Humanitarian aid crossing the Venezuela Border. Photo Credit: Nelson Almeida, The New York Times
By Ashley Jones-Quiadoo, Columnist
Amid the recent humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, fueled by the reelection of President Nicolás Maduro, there is growing concern in the international community as some countries have denounced Maduro’s election as fraudulent. Once the wealthiest country in Latin America, Venezuela has become an embattled state since Maduro first took office in 2013. Continuous cycles of violence and hunger in a volatile economy decimated by high inflation have created a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela; at the end of 2018, the annual inflation rate was 80,000% [i].
Maduro’s commitment to finish his term has led to a clear divide between Russia and the United States, reminiscent of the Cold War. Both sides are divided on the legitimacy of President Maduro. The U.S., along with a coalition of members of the European Union, Canada, and thirteen Latin American countries, have said that they will not recognize the election as legitimate, instead supporting opposition leader Juan Guiado [ii]. Conversely, Russia and China have maintained their support for Maduro, interests regarding military arms and oil are at stake for each of the countries respectively stake [iii]. As the division has ensued, both sides have sought to give support to respective allies in the country. In December, Russia deployed bombers to Venezuela in a show of force as the U.S. and Venezuela have faced diplomatic distress in recent months [iv]. The interference of Russia has energized the U.S. rhetoric and support of Guiado. This week, the U.S. announced that it would begin sending humanitarian aid to Venezuela [v] The influx of humanitarian aid to Venezuela has become deeply politicized, as countries are using humanitarian aid support regime change or maintain the current status quo in Venezuela causing a disconnect between humanitarian principles and state intervention. States are disregarding some of the humanitarian principles that govern aid assistance, specifically neutrality, impartiality, and most importantly operational independence. [vi] As shown by recent U.S. support sent to Venezuela, aid often serves political purposes.
In recent days, Mark Green, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, spoke to members of the press as humanitarian supplies were unloaded from military cargo planes. Addressing concern about how to get aid into Venezuela, Green said, “That is really up to Juan Guaido… We are working with them to try and pre-position that assistance and give them the tools to lead their people” [vii]. Hopeful that the aid will reach those most vulnerable, the U.S. coalition face and opposition face one challenge as Maduro has deployed the Venezuelan military to the border to deter access to aid [viii]. Following Maduro’s response, the head of U.S. Southern Command, Navy Admiral, Craig Faller, said, “You [the Venezuelan military] will be held accountable for your actions. Do the right thing. Save your people and your country” [ix]. The rhetoric from the U.S. heavily politicizes humanitarian aid, while implying that if aid does not reach Venezuelans, then the potential for military intervention remains.
In recent years, the Venezuelan economy, health care system, and food resources have been decimated [x]. President Maduro has made little investment in critical infrastructure and vital upgrades to the healthcare industry and oil. Furthermore, corruption is rampant in Venezuela leaving the people without basic necessities. [xi] Thus, the politicization of aid in Venezuela has reinforced the idea that aid can bring a regime down as civilians receive help from the opposition. Guaido, who is recognized by most western governments, has promised that aid will be dispersed beginning on February 23rd [xii]. However, humanitarian aid should reflect the humanitarian principles that govern it. Aid groups are concerned that such political influence could worsen the environment and complicate their activities [xiii]. The United Nations continues to provide aid to Venezuela, which Maduro accepts [xiv]. The U.S. can redirect support to those aid agencies, and avoid a potential showdown with Maduro’s government. This will alleviate concerns by Maduro’s government that the West is falsely categorizing Venezuela as undergoing a humanitarian crisis in an attempt to subvert the government and invade Venezuela [xv]. While such aid would bring hope to Venezuelans, the political rhetoric surrounding assistance must be removed ensure stability and peace. The U.S. must continue to put diplomacy at the forefront calling the opposition and President to the table for negotiations. A diplomatic effort should call for new elections, and allow the people of Venezuela to decide their government. Meanwhile, any humanitarian aid for Venezuela should be provided through impartial international organizations, who have access to ensure aid reaches those who are most vulnerable.
The efforts of states to provide aid in Venezuela have rightfully been denounced by the international aid community. Humanitarian aid is supposed to be neutral and impartial. Thus, organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross have refused to collaborate with the U.S. in supporting the opposition [xvi]. While the U.S. does not deny that its efforts are intended to convince Venezuelan military officers to allow for aid to flow into the country [xvi], states should not use humanitarian aid as a tool for regime change. The effects of political humanitarian aid are being seen as Maduro has denounced local non-governmental organizations [xvii].
Further politicization of aid has dire consequences for Venezuelans. The people of Venezuela need help and should not be used as pawns to ensure regime change. The current environment polarizes relations between East and West, and risks escalation. The U.S. should redirect its support to international organizations providing aid to Venezuela. This will reduce further confrontation with the Maduro government, and counter Russian claims that humanitarian aid is a pretext for U.S. intervention. Furthermore, by disentangling aid from political matters, the U.S. would allow for the people of Venezuela to decide their government. More effort should be concentrated on getting the Maduro regime to sit down with opposition leaders to discuss the potential for a reelection. U.S. humanitarian aid resources should be shifted to those international organizations already providing aid in Venezuela. This will depoliticize aid and refute growing concerns about intervention in an already volatile situation.
[i] Hanke, Steve, “Venezuela’s Hyperinflation Hits 80,000% Per Year in 2018,” Forbes, January 1, 2019.
[ii] Herrero, Ana & Specia, Megan, “Venezuela is In Crisis. So How Did Maduro Secure a Second Term,” The New York Times, January 10, 2019
[iii] Kaplan, Stephen & Penfold, Michael, “China and Russia have Deep Financial Ties to Venezuela. Here’s what’s at Stake,” The Washington Post, February 22, 2019.
[iv] CBS, “Russia Sends Bombers to Venezuela calls U.S. Reaction ‘Undiplomatic,’” CBS News, December 11, 2018.
[v] Edson, Rich, “US says it will Deliver Aid Blocked by Venezuela, Setting up Confrontation with Maduro Regime,” Fox News, February 22, 2019.
[vi] Huma Haider, “Humanitarian Principles and Humanitarian Assistance,” Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, January 2013.
[vii] Edson, Rich, “US says it will Deliver Aid”, 2019.
[viii] Coote, Darryl, U.S. Navy to Venezuela Military: ‘Save Your People,’” UPI, February 21, 2019
[ix] Ibid, 2019
[x] Baddour, Dylan, “When Humantarian Aid is Used as a Weapon to Bring Down Regimes,” The Atlantic, February 21, 2019.
[xi] Kissane, Carolyn, “Venezuela’s Curse is Nearing His End,” The Hill, January 24, 2019.
[xii] Edson, Rich, “US Says it will Deliver Aid”, 2019.
[xiii] Otis, John, “U.S. Masses Aid Along Venezuelan Border as As Some Humanitarian Groups Warn of Risks,” National Public Radio, February 16, 2019.
[xiv] Ibid, 2019.
[xv] Otis, John, “U.S. Masses Aid Along Venezuelan Border,” National Public Radio, February 16, 2019.
[xvi] Ibid, 2019.
[xvii] Ibid, 2019.