What springs to mind when we hear someone mention ‘Venezuela’? Perhaps a country braving one taxing obstacle after another? A nation pummelled by famine, a buckling health service, and an education system in dire straits? What’s certain is that even a modicum of support from President Nicolás Maduro, who denies there is a crisis in Venezuela full stop, remains nothing but a pipe dream. Yet with a society flailing about in a whirlpool of hyperinflation, power cuts, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial killings, I refuse to swallow the tale that this South American country is devoid of problems. How much longer can Maduro go on feeding us the narrative of someone else – anyone else – always being to blame?
Over the years, the world has floundered in response to Venezuela teetering on the brink of collapse. Now that more than 5 million have left their homeland since 2014, it is safe to say the nation has been ravaged by catastrophe. But with a politics of cherry-picking in the guise of democracy, I struggle to see that ordinary Venezuelans can escape from tragedy without a hitch. Since 12 December, the bodies of at least 28 Venezuelan migrants have been found drowned close to Güiria, on the north-eastern Venezuelan coast. They are thought to belong to a group of about 30, including young children, who fled in face of the humanitarian crisis.
We may wonder, what measures has Maduro taken regarding the recent tragedy in Güiria? Other than to all intents and purposes leaving his citizens in the lurch, my verdict is that little to nothing has changed. On the night of recovering the bodies, their plight was a mere afterthought. From the heights of luxurious Hotel Humboldt, a paragon of inequality, the callous president took to Twitter to share videos of himself revelling in the splendid balcony view of capital Caracas.
The hotel itself seems to me a poignant reversal of everything the nation once stood for – built in 1956 at a time when Venezuela’s booming oil industry, far removed from today’s stalemate, awaited immigrants with open arms. And as sheltered Maduro boasted “peace and victory” from the 13th floor, he confirmed to us his blissful ignorance of the unpalatable realities below. I suppose expecting anything more of him shows our own naivety: let’s not forget that under a Maduro government, when in need of immediate, concerted action, Venezuelan hardship will unfailingly take a backseat.
As the search continues for the missing migrants, Maduro has, rather disquietingly, failed to even broach the topic. This wouldn’t be the first time he’s outright dismissed issues in his country – affirming, if there are any existing problems, foreign trade sanctions are responsible. Essentially, the restrictions aim to accelerate Maduro’s removal from power, forcing companies to choose whether to do business with Venezuela or deal with other countries. Fortunately, then, even if Maduro turns a blind eye, my gut reassures me the international community is actually not overlooking Venezuelan adversity.
Don’t get me wrong – I worry that, in extreme cases, such as the complete embargoes imposed by the United States, limited trade may worsen Venezuela’s social conditions – yet, alongside human rights investigations and aid from organisations like the United Nations, Venezuelans are at least being given a voice.
For me, the one glimmer of hope is that Juan Guaidó, leader of the opposition, is ostensibly an effective mediator between Venezuelan citizens and the rest of the world. He proclaims himself as Venezuela’s legitimate president, a status recognised by over 50 countries. Even Guaidó, though, has managed to push away foreign support for his aid campaign. Notably, reputable organisations like the Red Cross have previously refused to take part, branding the Venezuelan opposition “too political.”
Regardless of receiving aid or not, then, there is one setback we can count on: fraught politics takes pride of place. Time and time again we have seen social assistance programmes twisted into a means of coercion. Take just one look at the recent legislative elections earlier this month! Fear was rife among the electorate, beset by threats to withdraw subsidised food benefits for those not voting for Maduro candidates. This is all too reminiscent of February 2019, where receipt of aid, such as food and medicine, was stalled by Maduro and stockpiled on Venezuela’s border – again, limiting outside help.
In light of the aid offered, I am led to consider that Venezuela’s crisis is not brushed aside on the international stage. It is the president’s selfish bid to rule the roost and control distribution himself, however, that hampers foreign support. From my perspective, leeway to tackle humanitarian challenges is curbed by the ongoing power struggle between Maduro and Guaidó. It is absolutely vital, then, that the two sides produce a negotiated solution.
For Venezuelans to truly be heard, both parties must de-escalate tensions. The crux of the matter is whether this impasse can be overcome. Or, on its last legs, will Venezuela be left to bear the brunt of political intransigence?
Words by Natasha Tinsley
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