The All-In Bet on Humanitarian Aid

With a Live Aid concert scheduled for Friday 22nd and volunteers rallying to the call for help, February 23rd is shaping up to be a showdown between the democratic forces and the dictatorship, though it’s not an endgame in itself.

Photo: Proyecto Migración Venezuela, retrieved.

Last February 14th, British millionaire and Virgin founder Richard Branson announced a Live Aid-style concert in the border Colombian city of Cúcuta, for February 22nd. The goal is to raise $100 million in donations for Venezuela in 60 days, holding a concert at the San Martin bridge, which crosses the frontier, with at least 20 artists expected to appear and/or perform, including Maluma, Juanes, Miguel Bose, DJ Alesso and (remotely) Peter Gabriel, a close friend of Branson’s.

The event, which will be live-streamed around the world, is part of a broader push to bring humanitarian aid into the country on February 23rd, a gamble meant to secure assistance for those more affected by the crisis, while trying to strain and hopefully break the military support for the Maduro regime, since Chávez’s heir has repeatedly stated that no assistance (besides the one provided by his allies, like Cuba or Russia) will enter the country.

The Venezuela Live Aid promises to be another win for the opposition on the international public opinion front: the world will gain awareness about the urgency of the situation, as happened in the 80s about famine in Africa, and with the concerts near the Berlin Wall prior to the 1989’s revolution.

The concert in Cúcuta could help people activate the network of volunteers, on the Venezuelan side, and attract international press to the Colombian side. It’s also an opportunity for the Colombian government to show how committed it is to the cause of humanitarian aid and freedom in Venezuela, an opportunity that President Iván Duque seems poised to exploit; on a broadcasted live conversation, the Colombian leader repeatedly referred to Juan Guaidó as “President.”

But Colombia is not the only faction building momentum. On Saturday 16th, three C-17 military aircrafts landed in Colombia carrying a new batch of supplies, as well as USAID staff and chief Mark Green, who traveled there to visit the warehouses where supplies are being stored.

Simultaneously, a popular assembly was held in the parking lot of newspaper El Nacional, in Caracas, where hundreds of citizens who have registered as volunteers gathered to receive introductory information about the task ahead. The event kickstarted a series of smaller local assemblies; according to Guaidó (who was there) more than 500,000 volunteers have already registered at, and the goal is to have at least a million.

The number makes sense because the opposition’s plan is quite ambitious: to mobilize at least 100,000 people from the Andean region to establish a humanitarian corridor at the border with Colombia and later, with the help of volunteers in the rest of the country, distribute and protect the aid among 12 cities.

It remains to be seen what kind of security detail can be deployed to protect the cargo before it reaches the network of NGOs. Local police in opposition-controlled areas? Private security? What would happen if the National Guard, FAES or the paramilitary colectivos decide to storm the facilities, alleging the food and supplies are dangerous for the population?

It’s also an opportunity for the Colombian government to show how committed it is to the cause of humanitarian aid and freedom in Venezuela, an opportunity that President Iván Duque seems poised to exploit.

Last February 15th, an 11-man squad of the Scientific Police (CICPC) raided the offices of Fundación Mavid, in Valencia, and confiscated all the medicines and food stored for HIV patients, for allegedly being past their expiration dates. They also detained Jhonatan Mendoza, Wilmer Álvarez and Manuel Armas, members of the organization, for seven hours.

The incident was condemned in a statement signed by 121 local NGOs, and is an escalation of the regime’s strategy: if chavismo can’t prevent the aid from getting through, it’ll steal it and imprison anyone in the way. Free agents as they are, volunteers are particularly vulnerable in this context.

We have no choice but to go all-in on this, but we must never lose sight of the gravity of our situation. Even if humanitarian convoys push through the borders, we would still need to make sure that the supplies are transported safely where they’re needed and guarantee the integrity of volunteers and institutional staff in a country filled with criminal gangs and regime-sanctioned armed groups. Moreover, assuming that the Armed Forces desert Maduro, it will take time to regain control of the territory, which means the threat of violence and abuse will still be quite real; the general public and volunteers, in particular, should be made aware of that in the coming days.