By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- The “Daishan Dao” or “Peace Ark”, a Chinese Navy hospital ship, is to visit Venezuela, while the humanitarian crisis and attendant health-sector labor unrest worsen in the oil-rich nation.
The “Ark of Peace” will “operate” in Venezuela in coordination with the local military, the Venezuelan Armed Forces Strategic Operational Command reported Friday.
CEOFANB, the Venezuelan Armed Forces’ Strategic Operational Command, reported Friday morning of the arrival of a delegation from the Chinese Navy ship, that “We strengthen ties through the strategic alliances of military cooperation, the Directorate for Joint Operations of the CEOFANB (Venezuelan Armed Forces Strategic Operational Command) meets with a commission from the He Ping Fang Zhou Hospital Ship from the People’s Republic of China in order to coordinate details of the Combined Operation”.
The visit quickly raised eyebrows from Nicolas Maduro critics.
“We suppose Venezuela will provide the infirm, of which there are many, for this combined military operation between the He Ping Fang Zhou Hospital Shit and the FANB, otherwise, availability is very limited…”, said Rocio San Miguel, head of the “Control Ciudadano” national security matters NGO.
The Asian giant became involved in the oil rich nation almost two decades ago under President Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s mentor and predecessor.
In spite of Venezuela’s myriad problems, Venezuela is still one of China’s main commercial and cooperation partners in the Western Hemisphere.
China has lent Venezuela more money, to the tune of $60 billion (of which over $20 billion is still outstanding) and has even extended a “period of grace” on debt service since 2016.
Although, China has not lent any further money to Venezuela since 2016 as the situation in the country has continued to deteriorate, earlier this month, Venezuela Finance Minister Simon Zerpa -- who is also on the U.S. sanctions list -- said that China was "investing" $250 million in Venezuela to increase oil production and that the country was finalizing paperwork to get a further $5 billion.
Russ Dallen, head of local investment bank Caracas Capital revealed in a report on Wednesday that two subsidiaries of China state oil giant CNPC had signed agreements to drill 300 wells in the Ayacucho sector of Venezuela's heavy oil belt to help get production up. The Ayacucho field was also supposed be used to back Venezuela's failed crypto-currency El Petro.
Venezuela repays the China loans by sending oil to China, but Venezuela's production has fallen to 1.34 million barrels a day as of June, OPEC reported this week. That is down from 3.5 million bpd that Venezuela was producing before Hugo Chavez came to power.
In 2016, Venezuela sent 505,000 barrels per day to China to repay those debts, according to PDVSA's audited financials. That 505,000 bpd was down from 579,000 bpd in 2015.
At the same time, the loans have had to be used to purchase Chinese goods and services. Venezuela has been an avid importer of Chinese military crowd-control equipment: the ubiquitous National Guard white light tanks which were used during the violent 2014 and 2017 anti-Maduro demonstrations, are all made in China.
The visit to Venezuela by the Chinese Hospital Ship will be part of an itinerary that also services ten other countries, including Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Columbia, Grenada, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominican Republic and Ecuador, to provide humanitarian medical services.
The ship will also have a stop in Chile to participate in the Chilean Navy's 200th founding anniversary celebration activities.
The hospital onboard the Peace Ark has 120 medical staff working in 18 clinical departments and 5 auxiliary ones. The hospital ship is also equipped with ship-borne heli-ambulances and during war carries .
Now in its 10th year, the ship has visited 37 countries where the doctors onboard have provided humanitarian medical service for more than 180,000 people, according to the Chinese Navy.