President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela was quoted recently saying that he is refusing international aid for his country, because he doesn’t want Venezuelans to be ‘beggars’. The need for aid was sparked by the current disastrous financial situation of the country. One study concluded that the annual inflation rate reached 1,300,000% in the 12 months leading up to November 2018. With the GDP falling, lack of medical supplies and limited food supplies causing increased prices, Venezuelans are leaving the country in droves. 63% of Venezuelans lost an average of 11.4kgs in 2017 due to lack of food. The need for humanitarian aid is dire.
Venezuela has seen great turmoil in recent months, adding extra stress to an already vulnerable situation. On 23 January, the leader of the Venezuelan legislature, Juan Guaidó declared himself acting president, refuting Maduro’s authority. Maduro had just been sworn in for his second six-year term amongst claims of corruption under his administration and within the election. Additionally, while Maduro took on a failing economy in his first term,little was done in alleviating the issues; popular discontent grew. So much so that the legislative assembly that Guaidó headed did not recognize Maduro’s election. Because they believed that Maduro was not freely elected to office, the National Assembly argued he was a ‘usurper’. Under the Venezuelan Constitution, that makes the Office of the President vacant and places power with the leader of the National Assembly. The United States and other countries have recognized Guaidó as the president. Obviously, Maduro does not accept this logic, and has maintained that he is the constitutional president. He also claims that the United States is behind Guaidó’s claims of the presidency.
This conflict has only heightened the issues Venezuela is facing. The need for medical supplies and food is extreme, and the international community has recognized such these issues. Cases of malaria, measles, and diphtheria are spiking across the country. Venezuelans are starving. The United States and Canada have airlifted supplies to Colombia, with hopes to drive it across to Venezuela, but Maduro has blocked the Tienditas International Bridge that runs between Colombia and Venezuela, making the aid undelivered.
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos has called for the blockade to stop, as it could help stem the tide of Venezuelans fleeing to Colombia. Colombia has struggled with the extreme influx of refugees, and Santos’ frustration was clear in his statement. He said: ‘This is the result of your policies; it’s not the fault of us Colombians’. Maduro continues to stand by the decision, despite the horrific conditions within the country. Delegates from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and the United States have also called for Maduro to open the bridge and allow the assistance into Venezuela.
Guaidó has pledged to bring $60 million of aid across the border and into Venezuela, despite Maduro’s support from the military in the blockade. Maduro has also been distributing propaganda to convince Venezuelans of the threat the aid posts. One video argued that the aid would bring ‘lust-filled foreign “peacekeepers”… on their way to rape their way through Venezuela’.
Politics are at the heart of this human rights crisis. Maduro is transfixed with the political elements of the international assistance, and takes no note of the humanitarian crisis at hand. The blocking of aid to enter the country is a violation of Venezuelans’ human rights. While living through a corrupt administration, Venezuelans have had their human rights ignored. This decision by Maduro is a continuation of such. His political maneuverings are prioritized over basic necessities for his people. His citizens are literally dying from starvation and lack of proper medical care; two things that could be easily remedied by allowing the humanitarian assistance to reach Venezuela.
Venezuelans have taken to the street to protest Maduro and his government. There has a violent crackdown on these protests. There have been 26 reported deaths and 364 people detained. Tear gas has been used and journalists have allegedly been attacked and detained. This is not new behavior from security forces in Venezuela, who regularly suppress groups (particularly political groups) through force. Human Rights Watch commented that, ‘Venezuelan officials should be held accountable if security forces resort to the same repressive tactics they have used in previous crackdowns against anti-government protests’.
A humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is worsening by a culture of human rights abuses in Venezuela. Lives are being lost because political gains are being valued over the security of human life. The international community should move quickly to condemn Maduro’s behavior and to save lives.