US unfreezes Venezuelan assets to help opposition fight COVID-19
Venezuela’s opposition says Washington has granted it access to millions of dollars of frozen government funds.
The United States has granted access to millions of dollars of frozen Venezuelan government assets to support the opposition in its efforts to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country.
The US Treasury Department approved the release of the funds, the opposition said in a statement on Thursday, without specifying the total amount.
The statement said part of the released funds would go to pay some 62,000 health workers $300 each.
During a live appearance on Twitter on Thursday night, opposition leader Juan Guaido said health workers could register accounts to receive payments of $100 a month starting Monday. Healthcare workers in Venezuela can earn as little as $5 a month.
Guaido first announced the additional support for healthcare workers four months ago, but distribution required a permit from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), as the frozen funds were held by the New York Federal Reserve.
US President Donald Trump has ramped up sanctions on Venezuela’s state-run oil company, its key foreign partners and customers since it first imposed measures against the PDVSA in early 2019, seeking to overthrow left-leaning President Nicolas Maduro after a 2018 re-election considered a sham by most Western nations.
The Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on more than 150 Venezuelans or connected individuals, and the State Department has revoked the visas of more than 1,000 individuals and their families
Venezuela has been mired in a political impasse since January last year when Guaido proclaimed himself acting president, quickly receiving the support of more than 50 countries, including the US.
In July, the opposition obtained permission to distribute $17m in funds frozen in the US that would be channelled through international health organisations to buy supplies for medical workers.
The license also approves another $4.5m to support Venezuelans at risk of death, an opposition press release said.
The opposition plans to distribute the funds using AirTM, a digital payment platform, but on Thursday, the website was blocked in Venezuela.
“You have to be very bad to block an account for men and women who are giving everything with conviction to protect our people when they are going to receive a bonus,” said Guaido.
The opposition leader added healthcare workers would be sent a manual with the steps to download a virtual private network (VPN) so they could circumvent the restrictions. AirTM also tweeted instructions on how to use a VPN.
Venezuela is suffering economic collapse and its crumbling health system has so far registered 37,567 cases of COVID-19 and 311 deaths, although experts say the number is likely to be higher because of widespread insufficient testing.