By Mary Anastasia O'Grady
The Wall Street Journal
Researchers at the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine report that a vaccine long used against tuberculosis may mitigate the effects of Covid-19, reducing the fatality rate.
The study-preprinted on March 24 and awaiting peer review-offers hope to countries in Latin America. As it turns out, in a region where many people can’t afford to lose income by staying home and public-health systems are weak, there is also a history of administering the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin tuberculosis vaccine to children. The researchers report a high correlation between countries with fewer coronavirus fatalities and those with longstanding BCG vaccination programs.
“The earlier that a country established a BCG vaccination,” the researchers write, “the stronger the reduction in their number of deaths per million inhabitants.” Venezuela seems to have had a universal BCG vaccination policy in the mid-20th century. If the study’s analysis is correct, the nation may be spared the worst of Covid-19.
Yet Venezuelans now face a new existential threat: a fuel shortage. As the crisis unfolds it is squeezing the supply of transportation, which in turn is making it increasingly difficult to produce and distribute food and potable water, and to manage waste disposal.
Many more Venezuelans may die in the next few months from the spread of other diseases, untreated chronic illnesses, injuries or malnutrition caused by extreme gasoline shortages.
Venezuela’s capacity to produce oil and petrochemicals began its long decline not long after Hugo Chávez purged the state-owned oil company PdVSA of about half its skilled workforce in 2002-03. In the years that followed he replaced those employees with political loyalists and added more as he expanded the company’s mission to include social causes. One important milestone was a 2012 explosion at the Amuay Refinery on the Paraguaná peninsula. The regime blamed the disaster on sabotage but a report commissioned by the opposition pointed to a propane leak caused by poor maintenance.
The Paraguaná Refinery Complex-which also includes the Cardón Refinery-and other refineries around the country once produced more than 510,000 barrels a day of gasoline and diesel. That was enough to meet domestic demand and to sell abroad. Amuay was partly repaired after the big fire, but the supply of high-octane gasoline declined 50%. Today neither Amuay nor any other Venezuelan refinery is operating.
The problem of deterioration could be ignored for a time because demand for fuel slowed along with the economy. The regime continued to send crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast and to import gasoline made there by Citgo.
In February 2019, in an effort to restore democracy in Caracas, the Trump administration put Citgo assets under the control of Venezuelan interim President Juan Guaidó. The company ceased supplying Venezuela. Mr. Maduro turned to bartering crude for gasoline with Russia’s Rosneft, Spain’s Repsol and Italy’s ENI.
The international oil-price crash has been a blow to the value of Venezuelan crude, which has fallen to between $10 and $15 a barrel. As U.S. sanctions have tightened, buyers have demanded greater discounts to compensate for the risks. Rosneft recently turned over its Venezuelan business to the Kremlin, suggesting that doing business with the South American oil producer is more trouble than it’s worth.
The Maduro regime is broke-not counting drug-trafficking profits-but it continues to ship diesel to Cuba and maintains a tradition of retailing gasoline for pennies. Now a nation accustomed to cheap, plentiful fuel is paralyzed. People who own cars can’t fill up. Propane isn’t delivered in most places anymore, leaving Venezuelans without cooking fuel. Ambulances can’t answer calls. Farmers can’t run machinery or get crops to market.
Writing in the Venezuelan online newspaper Tal Cual on April 1, Valentina Rodríguez Rodríguezdocumented long lines at pumps and many closed gas stations around the country. Headline: “Gasoline shortage in Venezuela spreads faster than Covid-19.”
On Friday the Associated Press reported that it has seen an invoice from Maroil Trading Inc. billing “PdVSA 12 million euros last month for the purchase of up to 250,000 barrels of 95-octane gasoline.” The company is owned by Venezuelan shipping tycoon Wilmer Ruperti, who made a fortune as a Chávez government contractor. AP reported that Mr. Ruperti declined to comment on the matter. Whether the shipment will collide with President Trump’s decision to double U.S. military resources in the Caribbean, including destroyers and surveillance planes, is interesting to contemplate. But even if it gets through, it is equal to only a week’s supply.
Meanwhile the regime says it intends to repair the El Palito refinery in Carabobo but industry veterans say that’s a heavy lift. Another option for Mr. Maduro would be to deport his Cuban bodyguards and spies, to step aside and allow for elections. If he refuses, he may kill more people than any virus.
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