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Pandemic-Stricken Venezuela Steps Up Efforts to Distribute Russian Vaccine

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Venezuela has one of the slowest and lowest vaccination rates in the world. According to Our World in Data, the country has only vaccinated 250,000 Venezuelans, which represents 0.88 doses per 100 people.

In addition, Venezuelans have denounced that the few vaccines that do arrive are used for political purposes. For example, this Wednesday, health workers in the state of Carabobo said that those who do not have the “carnet de la patria”, an card implemented by the government to offer benefits to its militancy, are denied immunization against Covid-19.

Doctors who went to be vaccinated at the Dr. Enrique Tejera Hospital, known as Hospital Central de Valencia, were not inoculated because they demanded the instrument imposed by the regime of Nicolás Maduro.

In view of this situation, the Venezuelan civil society has promoted an initiative aimed at depoliticizing the vaccination so that, in this way, a large immunization campaign, necessary to face the Covid-19 pandemic, may begin.

María Verónica Torres, professor at the Universidad Monte Ávila and political analyst and lawyer is one of the main figures behind the initiative. The first step was to send an open letter to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, asking him to participate as representative of Venezuelans in a dialogue process that would hasten mass vaccination.

“It was born from the need to open a possible way to mass vaccination. From the study and understanding of the nature and dynamics of the de facto power in Venezuela, we identified that soon the public opinion would focus its attention on the elections and political mediation promoted by the Government and some opposition groups. In such a way, the humanitarian need to fight COVID-19 would be neglected”, explained Torres to El American.

Shee also indicated that different studies and analyses were carried out in order to achieve a proposal that would be viable in the short term. During the studies, they found that they had to carry out a negotiation process through an entity that, among other characteristics, stood out for having proven ethics.

“In that sense, we began to work on the idea of offering citizen solutions to this humanitarian crisis. We analyzed the needs of the different actors with the capacity to resolve the vaccination issue, we mapped out scenarios and identified that the only possible way would be to depoliticize the process through an entity with very specific characteristics: (i) proven ethics; (ii) lacking sanctioning means; (iii) experienced in governmental political negotiation processes; (iv) with the capacity to diplomatically and openly and transparently guarantee the acquisition of sufficient certified quality vaccines. Finally, we found that the Vatican fit this profile and we presented the proposal publicly on April 24.”

The initiative aims to depoliticize vaccination in a beleaguered Venezuela. (Image: EFE)

Two days after the analysis, they sent an open letter to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, asking him to take up the proposal. The idea was given on the occasion of his coming to Venezuela for the beatification of José Gregorio Hernández on April 30. However, the Cardinal had to cancel the trip due to the pandemic.

During the beatification ceremony, Cardinal Baltazar Porras, Metropolitan Archbishop of Merida and Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Caracas, expressed that the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference had the humanitarian duty to offer contributions in the coordination, negotiation, planning, execution and supervision of mass vaccination, among other causes. This reaffirmed to María Verónica and her team that their proposal had the capacity to become real.

On April 29, they opened a signature drive in support of the letter. So far more than 2,200 Venezuelans have signed the petition. “It is viable as long as there are two conditions that we believe are possible: that the Holy See agrees and encourages a new diplomatic process with Nicolás Maduro; and that he agrees in order to gain the much desired international credibility,” she assures.

Moreover, it is the most supported cause in the tufirma.org platform, the first Catholic activism platform in the world for the promotion and publication of petitions for the defense of fundamental rights, such as health. To sign, please access the following link.

Depoliticizing vaccination

For María Verónica Torres, one of the reasons why there has not been a vaccination campaign in the country, has been because of the politicization in which it is, in that sense she attributes this to both political factors have made bad decisions in their strategy.

For example, she says that the interim government of Juan Guaidó was wrong to approach the political dialogue with Nicolás Maduro for the mass vaccination of Venezuelans against Covid-19, hinting at an escalation of international political pressure with economic and military sanctions.

“Maduro armored his power with a robust commercial network through alternative financial channels to sanctions; he reinforced military agreements by gathering important international allies capable of redistributing political forces in the region and dismissed the pronouncements, reports and rulings of international systems and courts for the protection and defense of Human Rights —among them, the Special Follow-up Mechanism of the International Court of Human Rights (IACHR) installed in Venezuela—”.

Torres reminded that the scientific consensus insists that in order to obtain herd immunity it is necessary to vaccinate at least 70% of the adult population. That is to say, approximately 30 million doses are needed whose execution plan exceeds the capacities of the collapsed Venezuelan public health system. That is why he considers that the supervision of the Vatican in alliance with the Pan American Health Organization and the WHO, acquires a vital relevance for mass vaccination without distinction or political discrimination for all Venezuelans.

Finally, she is clear in recognizing that this is a citizens’ initiative. Therefore, she is convinced that the greatest support is to sign the petition, but the request and the momentum of the proposal must remain in the hands of civil society.

“As of today we have been approached by different opposition political leaders and some prominent people in national public life to offer us their support. Our response has been the same in all cases: this is a strictly citizen initiative and related to mass vaccination. The way to support is by signing the proposal.”

Williams Perdomo es periodista y escritor, especializado en las fuentes Política y Cultura.

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