Venezuela’s interim government should mobilize all the tools at its disposal, including the full force of the United Nations, to help solve the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
The Feb. 23 opposition-led effort to bring into Venezuela humanitarian aid amassed at the border with Colombia, Brazil and Curaçao ended in bloodshed and shattered hopes for desperately needed relief. More than 400 people were injured, with four reportedly killed.
The stakes could not have been higher for Venezuelans and the opposition’s Juan Guaidó, recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as Venezuela’s interim president.
Nicolás Maduro had shut the border with Brazil, fortified the border with Colombia and closed the maritime border, threatening attempts to deliver aid by sea. Using repression and violence, Venezuela’s armed forces and other civilian armed groups loyal to Maduro successfully thwarted the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Both Maduro and Guaidó, have been accused of politicizing the humanitarian aid.
The interim government and the international community sought to use the delivery of more than 400 tons of aid to increase pressure on the Maduro regime by testing the loyalty of the armed forces. Maduro claimed the aid was a pretext for a U.S.-led military intervention.
While Guaidó and the international community have reaffirmed their commitment to get the aid to Venezuelans, they have yet to lay out a Plan B for how they will deliver on that promise.
On Feb. 25, Guaidó met with leaders of the Lima Group to discuss further actions to add pressure on the Maduro regime after its violent acts a few days prior. They focused on the need for increased financial and diplomatic pressure and a continued focus on the need for humanitarian aid. However, they broke little new ground in coming up with a roadmap for action — with one notable exception.
Noting the threat to regional security, stability and prosperity that the situation in Venezuela poses for the region, the Lima Group appealed to the United Nations Secretary-General to push the body to respond to this growing crisis. On Feb. 28, the U.N. Security Council voted against two resolutions on Venezuela put forward by the United States and Russia. The result reflected traditional divisions within the international community and among members with veto power — with Russia and China on one side and the United States, France and the United Kingdom on the other. While this result was expected, the Security Council votes maintained global attention on Venezuela and reinforced that the crisis there is a threat to global peace and stability.
The interim government and the international community now must focus on opening a neutral humanitarian channel to relieve the suffering of millions of the Venezuelan people.
History shows that the international community tends to shift its attention and resources from one crisis to another, and from one day’s hot topic to the next. As tensions continue to grow in Venezuela, the challenge will be to sustain that attention as other pressing global challenges take center stage.
Last week, the Pan-American Health Organization and the World Health Organization delivered into Venezuela 7.5 tons of critical medical supplies financed by Russia. This week, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pledged further support for Maduro’s government.
Guaidó’s interim government likewise should mobilize all the tools at its disposal, including the through the U.N., which has an presence and distribution network on the ground and the capacity to scale up. Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis demands a coordinated global response — a humanitarian response that puts the people first and is, as stated by the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “guided by the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.”
The interim government can call for four concrete actions as part of its public appeal to the U.N.:
1. Scale up the work of the U.N. and non-governmental institutions focused on addressing Venezuelans’ urgent humanitarian needs.
2. Prioritize the delivery of food and medicine.
3. Ensure continued access to essential lifesaving services, including in detention facilities.
4. Stop the harassment and intimidation of aid workers.
They must mobilize the full force of the multilateral systemto address the crisis in Venezuela. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Paula Garcia Tufro is the deputy director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. She was a director for development and democracy in the White House under President Obama.