GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States called on Russia and China on Thursday to provide more humanitarian aid to their ally Venezuela in its fight against the growing COVID-19 epidemic.
Venezuela, which has so far reported 4,048 cases of COVID-19 and 35 deaths to the World Health Organization (WHO), has jailed doctors and journalists for trying to expose the true extent of infections, Special Representative Elliott Abrams told a diplomatic event organised by the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva.
“We do think the numbers are tragically a good deal higher,” Abrams added.
Referring to China and Russia, he said: “We would like to see them contribute more on the humanitarian side. There has been, I believe, some contribution of goods with respect to COVID-19 by Russia and China.
“But the scale, the dollar amount of this aid, is really quite low in comparison to the needs,” he said.
The OPEC member’s economy is reeling from a six-year recession and a prolonged political crisis that has driven at least 4.5 million Venezuelans to flee abroad.
Abrams said opposition leader Juan Guaido and his interim government - recognised by more than 50 countries - would soon provide $20 million in assets to the Pan-American Health Organisation - the WHO’s regional office - and other aid groups.
Abrams said the government of President Nicolas Maduro holds 450 political prisoners and has sought to usurp institutions, including the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court is now completely subservient to the regime,” he said.
Abrams reiterated a U.S. offer of March 31 for a power-sharing deal under which it would begin lifting sanctions - including against Venezuela’s oil sector - if the opposition and members of Maduro’s Socialist Party form an interim government without him.
“That framework is not an ultimatum, it is not a take it or leave it. It is a proposal that clarifies the conditions under which U.S. sanctions would be lifted and provide a starting point for Venezuelans to discuss a pathway forward,” he said.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones and Dan Grebler