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UPDATE 1-Venezuela could start receiving COVAX vaccines in May, Guaido advisor says

·2 min read

(Adds context on Venezuela's financing for COVAX, quote)

CARACAS, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Venezuela could begin receiving coronavirus vaccines via the global COVAX program in May, an advisor to opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Tuesday, adding that the timing will depend on when the U.S. Treasury approves funding for the inoculations.

Allies of Guaido, who is recognized by the United States as the country's legitimate leader, have opened talks with the government of President Nicolas Maduro to use part of the frozen funds to finance Venezuela's participation in COVAX.

Moving those funds generally requires applying for a license from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which took control of some $342 million in 2019 as part of a sanctions program meant to force Maduro from power.

"It depends on how long the license takes," said Dr. Julio Castro, an infectious diseases expert who advises Guaido on health issues, in a text message, estimating they may come in May.

The information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Humanitarian aid agencies have sought to discreetly broker an agreement between the two sides despite a deep animosity between the opposition and Maduro's government, which is widely accused of violating rights and undermining democracy.

Paolo Balladelli, Venezuelan Mission Chief for the Pan American Health Organization, on Saturday via Twitter thanked the opposition and the government for helping advance an agreement on COVAX.

Maduro has not publicly confirmed that government officials have been involved in negotiations with Guaido's allies, and says the funds seized by the United States have been stolen.

He said last week that Venezuela has invested $200 million in Russian Sputnik V vaccines, which began arriving this month.

The COVAX vaccine-sharing facility is spearheaded by the World Health Organization and the GAVI vaccine alliance. (Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)