Venezuela cardinal says COVID pact won’t end country’s crisis

“The agreement is insignificant,” Cardinal Jorge Urosa told Crux over the weekend. “It wasn’t among the two leaders of each side,” referring to Maduro and Guaidó.

ROSARIO, Argentina – Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the leader of the opposition, Juan Guaidó, reached an agreement to battle COVID-19 coronavirus that observers believe is causing devastation in a country with an already beleaguered health system, though it’s difficult to assess given the dearth of reliable information about the situation in the country.

This agreement was lauded by some as the first step in years towards cooperation between bitter political rivals. However, among those living in Venezuela, not all agree.

“The agreement is insignificant,” Cardinal Jorge Urosa told Crux over the weekend. “It wasn’t among the two leaders of each side,” referring to Maduro and Guaidó.

According to the prelate, who’s the archbishop emeritus of Caracas, the agreement was signed for the opposition by a medical doctor who advices the National Assembly on health issues, and it’s only meant to try to curve the country’s death toll from the virus.

Urosa is technically right: On June 1, 2020, Venezuela’s Health Minister, Carlos Alvarado, and the National Assembly’s health advisor, Julio Castro, signed the agreement to coordinate efforts to obtain international funding to strengthen Venezuela’s ability to respond to the pandemic.

It reportedly received support from Venezuela’s Vice President for Communications, Tourism, and Culture, Jorge Rodríguez, and also Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader who claims to be the country’s rightful leader. However, the two men didn’t actually sign the agreement.

The agreement is focused narrowly on the pandemic, among other things allowing the United Nations to distribute food in what was once an oil-wealthy nation but which today imports oil from Iran. As the New York Times reported in late May, the nation is so starved of gasoline that when the first of five oil tankers docked in Venezuela, it was hailed by government officials as a victory.

As some observers have noted, Venezuelans are losing patience with a lack of progress in finding a political solution between Maduro and the opposition. But according to Urosa, there’s little hope this agreement could next lead to more badly needed humanitarian assistance and create momentum for negotiations for a political solution.

“There’s no political agreement,” Urosa insisted. “Furthermore, the government has continued to harass Guaidó and attack those around him and his advisers in different ways.”

According to the World Bank, 87 percent of the population of Venezuela now is living below the poverty line. The Catholic Church, particularly through its charitable organization Caritas, has played a key role in providing humanitarian aid, but members of this organization have told Crux in the past that those efforts aren’t sufficient to meet the need.

As an example, Caritas Venezuela is in the middle of a campaign from May 30 to June 13 in which they plan to distribute 20 tons of food, providing each diocese with 800 kits with 40 pounds of food each, which will then be distributed to families through parishes.

Though no other bishops beyond Urosa publicly commented on the agreement, their silence has been deafening: on May 28 they had issued a strong statement calling for a transformative national plan to help the country, which they argued, “is immersed in a chain of calamities.”

“We are experiencing very problematic moments in our country. On the one hand, we share with the whole world the serious situation of the Covid-19 pandemic that is spreading massively in the country, but, on the other, we suffer the ravages of the serious economic, political, and social problems which are becoming more and more intense, generating suffering and uncertainty,” they wrote.

Though they applaud the efforts of front-line medical personnel who continue to tend to the sick and encouraged gestures of solidarity such as the campaign being carried out by Caritas, they also argued that the country is “adrift” and close to “an economic collapse of great proportion.”

In the midst of lockdown measures, they write, there’s “an immense clamor that rises to the sky in the face of the helplessness of millions of men and women without economic resources, without food, without medicines, no work, no adequate electricity, water, transport, domestic gas and fuel.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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