1. Why is there an economic crisis in Venezuela?
Venezuela relies upon its oil sales for its external revenue. Oil prices have collapsed over the past decades. This has meant that Venezuela’s ability to import goods — including food and medicines — has been compromised by lack of foreign exchange.
US economic sanctions have harshly curtailed Venezuela’s ability to raise funds to upgrade its oil sector and to raise funds to diversify its economy (to grow food, for instance). These sanctions have also hurt Venezuela’s ability to use its off-shore refining capacity to add value to the crude oil that it extracts from the ground. US and Canadian companies have been suing Venezuela’s oil firm for broken contracts. They have used Venezuela’s weakness to plunder the oil firm by attacking its inability to honour contracts made when oil prices were higher.
The Venezuelan government used all kinds of mechanisms — many of which failed — to raise funds to prevent a wholesale collapse of the economy. The crisis provoked by collapsed oil prices and by the economic sanctions as well as the difficulties of controlling the situation has led to hyperinflation in the country and general economic instability. Corruption exists in Venezuela, as it exists elsewhere, but it is not the author of the economic crisis. The authors are the lowered price of oil, the devastation of the economic sanctions and the difficulties of raising finance to overcome this situation.
2. Is there an acute humanitarian crisis in Venezuela?
The United Nations’ Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order Alfred De Zayas – an American lawyer — said on February 20, 2018: ‘I have compared the statistics of Venezuela with that of other countries and there is no humanitarian crisis. Of course, there is scarcity, anxiety and shortages but those who have worked for decades for the United Nations know the situation of countries in Asia, Africa and some in the Americas. They know that the situation in Venezuela is not a humanitarian crisis’.
Certainly, there are undernourished people in Venezuela. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation says that 11.7% of the people of Venezuela are undernourished. This compares with 23.2% of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa who are undernourished and 31.4% of people from Eastern Africa. Closer to Venezuela, 16.5% of the people of the Caribbean suffer from undernourishment. This is a problem of poverty and of the unequal relations in the world between the North and the South. Poverty rates in Venezuela have dropped since the 1990s, but hunger has not been erased.
3. Has the Government of Venezuela done anything to alleviate hunger?
The government of Venezuela has pushed at least two programmes to tackle the problem of hunger:
- Comité Local de Abastecimiento y Producción (CLAP). The Local Committees for Supply and Production is made up of local neighbourhood groups who grow food and who receive food from agricultural producers. They distribute this food to about six million families at very low cost. Currently, the CLAP boxes are being sent to households every 15 days.
- Plan de Atención a la Vulnerabilidad Nutriocional. The most vulnerable of Venezuelans — 620,000 of them — receive assistance. The National Institute of Nutrition has been coordinating the delivery of food to a majority of the country’s municipalities.
These are two of a series of programmes by the government to tackle the problem of hunger in the country.
4. Has the Government of Venezuela Refused Foreign Aid?
The Government of Venezuela has been in contact with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations (notably the Food and Agriculture Organisation) and the World Health Organisation to coordinate receipt of medical aid and food aid as well as finance for longer-term agricultural projects. Already, the World Health Organisation and the Pan-American Health Organisation have delivered more than 50 tonnes of medical supplies to Venezuela in 2018.
Venezuela’s Government has been open to non-political delivery of aid. There is no question of being insular when it comes to the economic crisis created by the fall of oil prices and the US-driven economic war.
5. Is the US ‘aid’ humanitarian or is it a pretext for regime change?
The United States has historically used ‘humanitarian aid’ as a pretext for regime change. This is precisely the formula used against the Government of the Dominican Republic in 1965. The Organisation of American States backed that invasion (and the use of humanitarianism as a pretext); fifty years later, it apologised for that act. In the 1980s, Elliot Abrams – the man tasked by US President Donald Trump to manage the Venezuela file – openly used humanitarian shipments to Central America to smuggle in weapons. It is the United States that has made ‘humanitarian aid’ into a political matter.
It is because the US has made ‘humanitarian aid’ into a political weapon that the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Dominik Stillhart said on 1 February 2019 that whatever plans that US officials ‘have to help the people of Venezuela, it has to be shielded from this political conversation. We are not an implementing agency for any donor, specifically not to implement things that have a political tone’.
The US has promised $20 million in aid. At the same time, the US sanctions have cost Venezuela $23 billion in 2018. Furthermore, the US Government is trying to seize $20 billion in Venezuelan assets. The Bank of London has already taken $1.2 billion in gold that the Venezuelans own. Venezuela has lost billions of dollars as a result of Western policy. The $20 million aid packet is a humiliating gesture in comparison.
Furthermore, the $20 million aid would purchase 60 tonnes of food. The CLAP scheme by the Government of Venezuela by itself delivers 50,000 tonnes of food per months to needy Venezuelans.
The US has used military aircraft to bring in this modest aid, driven it to a warehouse and then said that the Venezuelans are not prepared to open an unused bridge for it. The entire process is political theatre. US Senator Marco Rubio went to that bridge — which has not been very open — to say in a threatening way that the aid ‘is going to get through’ to Venezuela one way or another. These are words that threaten the sovereignty of Venezuela and build up the energy for a military attack. There is nothing humanitarian here.
6. Why has the Venezuelan government arrested its opponents?
The Government of Venezuela has allowed the opposition to continue to hold its protests and to organise openly. It has not shut down any of the media outlets that continue to take a position against the president and his government.
On the other hand, the Government of Venezuela has arrested people who have been involved in the assassination attempt against Nicholás Maduro and those who have been involved in the armed attacks by the opposition that have been going on for the past two years. Leopoldo Lopez, for instance, was arrested for inciting violence in 2014. Judge Susana Barreiros found Lopez guilty based on – among other things — 700 tweets that called for his supporters in the movement known as La Salida (The Exit) to go on the streets and wreak havoc. The violence led to the death of 43 people, most of them bystanders and security personnel. In court, Lopez said to Barreiros, ‘You are more afraid to read out the sentence than I am to hear it" — a threat that should have earned him more jail time. Two years ago, the courts decided to move Lopez to house arrest, where he is serving the rest of his thirteen-year sentence.
Should the Government of Venezuela not prosecute a citizen who openly calls for violence and then celebrates when his party members act violently (including killing people)?