The political agenda behind American aid to Venezuela

The political agenda behind American aid to Venezuela

By Luke Vargas   
USAID relief items arrive in Colombia. February 6, 2019. Courtesy: U.S. Agency for International Development
USAID relief items for Venezuela arrive in Colombia. Courtesy: U.S. Agency for International Development

The United States bends the definition of 'humanitarian aid' to advance its political interests in Venezuela.

UNITED NATIONS — Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro blocked American aid from reaching the country this week, accusing the U.S. of trying to smuggle weapons to opposition factions and using the offer of aid to suggest he was unable to care for his people’s needs.

Even though Maduro is unlikely to ever wave the U.S. aid through, the U.S. is continuing to stockpile food and medicine at Venezuela’s border with Colombia.

“The principle battlefront at the moment is over humanitarian aid.”

Philip Gunson is senior analyst for Venezuela at the International Crisis Group, and is based in Caracas.

“It deeply undermines the credibility of a government if it’s forced to accept a convoy of aid from its declared enemies.”

While the U.S. claims Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim president, Juan Guaidó, asked for aid and should be able to accept it, it’s clear Washington knows the aid is part of a stunt, and not everyone’s happy about that.

“There’ve been several statements in recent days by different branches of the Red Cross, by Caritas — the Catholic charity here in Venezuela — by the E.U. in the person of Federica Mogherini, by U.N. agencies expressing discomfort by the way that this is being used.”

For the moment, Venezuela’s troops haven’t needed to use force to turn away U.S. aid, but Gunson worries the U.S. — which hasn’t ruled out the possible use of military force — is needlessly raising tensions.

“The risk, it seems to me, is that if you continually threaten — even if it’s only implicitly — the use of military force, and the people you’re trying to shift just don’t budge and they remain in power, and you’ve applied sanctions which are going to make the humanitarian emergency much, much worse — so you’re looking at a situation that’s actually worse than when you started applying this remedy — then the temptation to use force and the pressure to use force will become much greater.”

With so much political spin coming from every side in the Venezuelan crisis, perhaps it’s no surprise the very meaning of humanitarian aid has been lost, too.

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