The political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela continues to escalate into 2019, as attempts to bring aid into the country become increasingly fraught and politicised.
On 23 February, supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido attempting to carry food and medicine over the border were blocked by Venezuelan soldiers dressed in riot gear who fired tear gas and rubber bullets at those attempting to cross. The situation turned deadly when two indigenous people were killed, trying to prevent troops from sealing pathways across the Brazillian border. Dozens more are reported injured.
The struggle to bring aid into Venezuela has become the centre point of the political battle between current president Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself acting president at the end of last month. Guaido is recognised as interim president by the US and about 50 other nations, while Maduro retains the support of Russia, China and most of the state’s institutions, including, crucially, the military.
Juan Guaido is leading the efforts to deliver aid into Venezuela, which as well as a humanitarian effort, is a political move designed to challenge President Maduro’s power. If Maduro lets the aid through it represents a victory for the opposition. However, blocking the aid when Venezuelans are suffering is an unpopular move that paints him as an uncaring dictator.
President Maduro claims that the aid is unnecessary and merely a front by the US aimed at overthrowing his government. He has closed the Venezuelan borders and cut political ties with the US and Colombia in an attempt to block food and medical aid from crossing the border.
The two leaders held rival concerts on either side of the Venezuela-Colombia border on the evening of 22 February. British billionaire, Richard Branson, organised a ‘Live Aid Venezuela’ concert in Cucuta, a Colombian border town. Guaido defied a travel ban to appear at this concert, where he was greeted with cheers from the large crowd. Less than 500m away, across the border President Maduro hosted his own concert coined ‘Hands off Venezuela’.
Many international organisations, such as the Red Cross, are refusing to get involved in the attempts to deliver aid because the situation is too politicised. The UN has also chosen not to take sides, instead calling on both sides to de-escalate tensions.
Venezuela, once the richest country in South America, has been experiencing rapid economic decline and hyperinflation in recent years. The IMF reported an annual inflation rate of over one million per cent in 2018.
The skyrocketing level of inflation, alongside food and medicine shortages, means that many Venezuelans can no longer afford basic necessities. The UNHCR reports close to three million people have fled Venezuela to date, and this number is expected to rise substantially if the current crisis continues.
With Maduro continuing to block the aid from crossing the border, it remains unclear how this political situation is going to resolve itself, and if essential food and medicine is going to reach those who need it the most.
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Image courtesy of PP Comunidad de Mardrid via Flickr