Venezuela says payments to COVAX vaccine system have been blocked

Senior citizens and health workers wait to receive their first dose of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19, outside the hotel Alba Caracas, which was turned into a mass vaccination centre, in Caracas, Venezuela May 31, 2021. ― Reuters pic
Senior citizens and health workers wait to receive their first dose of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19, outside the hotel Alba Caracas, which was turned into a mass vaccination centre, in Caracas, Venezuela May 31, 2021. ― Reuters pic

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CARACAS, June 11 ― Venezuelan officials said today the country's government has been unable to complete a payment required to receive coronavirus vaccines because transfers to the global COVAX vaccine programme had been blocked.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro for months said it was unable to pay for the COVAX program because of US sanctions, and then in March announced that it had made almost all the required US$120 million (RM493.9 million) payment.

Vice President Delcy Rodriguez in a televised broadcast yesterday said the government had been unable to pay down the remaining US$10 million because four operations had been blocked.

“The financial system that also hides behind the US lobby, has the power to block resources that can be used to immunize the population of Venezuela,” Rodriguez said.

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza later tweeted a copy of a letter from COVAX saying it had received information from Swiss bank UBS that four operations, totalling US$4.6 million, “were blocked and under investigation.”

It was not immediately evident who blocked the operations or why.

UBS, when asked for comment, said that for legal and regulatory reasons it is “unable to comment on matters relating to potential client relationships.”

COVAX did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The COVAX letter notes Venezuela has expressed interest in the Johnson & Johnson and Novavax vaccines.

Maduro's government this year began negotiating with opposition leader Juan Guaido to pay for COVAX vaccines using funds frozen in the United States via Washington's sanctions against Maduro.

In March, Venezuelan officials announced they had managed to pay for the vaccines on their own, and have since backed away from talks over using the frozen funds.

In recent weeks, authorities have started vaccinating medical personnel and senior citizens using doses provided by Russia and China. Participants have complained about confusion in the process, and opposition leaders say it lacks transparency.

Venezuela has reported 246,764 coronavirus cases and 2,764 deaths, although critics say the actual figures are likely higher due to underreporting and limited testing. ― Reuters

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