‘Crimes Against Humanity’: Venezuela’s VP Says US ‘Blocked’ $5 Billion COVID-19 Loan from IMF
00:56 GMT 08.10.2021 (Updated: 18:30 GMT 19.10.2022)
After the International Monetary Fund (IMF) withheld a $5 billion loan from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the country’s vice president has slammed the United States for fouling the deal. Washington has long sought to force the Venezuelan government from power using strangling economic sanctions.
"The International Monetary Fund refuses to give our people the $ 5 billion that correspond to our country to fight the pandemic. The reason: the express veto of the United States against Venezuela," Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said Wednesday in a teleconference speech to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
"We have been the target of more than 430 unilateral coercive measures that have blocked our foreign and private trade, against all legal principles of sovereign immunity," she said, noting the sanctions had cost the country’s oil sector, the backbone of its export economy, $63 billion. This, she noted, amounted to "a drastic 99 percent reduction in revenue.”
"These measures are crimes against humanity and violate the international system of guarantee of human rights," Rodriguez added. She urged UNCTAD to “group, quantify and analyze the macroeconomic impacts of unilateral coercive measures" on her country.
The United States is the largest shareholder in the IMF, a neoliberal international lender established after World War II for the purpose of restructuring the international monetary system that had been wrecked by years of depression and war.
The US State Department responded on Thursday, telling Reuters that only governments recognized by the IMF could receive loans from it.
"We welcome further agreement among all political actors in Venezuela to allow for unfettered and transparent access to humanitarian assistance," the statement said.
Two Years of Blocked Funds
In January 2019, the US backed an attempted coup by Juan Guaido, an opposition politician who, at the time, was head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, a body disempowered by the country’s Constituent Assembly after its conduct was declared unconstitutional. Guaido decried Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s reelection victory the year prior as illegitimate and declared himself the country’s interim leader. While some 50 Western and US-aligned states backed Guaido’s putsch, his small movement withered into political irrelevance.
In April of that year, however, the IMF effectively sided with Guaido by declaring it wouldn’t engage with any Veneuzelan authorities until the question of the country’s government had been settled.
"We are guided by our membership on that issue, and at this point, this determination has not been made,” the IMF said at the time. It is headquartered in Washington, DC, about three blocks from the White House.
When the COVID-19 pandemic came the following year, Caracas sought $5 billion via the IMF’s Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI), a special mechanism for distributing COVID-19-related relief funds, the bank again refused the loan, saying there was "no clarity" on international recognition of the country's government. It has maintained this policy until the present.
© AP Photo / Ariana CubillosDr. Wilfredo Sifontes, right, speaks to families who have family hospitalized in the COVID-19 wing, outside José Gregorio Hernández Hospital in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Sept 4, 2020. Sifontes, who oversees the hospital’s emergency services including its coronavirus wing, described having a fever, cough and feeling sick
Dr. Wilfredo Sifontes, right, speaks to families who have family hospitalized in the COVID-19 wing, outside José Gregorio Hernández Hospital in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Sept 4, 2020. Sifontes, who oversees the hospital’s emergency services including its coronavirus wing, described having a fever, cough and feeling sick
© AP Photo / Ariana Cubillos
In August 2021, the IMF did actually approve a $5 billion RFI payout to Venezuela, but withheld the actual money, again citing a supposed dispute in the country’s governance, despite the fact that Guaido has neither institutional nor political power, having lost his legislative seat, and exists as a “government” only on paper in Washington, DC.
However, Venezuela has encountered more problems as well. In June, Maduro accused UBS of holding up several payments to the World Health Organization intended to get the country COVID-19 vaccines via the COVAX program. The first vaccine shipments from COVAX only arrived last month.
‘The Pandemic Does Not Adhere to Borders’
US sanctions have killed tens of thousands of Venezuelans since 2015, when then-US President Barack Obama declared the country an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” They have created shortages of fuel, medicine, food, and other goods that have helped drive hyperinflation and create the dire conditions that are then denounced by Western non-governmental organizations as failures of the Venezuelan government.
In February, several progressive US lawmakers urged the new Biden administration to drop its sanctions against Venezuela in order to allow the country to effectively fight its COVID-19 outbreak.
“It is both a moral and public health imperative that our efforts to combat COVID-19 are global in scope because the pandemic’s economic consequences require international cooperation,” the lawmakers wrote. “The pandemic does not adhere to borders, nor does it account for complex geopolitical realities - until the virus is eradicated everywhere, it is not eradicated anywhere.”
Just days later, Alena Douhan, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, similarly said US sanctions were “not justified.” She noted that “existing humanitarian exemptions are ineffective and insufficient,” and that the structure of US sanctions encourages “over-compliance,” a euphemism for illegal overreach.
“Repeated refusals of banks in the United States, the United Kingdom and Portugal to release Venezuelan assets even for buying medicine, vaccines and protective kits, under the control of international organizations, violates the above principle and impedes the ability of Venezuela to respond to the COVID-19 emergency,” Douhan notably pointed out.