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Can oil solve the lack of vaccines in Venezuela?

In the midst of the oil production crisis in Venezuela, with prices on the ground and the distribution compromised by the debt and sanctions, President Nicolás Maduro appeals to crude oil as a manna with which to obtain the vaccines against covid-19 that he demands the country.

Immunization plans have been delayed, unable to acquire the necessary vaccines promised by the president or refusing to receive the one from AstraZeneca due to the risks that, according to the Government, their application entails, while agreeing to participate in Cuban drug trials.

With this turn of the wheel, Maduro seeks a Copernican turn using the little oil he has as a base, while the second wave of covid-19 worsens day by day and threatens to bring the weak hospital system to total collapse. These are some keys that allow us to glimpse the viability of the plan.

1.- AN UNEXPECTED PROPOSAL

With the world advancing in vaccination, Venezuela has only received 250,000 doses of Sputnik-V and 500,000 from the Chinese Sinopharm, although it has not published official data on how many of them it has already inoculated.

Faced with this situation and Venezuela’s difficulties in accessing part of its resources, blocked by sanctions, the president launched a risky bet that, not because it was obvious, was unexpected.

“I have approved (the proposal) today, dedicating oil for vaccines (…) would dedicate a part of its production to guarantee all the vaccines that Venezuela needs, oil for vaccines,” he said on March 29.

2.- A PRODUCTION THAT FALLS INTO BARRENA

On January 12, in his annual message, the head of state affirmed that the pumping of the state oil company PDVSA fell by 69% between 2015 and 2019, a phenomenon that led the country to lose revenues of some 102,500 million dollars.

Then, the president presented a graph in which he assured that in March 2015 Venezuela produced 2,817,000 barrels of oil per day.

On the other hand, the Vice President and Minister of Oil, Tareck El Aissami, explained on February 19 that Venezuela produced an average of 400,000 barrels per day in 2020, which places the country traditionally considered as “oil” below even its neighbor Colombia. , which extracted almost 700,000 barrels per day.

3.- DEBT COMMITMENTS

The debt has not stopped growing to the point that, last September, Venezuela proposed to the bondholders of the republic and the state companies PDVSA and Electricidad de Caracas to interrupt the payments of interest and capital, alluding to problems to make against the commitments by the economic sanctions imposed by the United States.

To pay off part of the debt contracted, Venezuela has acquired different commitments with China, Russia, India, Cuba and Petrocaribe, an alliance that includes several Caribbean countries, which are fulfilled with crude shipments.

Part of the production is committed to those nations, including the two that have already sent vaccines to Venezuela: China and Russia.

4.- FROM CALENDAR TO CALENDAR

Initially, the Government assured that mass vaccination would begin in April, but, already beginning the month, and in the absence of official data, it seems impossible that this process could have begun, having received only 750,000 doses, which would immunize 375,000 people in a country of 30 million inhabitants.

After the bet on Sputnik V, the Sinopharm vaccines arrived without warning. Subsequently, the other Russian drug (the EpiVac Corona) was approved and, now, Maduro has announced the arrival of two Cuban drugs in the testing phase, that is, whose efficacy is unknown.

Meanwhile, he has refused to receive vaccines from AstraZeneca, which Venezuela had assigned as part of the Covax mechanism, while something that, on another occasion, would be an ace up his sleeve like the “oil for vaccines” plan appears. With this outlook, a new massive vaccination schedule in the coming months looks complicated.

5.- OFFICIAL SILENCE

It is not strange in Venezuela, but it is striking in this case. There is no official information about the progress of vaccination, it is unknown how many doses were applied and to whom.

Faced with this lack of data, complaints from health workers who have not received them accumulate and others who assure that corruption is unleashed in the distribution.

Meanwhile, it is unknown how much the Government has paid for the vaccines received, when the next ones will arrive or which sectors will be prioritized.

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