The U.N. announced last week it has to ramp up humanitarian aid to Venezuelans. But it admits this new effort to deliver more food, medicine and other essentials to Venezuela will be “modest in terms of responding to the scale of needs” there. A new survey shows as much as a fifth of Venezuela's population have fled the country – and that number is rising.
WLRN’s Luis Hernandez spoke with Americas editor Tim Padgett about where the Venezuela crisis is going – especially since the socialist regime critics say is responsible for the mess doesn't look to be going anywhere soon.
Excerpts from their conversation:
HERNANDEZ: Tim, why is the U.N. making this move now and what are they proposing?
PADGETT: They recognize that Venezuela's economic collapse is just getting deeper. A few days before the U.N. made this announcement the International Monetary Fund revised its 2019 forecast for Venezuela. They're saying now the country's economy will shrink 35 percent this year. That's largely because its oil production is withering away. At the same time, Venezuela's annual inflation rate could hit 10 million percent this year.
So the U.N. has created what it calls a Humanitarian Response Plan. It wants to increase aid to Venezuelans by almost a quarter billion dollars through the end of this year. And it's calling on international donor countries now to pony up.
Hearing all that, how bad is Venezuela's humanitarian crisis getting?
Life-threatening, at least for the millions of poor and working-class Venezuelans who don't have access to dollars. But even if you have dollars, shortages of basic necessities like food and medicine and now electricity are getting more acute. And the criminal violence they face is at Mad Max levels: studies say Venezuela now has the world's highest murder rate.
I spoke over the weekend with Andrés Chumaceiro, an executive at the Santa Teresa rum distillery in Venezuela. Chumaceiro was in Miami to promote the Santa Teresa Foundation's Alcatraz Project, which helps reform gang members through rugby, surprisingly, and which aids families struggling with things like malnutrition. Here's what Chumaceiro told me he's seeing:
“There’s no one escaping the suffering. The normal working Venezuelan will have shortages of electricity, water supply – and so many diseases have been appearing – and impossibilities of not only finding food but paying for food.
“For example, for the rugby club we were finding that our participants were failing in nutrition. They didn't have the strength to hold themselves up through rugby practice. So we need to go further and deeper to help them because the needs are getting higher and higher.”
People can't hold themselves up for a lack of food. Are the U.N., the U.S. and the international community doing enough to confront the crisis?
That's a difficult question to answer because Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro denies there even is a humanitarian crisis. And so his authoritarian socialist regime significantly limits what the international community can do inside the country. Earlier this year it finally allowed organizations like the Red Cross to bring aid in, but we're still not seeing a lot.
That's why the U.N. and the U.S. have focused so much of their relief efforts on the millions of Venezuelan refugees outside Venezuela, in countries like Colombia. But even there, international donors have so far contributed less than a tenth of what the U.N. needs this year. The U.S. has stepped up its aid to Venezuelans quite a bit this year. But the lame response from the rest of the world is a bit bewildering – especially since the Venezuelan refugee crisis numbers are approaching the level of the Syrian refugee crisis.
In the meantime we've got hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan exiles in the U.S. – most of them here in South Florida – who are worrying about getting deported back to Venezuela. What's happening with the efforts to get them Temporary Protected Status, or TPS?
They don't look good. It doesn't look like Congress is going to pass TPS for Venezuela, and that's largely because Republican leaders in the Senate believe President Trump opposes it. And that's largely because his anti-immigration voter base doesn't want him giving TPS to Venezuelans or any other migrant group.
We thought he might give Venezuelans something else like DED – Deferred Enforced Departure – which also would take away the immediate threat of deportation. But so far that's not materializing, either. And a lot of Venezuelans here in South Florida say they're feeling forgotten by this.