Venezuela Weekly: COVID-19 and Geopolitics

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held a closed-door meeting on the humanitarian situation in Venezuela and the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting produced no decision or announcements. However, some of the involved parties made their opinions known afterward.

  • The European Union (EU) countries that participate in the UNSC requested an increase in humanitarian aid to address the devastating effects the pandemic could have on Venezuela. The EU countries also pointed out that their sanctions against the government of Maduro do not prevent humanitarian aid from reaching the country.
  • Russian Ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyanski, released a critical statement suggesting that Venezuela is dealing “better” with the coronavirus than other countries in the region. He raised the issue of the US and EU sanctions that complicate the Venezuela government’s efforts against the virus.
  • During the meeting, the US government said COVID19 poses a significant threat for the Venezuelans, and that it will provide another $9 million of aid. The US claims that the Maduro regime under-reports COVID19 cases, and delays, blocks, and undermines humanitarian assistance efforts.
  • Nicolás Maduro rejected this claim and said that his government is willing to accept aid and donations through the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization.
  • After the meeting, the U.S. Secretary of State denounced the fact that flights were arriving to Caracas from Iran and urged nations to deny overflight rights (however, it looks like these flights have more to do with reactivating Venezuela’s refining capacity).

There were also statements from civil society regarding the need for an agreement among political actors.

  • Rector of the Ándres Bello Catholic University Francisco Jose Virtuoso, S.J., said “a humanitarian agreement in Venezuela is urgent.” He argued that the current Venezuelan crisis is an accumulation of various problems that have worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic. He is calling for an urgent political and humanitarian agreement.
  • A group of 25 non-governmental organizations including WOLA published a statement (in English and Spanish) calling on governments of the hemisphere to engage in active diplomacy to push for an adequate response to the COVID-19 crisis in Venezuela.

Humanitarian Emergency

  • Tensions and protests are increasing, as the economic and social negative effects of the COVID-19 lock down are ever more visible. Looting and protests in eastern Venezuela left at least seven wounded and one dead.
  • The Venezuelan Red Cross said that it would direct most of its humanitarian aid to the neediest, particularly in states that border with Brazil and Colombia. Nonetheless, Red Cross officials say the gasoline shortage is affecting their distribution efforts.

Economic measures

  • Maduro announced leadership changes in Venezuela’s oil regime. Military General Manuel Quevedo is out and Tareck El Aissami will head the Oil Ministry, while cousin of Hugo Chavez, Asdrubal Chavez, will head state oil company PDVSA. Chavez is an experienced executive in the oil sector and it appears that his choice relates to Maduro’s decision to increase oil output. Under the management of the general Quevedo oil production sunk to historic lows.
  • The acute fuel shortages are forcing farmers to let crops rot in fields since they cannot transport food to market during the coronavirus quarantine.
  • The government announced that it would enforce price controls to a basket of 27 goods of primary necessity. However, it has not yet published the price list.
  • The price control measure was preceded by the intervention of four important food companies, including Industrias Polar.

Environment

  • The Maduro government lifted long-standing prohibitions, allowing gold and diamond mining in six rivers in the Amazon region. Representatives of the Amazon socio-environmental organization Wataniba said that mining in these areas exposes the local indigenous population to malaria, measles, and other infectious diseases.

Migration

  • The pandemic has put an estimated 900,000 Venezuelan migrants in Colombia at imminent risk of starvation, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP).
  • Migration Colombia indicated that about 12 thousand Venezuelans have returned home during the pandemic. Colombian authorities argue that they are implementing the necessary protocols for their orderly return. Venezuelan officials say 20,920 Venezuelans have returned from Colombia and Brazil.
  • Governor of Venezuelan border state Táchira, Laidy Gómez, said many citizens are returning through informal border crossings and evading the necessary epidemiological controls.
  • The UN Regional Inter-agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela presented the Service Mapping Tool, a web app designed to provide useful information about services for refugees, migrants, host communities.
  • A Brazilian inter-organization study found that the state of Roraima in Brazil registered positive economic growth and diversification during the waves of the Venezuelan migration. However, unemployment and poverty simultaneously increased.

Opposition

  • The Associated Press reported that opposition lawmakers agreed to pay themselves a salary of $5,000 a month out of the same $80 million “Liberation Fund” they will use to pay doctors and nurses a $100 per month salary supplement. In a carefully-worded statement, National Assembly President Juan Guaidó said “it is false that a salary of $ 5000 per month has been approved for the deputies.” That is technically true since they have yet to write the regulation of the law which will actually provide the specifics. The legislation does dedicate 17% of the budget for “the defense and strengthening of the national legislative power and the social protection of its members.” The AP is standing by its story.
  • Guaidó denounced that the Maduro regime is trying to sabotage his government’s efforts to deliver aid of $100 per month for doctors and nurses, by attacking the digital enrollment platform.