Venezuela's Maduro proposes paying for coronavirus vaccines with oil

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday proposed paying for vaccines against the novel coronavirus with oil, though he provided few details about how such a scheme would work.

The crisis-stricken OPEC nation's crude exports have plummeted to their lowest levels in decades since Washington sanctioned state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela in 2019, cutting off Venezuela's exports to the United States and dissuading many other customers from buying Venezuelan oil as well.

Maduro said Venezuela was working to pay for vaccines from the World Health Organization's (WHO) COVAX mechanism - which provides vaccine access to poor countries - both through Venezuelan funds frozen in overseas accounts due to sanctions, and through oil shipments.

"Venezuela has the oil vessels and has the customers who will buy our oil," Maduro said in a state television address. "We are ready and prepared for oil for vaccines, but we will not beg anyone."

Venezuela has received vaccine doses from allies Russia and China. The government and the opposition had been in talks with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) over Venezuela's access to vaccines through COVAX, but the government said last week it would not accept the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine, one of the main inoculations deployed by COVAX in Latin America.

Washington labels Maduro - who has overseen an economic collapse since taking office in the South American country in 2013 - a dictator who rigged his 2018 re-election and has violated human rights in crackdowns on dissent.

Maduro says Washington is seeking to oust him in a coup to control Venezuela's oil reserves, the largest in the world by some measures.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Writing by Luc Cohen; editing by Diane Craft)