Humanitarian Aid Retakes the Central Stage

Amid the overwhelming effects of two nationwide blackouts in the same month, the International Red Cross announces that it will start to distribute humanitarian aid in the country, along with the Catholic Church. Both the regime and Guaidó’s camp will move the struggle back to the main subject of our health crisis.

Photo: AFP

The last days of March have been difficult for Juan Guaidó.

Heavily criticized on social media by the hardline opposition (helped by the dictatorship’s misinformation and propaganda battery), the caretaker president, recognized as the true Venezuelan head of state by more than 60 countries, is now the target of the public’s frustration for a perceived lack of progress. His mantra is still more a promise than a reality, and the attacks come not against the dictatorship for resisting on the ashes of the nation it’s destroying, but against Guaidó’s efforts, for not bringing a change now.

From the very beginning, his efforts have been aimed at getting humanitarian aid inside the country, but after two nationwide blackouts (that are not his fault, by the way), we overlook the actual achievements.

Under his watch, the National Assembly regained its authority and, with it, wrestled control of CITGO from the regime. Several representatives in other countries and international institutions were also appointed (and well received) and Nicolás Maduro’s regime is widely considered despotic and inhumane.

Today, the one strategic failure you could blame on Guaidó, the humanitarian aid debacle of February 23rd, finally succeeded.

The International Committee of the Red Cross announced this morning that, after a series of confidential meetings, they have official authorization to distribute aid in the country, along with the Catholic Church. They expect to reach 650,000 beneficiaries and offer to install emergency power generators and new medical equipment for certain healthcare centers.

For this to happen, guys, Nicolás Maduro’s administration must first accept it. Meaning, it recognizes de facto a humanitarian crisis systematically denied for years.

The contrast between a dictatorship that refused to accept aid, and the aspiring democratic government that insists on getting it in, was the center stage of a competition for power in Venezuela, at least in the public opinion arena. After February 23rd, when the humanitarian aid plan literally burned on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, the conversation turned towards the menace of a U.S.-led armed intervention, the notion being that we can’t do this ourselves, and every day that goes by without American soldiers toppling chavismo, is Juan Guaidó’s fault. The crackdown on journalists and the arrest of Guaidó’s right-hand man, Roberto Marrero, showed a dictatorship in revenge mode, decided to project force with the arrival of Russian soldiers, taking advantage of the psychological blow from the blackouts.

On March 27th, Guaidó announced “Operation Freedom”: a new agenda of nationwide demonstrations set to start on April 6th. He was careful to be seen with all his national allies, in an effort to make them share the leadership of the opposition agenda, displaying what “unity” really means. He mentioned Article 187, section 11, of the Constitution, the very article that radical sectors of the opposition demand him to invoke, under the impression that for a foreign military intervention to happen, we just must ask for it. Fabiana Rosales, Guaidó’s wife, met with U.S. President Donald Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and Security Advisor John Bolton at the White House, and American support for the democratic cause in Venezuela remains, apparently, strong.

Now the image is refocused: Reuters and the New York Times reported yesterday that there were talks between both Venezuelan camps to allow the humanitarian aid in, without political interference. Maduro accepted partly because of pressure from the UN and the reports from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, former socialist President of Chile Michelle Bachelet. No doubt he will try to take advantage of this, and we can expect him to pose as the magnanimous benefactor, and not the guy who’s tacitly admitting that this humongous mess is on him.

What will happen now? Can the Red Cross and the Catholic Church work amid the chaos of the country, the lack of proper logistics and the threat of political interference? On behalf of the International Red Cross, Francesco Rocca said that the institution will work with all the parts involved, and all the political actors on the field, “just as we did in Syria.” Will this humanitarian cargo reach the goal of helping around 650,000 human beings in severe need, or will it be diverted into the hands of opportunists and smugglers with watering mouths?

The key thing here is to help those at the brink of death, although we cannot help but wonder: will this help contribute to the entrenchment of Maduro, or to the fall of his regime?