coronavirus transmission for thirty more days.

As of April 13, the country has registered 189 cases with 110 patients recovered and nine deceased.

The quarantine came into force on March 17 as part of a State of Constitutional Alarm decree, which grants the government special powers to act in the interests of national health. The decree has been extended until May 12 and may be extended further if deemed necessary.

Under the restrictions, Venezuelans are allowed to circulate only to purchase medicine, food, or other basic necessities, with all non-essential businesses obliged to remain closed.

The government has also decreed the suspension of all rents and capital and loan interest payments, and has promised to cover small and mid-sized businesses’ payrolls. A workplace stability decree has been extended until December, and public and private utility providers, including telecommunications companies, have been barred from cutting off customers.

Venezuela’s borders have additionally been closed, with humanitarian exemptions granted for returning nationals, who are forced to adhere to a 14-day isolation period before returning to their homes. Curfews from 4pm to 10am have been imposed on selected border municipalities.

Speaking Saturday, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez congratulated Venezuelans on their “great discipline and sacrifice” since the lockdown began, emphasising that “the curve has been flattened.” She went on to warn, however, that the “battle has not been won.”

Venezuela has been aided in its struggle against the pandemic by a Chinese delegation of eight specialist doctors who completed their two-week mission and returned home on Sunday. The team was awarded the Francisco de Miranda Medal Second Class.

Likewise, the Caribbean country has received two shipments of medical aid from China, with 55 tonnes arriving on March 28 and a further 30 tonnes landing at Caracas’ Maiquetia airport on Sunday. According to government sources, the latest shipment includes gloves, facemasks, protective suits and 15,000 PCR testing kits.

Venezuela has been forced to rely on donations from international allies and the Pan American Health Organization to equip its fragile health system against the virus, with Washington’s unilateral coercive measures hindering the purchase of vital supplies in global markets.

Since 2017, the Trump administration has imposed hard-hitting economic sanctions on Venezuela, including freezing foreign bank accounts, blocking credit lines, and seizing high-value assets abroad. These measures were escalated in 2019 to include an oil embargo and a blanket ban on all transactions with Venezuelan state entities, which have been enforced via secondary sanctions on foreign entities.

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Pope Francis tells Christians that sanctions against Venezuela should be “relaxed.” (Alessandro Di Meo / AP)
Pope Francis tells Christians that sanctions against Venezuela should be “relaxed.” (Alessandro Di Meo / AP)

On Sunday, Pope Francis spoke out against international sanctions during his Urbi et Orbi Easter address from Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

“This is not a time for forgetfulness (…) for division (…) or for indifference,” he reminded Catholics worldwide.

“In light of the present circumstances, may international sanctions be relaxed, since these make it difficult for countries on which they have been imposed to provide adequate support to their citizens,” the Pontiff continued, adding that he wishes to see “concrete and immediate solutions to be reached that can permit international assistance to a [Venezuelan] population suffering from the grave political, socio- economic and health situation.”

The pope’s speech follows increasing international pressure to ease sanctions against Venezuela amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Vatican has repeatedly refused to “align itself” with any political players in Venezuela’s power struggle, but did mediate at the 2016 and 2019 talks. The Church’s representatives in the country, the Episcopal Conference, has however publicly backed former National Assembly President Juan Guaido in his efforts to oust Maduro.

Edited by Lucas Koerner from Santiago de Chile.

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