Venezuela’s Guaido Taps $152 Million of Frozen Funds in the U.S.
(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido plans to make the biggest one-time withdrawal from offshore accounts frozen by U.S. sanctions to purchase Covid-19 vaccines as well as pay wages, legal fees and expenses.
Guaido approved the release of $152 million, of which about $100 million will be used to buy vaccines through the World Health Organization-backed Covax initiative or other organizations, according to a budget report approved by the National Assembly. Another $23 million will go to what was termed “defending democracy,” along with $2.3 million in advising, security and travel costs for his inner circle with no details disclosed on a payment to Guaido, if any.
While Guaido approved more than $150 million in expenses, it’s possible that it won’t all be used. His press official did not immediately respond to requests seeking details on payments.
The funds frozen by U.S. sanctions had been held by Citibank in an account of Venezuela’s central bank and were moved to an account at the U.S. Federal Reserve in April 2020 at the request of the opposition-led National Assembly.
Guaido can use the money because he’s recognized by the U.S. as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, with the authorization Venezuela’s National Assembly and U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. The latest allocation will leave roughly $97 million in the account, less than a third of the original $342 million made accessible to the opposition since it began to withdraw funds in 2020.
The U.S. and more than 50 countries in 2019 recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader following sham presidential elections a year earlier.
Since then, Guaido’s popularity has plummeted as his quest to oust President Nicolas Maduro has stalled. Popular support for Guaido among Venezuelan stands at 15%, down from a 61% peak in February 2019, according to Caracas-based pollster Datanalisis. Just 11% support Maduro.
With less than a million vaccines from China and Russia, Venezuela has one of the lowest vaccination rates of the region. A second wave has seen cases jump in recent weeks, overwhelming an already broken public health system. Maduro recently sidelined a bilateral health agreement struck with the opposition to make a $120 million payment to Covax without disclosing its origins, saying he won’t “be turned into a beggar.”
As the opposition racks up legal fees to keep the nation’s gold held in the Bank of England out of Maduro’s hands and prevent the sale Citgo Petroleum Corp’s shares, about $4.8 million will go to legal counseling. The opposition’s parallel assembly, which has been declared null by Maduro’s government and has issued largely symbolic decrees since 2016, will receive $7.5 million.
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