By Ana Julia Niño Gamboa

Venezuelan propaganda amplifies tweets by officials of the National Executive on the arrival of 500,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines, filling the disinformation gaps left with the tale of heroic feat of Venezuela and its ally China.

Executive Summary

On October 11, 2020, Nicolás Maduro offered thousands of volunteers for Phase 3 clinical trials of the Chinese vaccine. He then assured that the drug would arrive in Venezuela the following week. He did not provide any details of which vaccine it was, the name of the company, or the Asian laboratory; he did not explain the selection or administration protocol for vaccines and placebos; he did not talk about the information that would be disclosed to volunteers; much less did he mention the agreement whereby the trials would be performed. The truth is that these were never conducted in Venezuela and the Chinese vaccine did not hit the news again until March 1, 2021, in a tweet from the Ministry of Health account announcing the approval of the Sinopharm vaccine, and six hours later a shipment with 500,000 doses arrived in the country. By disclosing the fact on his Twitter account, Maduro promised the prompt start of mass vaccination. 

Official information on the Sinopharm vaccine is scarce. In this regard, the Ministry of Health limited itself to announce its approval without specifying whether it is a general or emergency permit. Although Vice President Delcy Rodríguez thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping for the supposed donation, some media question whether the shipment is free of charge, firstly because several inquiries on the price of this drug indicate that it is very expensive, and also because the government of Nicolás Maduro has systematically handled with opacity everything related to the procurement agreements with its geopolitical allies (Russia and China) for supplies, medicines, and vaccines. It is a remarkable fact that, on each occasion, he speaks indistinctly of donations, aid, or purchases without it being possible to access accurate data on each of these procurement modalities. 

For this study, we reviewed 14 sources, including government websites, media aligned with the government narrative, others independent from it, the Xinhua Agency website, and the subdomain, created by the government to centralize information on the website of Sistema Patria (Fatherland System), the entitlement program for supporters of the regime. The review covers the referential period starting in October 2020 until the first week of March 2021, being the permit of use reported on the first day thereof, a few hours after the arrival of the vaccine in the country.   

The review conducted confirms the information policy that the Government of Nicolás Maduro has put in place during the pandemic, especially for matters regarding its relationship with Beijing: Persistent concealment of information of a public nature. This often leads to disinformation. In addition, government actions that should be subject to accountability are turned into propaganda. The purpose of these propaganda tactics is to position the philanthropic relationship that both governments insist on promoting, always to defend themselves from the government of Washington. 


This research aims to show the occurrence of the data provided by the government of Nicolás Maduro on the Chinese vaccine on official websites and public media, as well as the coverage given to the issue by the private media outlets selected. The background is marked by the close relationship that high-ranking officials of both countries have cultivated and how the issue has been exploited from a narrative against the actions of the U.S. government. In that sense, the rhetoric is put at the service of Beijing’s authority, thus portraying a not negligible image as a supporter of Venezuela, which also positions it in much of Latin America. This rhetoric also serves the Venezuelan government, which justifies its ineffectiveness and inefficiency under the pretext of an alleged blockade preventing it from buying medicines and supplies due to measures taken by the U.S. Treasury Department. In this regard, both use a propagandistic narrative above the constitutional duty holding the National Executive publically accountable to inform as a branch of Government. 

We explored the information available on official websites and media. We also looked into some private media independent of the government narrative to show the interest aroused by the topic in them in view of its importance, especially in the midst of the pandemic that has worsened misinformation issues.  

In our research, we reviewed 14 sources, including government websites, media aligned with the government narrative, and others independent from it. We also added the Xinhua Agency website (its Spanish feed) and the subdomain, created by the government to centralize information on the website of Sistema Patria, the entitlement program for supporters of the regime. The review covers the period from October 2020 to the first week of March 2021, since the two central events motivating this investigation took place precisely on March 1, 2021.  

Table 1: Media reviewed


Table 2: Government sources



The inquiry pursued herein is focused on the official sources and the coverage by the media outlets selected. Through them, we intend to understand what they reveal as well as what they remain silent on. This design allows us to discern a pattern of behavior and handling of public information in the hands of those in power, but in this case especially focused on the promotion of the Chinese vaccine. 

This is a research from a qualitative, documentary perspective and our corpus focuses on the data that we could gather from official National Executive websites, in news items published by the media outlets selected, both local and foreign. 

The reading of the sources was done online. For this purpose, we have made use of the Google search engine and applied its advanced search tool. Our information gathering and data construction model is based on content analysis. Its initial categories aim to determine whether or not a media outlet has any news on the subject under investigation and, if it does, what the focus given is.


The consolidation of China’s presence in Venezuela has become evident at this stage of COVID-19 in two aspects: The contribution of supplies and medicines through an almost inscrutable humanitarian aid scheme and the offer to prioritize the Chinese vaccine for Venezuela. This would initially be achieved with the participation of Venezuelan nationals in Phase 3 clinical trials for some of the vaccines, which did not happen. The matter has risen to prominence again since the first delivery of the vaccine from state-owned Chinese company Sinopharm has been made. 500,000 doses arrived, which, in strict compliance with the two-dose protocol required, are enough to inoculate 250,000 people. 

Amidst the relationship between China and Venezuela, which seems to stretch beyond the philanthropic interests stated by the Chinese Communist Party and the selfless acceptance that Nicolás Maduro tries to display, gravitates the presence of the US government. This is the outlook that allows us to envision the movements and rearrangements to take place in the post-pandemic world geopolitics.

By means of this study, we seek to document a trend that has intensified in these times of pandemic: Poor management of public information. We also aim to show, from a critical standpoint, how government secrecy and propaganda in favor of the allegedly selfless help from the Beijing government are privileged against U.S. policies.


News items regarding Sinopharm’s permit of use and the reception of the vaccine by government bodies are scattered across government websites. Most of them are based on Nicolás Maduro’s tweets, not very specific in data to reduce uncertainty and avoid speculation at this sensitive moment for Venezuelans with its long-lasting crisis as backdrop, now worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The government seems to have chosen Twitter as its favorite e-government platform; but, at least in the case under analysis, its use is limited to promoting issues supporting proselytism and propaganda against the United States and its sanctions and to position the benefits of the Chinese-Venezuelan alliance to confront imperialism. It is logical to expect that the Ministry of Health website would provide details regarding the permit of use for the vaccine, specifying whether it is for general or emergency use, as was done in Argentina and Peru.

However, the data did not go beyond a tweet. We can say the same about Nicolás Maduro’s statements in his account (@NicolasMaduro). His announcements of March 1, 2021 are in this tone: i) “With great joy I inform that, right now, 500 Thousand doses of COVID-19 vaccines are arriving in Venezuela, coming from the People’s Republic of China. This is wonderful news that fills us with great hope. Soon we will begin the mass vaccination of our people”, and ii) “On behalf of the People of Venezuela, I thank our brother President Xi Jinping and the noble Chinese people, for their unwavering spirit of cooperation and support towards our beloved Fatherland. The Chinese Vaccine will reinforce the immunization process we started in the country”. His statements were not expanded by the so-called Presidential Press (Prensa Presidencial) “office”, which is nothing else but a Twitter account and a Facebook profile.

On the other hand, the Office of the Vice President and the Ministry of Economy and Finance social media accounts reproduce the tweets by Delcy Rodriguez, nothing surprising because both offices are held by her, so that all three have the same content. Meanwhile, the government subdomain, created to centralize information on the coronavirus, does not depart from the National Executive narrative. In one week, it barely issued a news item regarding this topic. 

By March 6, 2021, the Office of the Vice President and MINCI websites report a statement by the Minister of Health confirming that the 500,000 doses that arrived only cover 250,000 people. He further claims that they will vaccinate 100,000 teachers and 50,000 healthcare staff involved in the COVID-19 door-to-door screening as part of this new phase with the Chinese vaccine. However, we were not able to access the mass vaccination schedule announced. On March 7, the Ministry of Health website reports the launch of the vaccination rollout for Monday, March 8. In this case, the source is a statement from Maduro during the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV) plenary session. Notwithstanding, details of the announced plan are still unknown.      

The evidently scattered official information impairs the work of the media and, consequently, citizens’ access to reliable information. The few data disclosed do not provide details on matters of public interest and, in this case, disinformation takes shape in the form of rumors and hoaxes. 

For their part, the media aligned with the official narrative limit themselves to sharing the tweets from government spokespersons without further context or depth, in a sort of circular replication of sources. They specially stress propagandistic statements by Delcy Rodríguez, who described China’s gesture as “historic”, as “a relationship of brotherly countries that jointly overcome the US imperial blockade”. She also expressed her gratitude as the cooperation “has allowed Venezuela, amidst the worst blockade and imperial attack, to protect the health and life of the Venezuelan people”. She denounced that “extremism has sought to prevent vaccination, but thanks to Russia and China, Venezuela continues on its path to immunize the people…”

Table 3: Summary of government sources

MINISTRY OF HEALTHi) 03/01/2021 “Venezuela has approved the use of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine to immunize the Venezuelan people against COVID-19. Thanks to the China-Venezuela cooperation, we take care of the health and life of our people.”
ii) 03/07/2021: “Venezuela to begin administration of Chinese COVID-19 vaccine this Monday”. 
i) Taken from the Twitter account @MinSaludVE. Despite the importance of this news, the ministry’s website does not provide any information in this regard. 

ii) Headline based on a statement by Maduro during the 5th PSUV Extraordinary Congress Plenary Session. It adds: “The Head of State assured that it [the vaccine] will be administered to over 500,000 Venezuelan men and women” It is worth noting that 500,000 vaccines arrived, not more.
SISTEMA PATRIA03/01/2021: “President Maduro announces arrival in Venezuela of first lot of 500 thousand COVID-19 vaccines developed by China”.Based on information from Nicolás Maduro’s tweet. It reports that the reception of the “historic shipment of Chinese medicine” is a donation.
MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS03/02/2021: “Shipment of 500,000 doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine arrives in Venezuela”.It reports in the same terms as Nicolás Maduro’s tweets. Its source is Presidential Press.
OFFICE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT03/02/2021: “First lot of Chinese vaccines to fight COVID-19 arrives in Venezuela”.

03/06/2021: “100,000 teachers to receive Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine”.
Delcy Rodriguez made the following statement from Maiquetía Airport: “I would like to thank President Xi Jinping, his government and the Chinese people for this very important donation of 50,000 vaccines that will be added to the vaccination plan”. Furthermore, “we want to thank the cooperation with China, because it has allowed Venezuela, amidst the worst blockade and imperial attack, to protect the health and life of the Venezuelan people”.
Based on statements made by the Minister of Health, according to which “the first lot of vaccines will allow the immunization of 250,000 Venezuelans” Additionally, “we are going to start with 100,000 teachers and 50,000 people involved in the door-to-door COVID-19 screening, it is part of the new phase with the Chinese vaccine”.
03/02/2021: “First lot of Chinese vaccines to fight COVID-19 arrives in Venezuela”.The initial news item appears on the Twitter account @MinEcoFinanzas with a link to the ministry’s website. It reproduces the information from the Office of the Vice President, as attributed in the body of the news item.
PRESIDENTIAL PRESS03/02/2021: “Shipment of 500,000 doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine arrives in Venezuela”. Taken from the Twitter account @PresidencialVen with a link to the Facebook account of Presidential Press. The news item is based on Nicolás Maduro’s tweets.
MINCI03/06/2021: “100,000 teachers to receive Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine”.It includes statements made by the Minister of Health upon receiving the second lot of 100,000 doses of the Russian vaccine.

On March 1, the private media reported the permit of use for the Sinopharm vaccine and pointed out the lack of information regarding the arrival of the drug. Doubt turned into surprise as, six hours later, Nicolás Maduro announced the arrival of the 500,000 doses on his Twitter account. 

Whether these 500,000 doses are a donation from the government of Beijing is a doubt that some media let slip, especially because the National Executive has handled its relationship with its geopolitical allies, Russia and China, with total opacity, especially in these times of coronavirus pandemic, and nothing is known about the procurement agreements for supplies, medicines, equipment, and vaccines. In addition, there is indistinct talk of donations, aid, and purchases without being able to discriminate each modality clearly to date.


A review of the statements made by official spokespersons on all matters regarding the Chinese vaccine from the Sinopharm laboratory indicates that opacity is a strong tendency that the Venezuelan government seems to display as a communication policy. The information to which we had access required putting together scattered pieces. This impairs journalistic work and due release of public information to citizens as part of their right of access to information. 

The statements made by the concerned ministers, the Office of the Vice President, and Nicolás Maduro himself insist on stressing the close ties between China and Venezuela, which is not reprehensible in principle. However, due public accountability is sacrificed to encourage a propagandistic approach in favor of Xi Jinping’s government as the philanthropic savior of the country, always keeping U.S. imperialism front and center. In this regard, efforts from government media stress the topic portraying it as the desire of how the mapping of geopolitical poles is expected in a post-pandemic scenario.

The little information released does not specify matters of public interest. This undermines citizen confidence and gives room for conspiracy theories and disinformation. 

Medianalisis Cotejo Fake News En Este País