A lot of context gets lost in all of the political rhetoric surrounding the crisis in Venezuela, especially when international politics is concerned. So we want to keep the focus on one key fact here; the fact that there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country. More and more people going without food, water, and essential medication, crime is out of control and the economy is falling apart.
Quick refresher, in case you’ve been living under a rock. Nicolás Maduro is the allegedly illegitimate sitting president, at least according to a large percentage of the population, the political opposition and other American nations. Supported by the Venezuelan military, he is still running the current government. He’s looking for new Legislative elections, he seeks to remain in power and is refusing to accept foreign aid from countries allied with the opposition.
Juan Guaidó is the president of the National Assembly and self-proclaimed interim president, supported by the Lima Group (13 countries from the Americas, including Argentina) and the United States. Venezuela’s National Assembly, the country’s legislative branch, declared Maduro an illegitimate president after a series of moves that sought to remove power from the Assembly and concentrate it in the office of the president or allied organizations created by him, such as the Constituent Assembly.
So, let’s move forward to today. Why isn’t aid getting to the people of Venezuela?
Maduro is currently not allowing international aid into the country. His opponent, Guaido, just announced over US $100 million in aid has been collected but according to the Washington Post, only 85,000 rations have actually been delivered to Venezuelans. The welfare of the people has become weaponized, and Maduro is resisting international aid as a way of maintaining control of the country.
Since international aid is inherently political, it does look bad on Maduro to accept aid from the same countries calling for him to step down, including Argentina and the rest of Latin America (save Uruguay). Maduro announced last week that aid in the form of medication and health products had arrived in Venezuela from allies of his: Russia, China, and Cuba.
Maduro commented “ [On February 14th] 933 tons of medicine from China, Russia, and Cuba arrived and we paid them with our money, because we are not beggars.”
Maduro seems to imply here that he cares more about being considered a ‘beggar’ than having Venezuelans get the food and health care they need. To Maduro, aid from Lima Group countries, the EU, or the United States, is a veiled attempt at a coup d’etat, and would provide a pretext for intervention later on. His administration has been accusing, in particular, the United States of biowarfare through poisoned or cancer-causing food and supplies under the guise of national aid, and thus has refused all aid. No evidence of this has been brought forward.
What can the National Assembly’s options to let the aid in?
In reality, not many. Venezuela’s Health minister, Carlos Alvarado confirmed the shipment of aid mentioned by Maduro had made it into the country, and that the aid had come from the PanAmerican Health Organization and directly from the ministry, as well as from allies of Maduro.
This means parts of the shipment didn’t come from his international allies, despite Maduro’s saying it had. Chances are government officials in Venezuela can work behind the scenes to keep basic health care and infrastructure systems “afloat” (and those are very big quotes) despite what Alvarado says is a “choking” process of the government by the “empire” (i.e. the United States).
Warehouses of food and medical supplies from the United States sit in Cúcuta, Colombia at the Colombia-Venezuela border crossing. Guaidó, who stands as the leader of the National Assembly, has, along with thousands of Venezuelan volunteers, planned a visit to the border crossing this Saturday to escort the supplies across the border and into the country. Get ready for a showdown.
What about the Lima Group? Do member countries have a strategy for this?
Currently, the Lima Group, which is comprised of 13 Latin American countries including Argentina and Canada, is meeting frequently (next meeting is on February 25th in Bogotá, Colombia) and working towards two main goals.
Firstly, how to get food and supplies to the people of Venezuela. Secondly, how to pressure Maduro into stepping down, in order to allow for Guaido to become interim president for a maximum of 30 days, during which he would call for new presidential elections.
What’s Argentina’s role in all this?
Mauricio Macri announced last week the creation of a “Management Unit for the Support of Reconstruction of Venezuela” with a mission of providing humanitarian aid. Macri just had a meeting with Uruguayan president Tabaré Vázquez (who has been notoriously neutral on the question of Venezuela), and came to the conclusion that they had shared goals of “finding a democratic solution with free, credible elections that have trusted international controls.”
The Maduro administration has come down hard on Macri in the past, having called him a “lap dog” only following in the footsteps of the United States during the G20.
Is international pressure having any effect on Maduro?
One could argue that while there still are people starving and going with medication in Venezuela, nothing seems to be working. Maduro just deported five members of the European parliament who were looking to meet with Guiado, with the reasoning that “Nicolas Maduro does not want them here.”
With Maduro still in control of the military, there’s little the National Assembly can do to oppose him, as evidenced by events like the expulsion of the European parlamentarians.
An argument could be made also that extensive international interference is aggravating the tensions within the country. The aid and influence from countries that support Guaidó is coming as an affront to Maduro, which might escalate the situation sooner than expected.
Who is talking about military intervention in the country?
Maduro and his allies have been calling military inference from the United States ever since the first shipment of supplies arrived at the Cúcuta border. They see the planes and the supplies as a way to disguise military intervention. Meanwhile, the US has officially expressed support for a Guaidó government and Trump so far has said “all options are on the table.” This is an expression he regularly uses when he’s trying to avoid details, but the expression itself makes it pretty clear the US could be ready to a military intervention in Venezuela. And that deserves a whole new article to explain what that could mean.