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Venezuelans Ask The Vatican To Negotiate With Government And Opposition For Vaccines 

The Cardinal Secretary of State has tried unsuccessfully to mediate the political crisis. 

CARACAS, Venezuela — At the worst moment of the pandemic for Venezuela, Roman Catholics celebrated the beatification of José Gregorio Hernández. But one of the most anticipated guests, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, was not at the event.

“For force majeure causes, linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cardinal Secretary of State will not be able to travel to Venezuela, as was his wish, for the beatification of the venerable Servant of God, José Gregorio Hernández,” the Holy See said in a press release on April 28, two days before the event.

Parolin has a special connection with Venezuela since he was the Apostolic Nuncio in Caracas during the papacy of Benedict XVI. Therefore, Venezuelans not only wanted him to preside over the act, but they were also planning to request his intercession in the health crisis.

Venezuela’s political crisis makes it difficult to fight the pandemic. (Jim Romero/Unsplash)

“Our initiative is directed at Pietro Parolin for three reasons,” said Venezuelan lawyer María Verónica Torres, the Director of the Center for Human Rights Studies at the Monteávila University. “The executive administration of the Vatican falls on him; he has a broad diplomatic career developed in conflicted contexts, and he knows well the Venezuelan political reality and its actors, in addition to having been [Venezuela’s] Apostolic Nuncio.”

Parolin has attempted to mediate the dialogue between the opposition and the government in the past.

The pandemic is hitting hard in Venezuela. With more than 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the country registers its highest number of infections since its first case in March 2020. The economy has contracted by 30 percent in the last year, according to data from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

However, the vaccination process is delayed in the Caribbean country compared to the rest of the region. Returning to normalcy is not a reality its people see on the horizon. Venezuela had received nearly 1.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as of May 3, according to Minister of Health Carlos Alvarado. But its population is around 30 million people.

Nicolás Maduro’s administration announced last November that Russia would send 10 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. However, specialists are concerned about the speed with which these shipments arrive, despite the good relations between Caracas and Moscow.

Juan Guaidó, the head of Venezuela’s parallel opposition administration, has worked to secure access to vaccines through the COVAX initiative, a global project devoted to accelerating the equitable rollout of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

However, after payments by both governments, the Maduro administration banned the AstraZeneca vaccine in the country, arguing that it was not safe, thus blocking the collaboration with the COVAX initiative.

Meanwhile, citizens worry about their health.

“We offer to unlock the game in favor of the country,” said political analyst and university professor Víctor Maldonado. From his perspective, what Venezuelans need is “to focus on a universal solution, without privileges, prioritizing the most vulnerable groups, seeking to overcome the crisis and without undue political gains.”

Maldonado sees the possible intervention of the Roman Catholic Church on behalf of Venezuelans “as a humanitarian truce administered by the Holy See with its ability to coordinate efforts with other humanitarian mechanisms.”

Venezuelans’ response has been mixed. Some are grateful for the possibility of finding a path to solve the health crisis, while others are skeptical about Parolin’s failed forays into dialogue with the government and the opposition.

“Reactions range from positive surprise to disbelief. Venezuelan society has been systematically deceived. Social media immediately accounted for both the annoyance and the hope. Nevertheless, we could say that the history of the Vatican’s intervention has been successful in more than 90 percent of the cases,” said Joaquín Ortega, a political scientist, analyst and university professor, who qualifies the initiative as “realistic, transparent, and inclusive of a breadth of positions.”

In just a few days, the petition gathered more than a thousand signatures and was discussed on national media.

The Holy See has not commented on it. However, after the beatification, Cardinal Baltazar Porras met with Nicolás Maduro at the Miraflores Palace, which legitimizes the Catholic Church’s intervention in the health crisis. As the Bible says, God’s ways are mysterious.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Kristen Butler and Melanie Slone)

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