By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro admitted Friday on live television the country has a shortage of medicines which necessitates help from the United Nations.
“I request the support of the United Nations to regularize the situation with medicines,” a sheepish Maduro said during a televised event, only one day after inaugurating the “Venezuela Potencia” industrial and science fair, a government effort meant to portray the oil-rich country as a regional powerhouse.
“I have asked for support from the United Nations in order to tend to the social and economic wounds that the economic war has inflicted on our people, as well as the abrupt fall in oil prices, in order to regularize everything that has to do with medicines and in order to strengthen the health care systems,” Maduro said.
Since Hugo Chavez first took over in 1999, Venezuela has mostly relied on workers from Cuba (which at some point numbered 100,000 in-country, including doctors and nurses) to manage its health-care system. However, that decades-long experiment has largely failed -- so much so that the government needs to ask the U.N. for help. More than half of the Cuba-manned CDI first-response centers, located mostly in Venezuela's worst "barrios" (slums) have been closed and the Cuban doctors fled Venezuela for better lives in other countries.
The drugs however will be distributed through the CLAP network of food distribution, which is affiliated with the PSUV ruling party of Maduro and was founded by his mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. The opposition says CLAP doesn’t sell price-controlled food to anybody but the party faithful and the government has admitted the system is rife with corruption and only reaches 30% of the Venezuelan population. The program is only one year old and was created after a stinging electoral defeat,
Maduro’s admissions came four years after the opposition began denouncing serious shortages in medicines and food, a situation that has now devolved into a full-blown humanitarian crisis. As recently as March 17th, the Maduro government rejected U.N. offers for humanitarian help, according to an opposition activist Lilian Tintori, who' s opposition leader husband has been in prison for over 3 years.
The Organization of American States has repeatedly pointed out that there is an humanitarian crisis in Venezuela -- Maduro’s Foreign Minister and delegation to the OAS has repeatedly denied the fact.
Even while asking the U.N. for medicines, Maduro defended his rule, saying the most recent “human development” (an index that measures advances in education and public health as well as economic development) report from the U.N. placed Venezuela number 71 out of a total 188 countries measured. “That’s higher than Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Mexico,” Maduro argued.
“According to the report that measures human development, Venezuela is still high in the index of development, thanks to socialism,” Maduro added later.
During his allocution, Maduro stuck to the theme of the “economic war”, which blames Venezuela’s myriad ailments (from high crime to hyperinflation) on a conspiracy by the local opposition and the U.S.