UN Experts Warn Hundreds of Venezuelan Cancer Patients Lives’ Endangered by US Sanctions

The UN rapporteurs urged Washington to take responsibility for human rights violations and allow cancer patients' treatment.


Guayaquil, Ecuador, July 22, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Six independent UN human rights experts alerted that hundreds of Venezuelan cancer patients’ lives are under threat because of an “excessively strict application” of US sanctions.

In a press release published on Wednesday, the group of experts warned that Venezuelan cancer patients “have been stranded, destitute, in countries where they went for treatment” because “money cannot be transferred out of Venezuela,” laying blame on US unilateral measures and overcompliance policies.

“Third countries, groups of countries, banks and private companies have been overly cautious in dealings with Venezuela because they fear unintentionally violating US sanctions,” the document reads. It is signed by UN special rapporteurs Alena Douhan, Nils Melzer, Saad Alfarargi, Tlaleng Mofokeng, Obiora Okafor and Livingstone Sewanyana. Douhan visited Venezuela from February 1-12 and described the “devastating” consequences of US unilateral measures in a preliminary report.

The independent experts urged the US government, other countries and entities to “mitigate the unexpected consequences of sanctions, and reinstate treatment for people whose lives now are in danger.”

“We call on all States, banks and private companies to take full responsibility for the effects of their actions on individuals, and to withdraw sanctions, zero risk and over-compliance policies affecting core human rights,” they wrote.

Likewise, the six rapporteurs highlighted that cancer patients in Venezuela waiting to get treatment abroad are also at risk, stating that “a trip abroad has become the only hope for hundreds of critically ill patients.”

The UN independent experts brought attention to the case of the Simón Bolívar Foundation, the charitable arm of Venezuelan US-based oil subsidiary CITGO. The program was created in 2006 by former President Hugo Chávez to help cancer patients, especially children with leukemia, receive transplants and other treatments abroad.

Hundreds of patients’ treatments were discontinued “when the United States refused the control of CITGO to the Venezuelan government,” explained the signatories, adding that 14 children, including three toddlers, under the Simón Bolívar program, died between 2017 and 2020.

In addition, the foundation currently has some 190 cancer patients on a waiting list for treatment abroad.

“Targeting PDVSA as a way to control the political agenda of Venezuela has had devastating consequences for hundreds of people undergoing treatment for transplant rejection,” the experts condemned.

Washington levied financial sanctions against state oil company PDVSA in August 2017, imposed an oil embargo in January 2019 and a blanket ban on all dealings with Caracas in August 2019. Secondary sanctions and a number of other measures followed in 2020. The US Treasury Department has likewise blocked or seized a host of Venezuelan assets abroad, including CITGO, which was later placed under the control of US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Following the seizure of the US-based subsidiary, a corruption scandal broke out in Guaidó’s camp management of the company. In November 2020, Popular Will (VP) party member Roland Carreño was detained in possession of paperwork showing US $8,500 payments from the Simón Bolívar Foundation to four major opposition parties every semester, according to the Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office.

An April 2019 report by the Washington DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) also revealed the consequences of US sanctions on Venezuelans suffering from chronic diseases. The document estimated that more than 300,000 people were at risk because of lack of access to medicines or treatment, including 16,000 oncological patients, citing a September 2018 study by NGOs CodeVida and Provea.

The CEPR investigation additionally found that economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela had caused at least 40,000 deaths in their first year (2017-18), while UN Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas estimated 100,000 deaths by March 2020.

Washington’s sanctions have been described as “collective punishment” against the civilian population and condemned by a host of multilateral organizations and international actors, with the United Nations Human Rights Council approving a resolution in March urging all States to eliminate unilateral coercive measures.

In June, representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) joined a growing number of US Democrats urging President Joe Biden to reverse sanctions imposed by the former Trump administration, calling them “immoral” and designed to create “economic pain” for Venezuelans.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.