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A Letter to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

HOUSTON, Feb. 25, 2021 -- The Simón Bolívar Foundation (Foundation), the 501(c)(3) private foundation of CITGO Petroleum Corporation, upholds high standards of corporate governance and ethics. With these standards in mind, we wish to provide information regarding our charitable programs in Venezuela and address some of the erroneous assertions made in the preliminary report issued on February 12, 2021 by the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations.

The preliminary report makes an assertion regarding 53 transplant patients – details of which we are not aware and do not seem to be supported in fact.

CITGO and the Simoń Bolívar Foundation raise this point in a spirit of transparency, and with a desire that our charitable activities be fully and accurately understood. We would be more than happy to review further with the Special Rapporteur of UNHRC.

More importantly, this provides an opportunity to further raise awareness about the alarming situation of children with high-risk diseases in Venezuela. There are not only hundreds of patients who require organ transplant every year, but thousands who urgently require high-cost post-transplant medications and exams.

It is important to note that in past years all these diseases could be treated within Venezuela. The profound deterioration of Venezuela’s health system has spurred the creation of programs to support treatment of patients in other countries, rather than supporting the capacity for treatment in Venezuela.

The Simón Bolívar Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charity registered in the United States, which receives donations from CITGO to fund health programs, one of the four pillars of the corporation’s social responsibility commitment. The Foundation's main focus, as established in consultation with its sole member CITGO, is to support Venezuela’s complex humanitarian crisis.

The Foundation has helped and continues to help children with a variety of high-risk diseases requiring complex treatments including, but not limited to, bone marrow transplants, liver transplants and specialized surgeries to treat congenital heart conditions.

In the past, specifically from 2007 through 2018, the Foundation utilized a grant model under which a limited group of individual patients received grants that funded medical treatments outside of Venezuela.  The Foundation recently chose to move away from this approach, for a number of reasons:

  1. This model does not create the capacity for the treatment of high-risk diseases in Venezuela, but instead devoted funds for a small group of individuals to access treatments outside of Venezuela. This inherently limited the impact of the Foundation’s charitable efforts to a select few and did little to build capacity inside Venezuela.
  2. The original grants, which were supposed to provide medical treatment for transplants or complex surgeries for only 5-6 months, became open-ended with an average of 4-5 years of financial aid from the Foundation as the Venezuelan health system continued to deteriorate. In some cases, the Foundation has extended aid for more than 8 years.
  3. The average grant per patient was approximately $100,000 per year, with certain patients accumulating funds over time of close to a million dollars.  The charitable assistance included not only medical treatment, but also housing and living expenses, something uncommon for this type of foundation. Again, while this support was vital for the individual recipients, creating capacity in Venezuela for treatment of these high risk diseases stands to benefit a much greater number of Venezuelans in need.

The Foundation is honored to have been able to help these patients and their families. However, in view of the complex humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the Foundation decided to review its mission and adopt a model that could reach more people and institutions with the Foundation’s limited budget, in order to achieve the greatest possible impact. This renewed vision is "access to basic health care is a valued human right" not just for a few but for many.

With a revised mission where the focus is improving the health of vulnerable people affected by disasters, conflict, and poverty, with special attention to children and mothers, inside and outside Venezuela, the Foundation has established three objectives:

  • Increase access to medicine, nutrition, and welfare for low-income and vulnerable people and communities;
  • Improve the ability of medical professionals and caregivers to serve and treat patients through education and support, to rebuild expertise and capacity that can impact a greater number of patients; and
  • Increase the effectiveness of community organizations and actors by empowering them to address the health needs of the most vulnerable people in their communities, particularly children and mothers.

In relation to these high-risk diseases and fulfilling these objectives, the Foundation has been evaluating a grant program in which health institutions in Venezuela are funded and empowered to develop capacities for medical personnel to treat these diseases and to increase access to required medicines within Venezuela to serve thousands in need.  We are seeking to establish alliances with national and international academic organizations, and identify organizations capable of doing so in order to not only serve a small number of patients, but also to promote capacity building within the country, to serve thousands in need.  However, the main obstacles we have encountered to carry out this program reside in the limitations that NGOs and charitable organizations have to operate in a safe and regular manner inside the country.

With this new mission, the Foundation has organized since 2019 several rounds of charitable grants, small and large, to support initiatives to mitigate the effects of Venezuela’s complex humanitarian crisis and the consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic. This has allowed the Foundation to assist in 2020 almost 100,000 people in Venezuela and Venezuelan refugees with nutrition, medicine and access to health care and response to COVID 19. This included grants through NGOs to provide immunosuppressive medicines for transplant patients residing in Venezuela.

If anything, the pandemic has underscored the importance of developing strong and effective health care systems in country given travel restrictions.

Equally important for the Foundation is adhering to best practices. This is why all grant agreements entered into with the Foundation require that the grantee organizations comply with all applicable laws, including anti-corruption, anti-bribery, conflict-of-interest laws and other relevant charitable requirements.

In summary, we hope to have provided additional information about the Foundation’s important charitable work to assist with the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, and that it opens a dialogue with the United Nations to spur collaborative efforts that contribute to the restoration of medical capabilities in the health sector in Venezuela.

 

 

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