On July 19, President Nicolás Maduro said it was lie that Venezuela had received $20 million from the U.S. to fight the coronavirus pandemic under an agreement with the opposition National Assembly.
During a televised pandemic update, Maduro claimed Venezuela has been fighting the pandemic with its own resources and no outside help.
“The United States government for three months has been offering 20 million dollars … They gave the order to their puppet, the stupid, to sign a humanitarian agreement with the legitimate government that I preside over,” Maduro said.
He added: “[The] 20 million dollars does not come. [That’s a] lie. Everything that comes from the gringo empire is a lie.”
His statements are misleading.
The one-page agreement Maduro referred to was signed on June 1 by the Venezuela’s health minister, Dr. Carlos Alvarado, the National Assembly’s health adviser, Julio Castro, and the Pan American Health Association's (PAHO) representative in Venezuela, Dr. Gerardo de Cosio.
It did not stipulate how much money would be involved. Rather, it committed both sides in the running stalemate over Venezuela’s rightful leadership to work together to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
The agreement aimed to create official channels for PAHO to help in fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Venezuela. It guaranteed “that the equation resources / access and donations / access can be met,” and would “not be exploited, politicized or hindered by the regime,” Miguel Pizarro, an opposition leader and one of the architects of the agreement, told Venezuelan newspaper Crónica.Uno.
PAHO will be in charge of prioritizing locations to receive assistance aimed at increasing diagnostic capacity, protecting health workers, responding to confirmed cases, increasing epidemiological surveillance and improving risk communication with the population.
In the interview with Cronica.Uno, Pizarro said money for the response would come from the National Liberation Fund, which was approved by the National Assembly in February and launched in April with about $80 million from Venezuelan assets abroad frozen under U.S. sanctions.
At the end of March, opposition leader Juan Guaidó announced the recovery of $20 million in frozen funds, which would be made available to international humanitarian organizations operating in Venezuela. In an email to Polygraph.info, a PAHO spokesperson said that while it had not received that $20 million, the organization "is implementing other existing funds to move the agreement forward."
Other countries that previously froze Venezuelan funds also have said they will transfer assets to PAHO. The Spanish government, for example, announced a transfer on June 4, although the amount wasn’t disclosed.
PAHO’s communication team added that “[t]he funds used for [the agreement] are existing PAHO funds that had been mobilized for pandemic response in Venezuela.” It also said that “the implementation of actions in the country have been discussed and approved, and priority has been made to ensure the purchase of PPE (which is in process).”
On Wednesday (July 22), Dr. Julio Castro, one of the signatories of the agreement, tweeted a spreadsheet showing where the PPE had already been delivered in the country. It included the states of Zulia, Táchira, Apure, Bolivar, Miranda and Distrito Capital (where part of Caracas, the capital, is located).
The appeal for a collaboration between both parties was first made on March 28, two weeks after Venezuela confirmed its first COVID-19 case. At the time, Guaidó called for the formation of a “national emergency government” and the implementation of a response plan.
The plan, called Plan José María Vargas – after the former Venezuelan president, who was also a doctor – included importing essential medical equipment, constructing wells for hospitals and requesting $1.2 million from international financial organizations.
Guaidó and Maduro have fought for control of the country since a disputed presidential in 2018. In January 2019, Guaidó, as leader of the National Assembly, declared himself Venezuela’s legitimate president and quickly received support from the United States and some U.S. allies.
Maduro, who opponents accuse of corruption, has remained in power with the support of Venezuela’s military. Meantime, the country has spiraled into economic collapse and a humanitarian crisis, with the coronavirus only adding to the problem.
Maduro insists the country and his government are being unfairly attacked. “Thank God we have medical professionals. Thank God we have guaranteed treatments for all who need,” he said during his July 19 remarks.
Reuters reported that COVID-19 cases have multiplied in recent weeks, triggering “alarms from doctors and opponents who say that the government did not provide hospitals in time to combat the disease.”
In June, Polygraph.info found that Maduro had glossed over the seriousness of the pandemic. PAHO reported in 2018 that a third of Venezuela’s 66,000 doctors had fled the country by 2014 as the economy fell apart.
Maduro said on July 19 that Venezuela had nearly 410 new infections in 24 hours, putting the total COVID-19 cases in the country at 11,890. But experts say the real numbers are much higher.
According to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine tracking site, the country had 13,164 reported COVID-19 cases and 124 deaths as of July 23. Infections have been rising sharply since mid-May.
In a May study, the Venezuelan Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences concluded that "the tests carried out so far in Venezuela are insufficient to adequately estimate the true size of the COVID-19 epidemic in Venezuela."
It also concluded that "underreporting is estimated to be 63% at best and at worst 95% of symptomatic cases as of April 23, 2020.”
Correction: An initial version of this fact check mistakenly suggested PAHO already had access to the $20 million in unfrozen funds. PAHO later clarified that was not so. We regret the error.