RAYMOND, Maine — Venezuela is undergoing a humanitarian crisis that has worsened since the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation. Venezuelans lack essential services, like health care, water and food. The AFFECT Human Rights in Venezuela Act, H.R.8813, proposes extending the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission in Venezuela, which expired at the end of September 2022, to help the United States government find the correct methods for assisting Venezuelans.
Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis
Countless factors, including socio-political challenges, economic disasters and medical, food and water shortages have impacted Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis. The latest socio-political difficulties are the result of the 2015 Parliament and 2018 presidential elections. World leaders criticize both as “unfair and unfree” elections, with voter suppression and voting date changes that dropped turnout to less than 50% of the voting population. The U.S. government does not recognize Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as legitimate. Instead, the U.S. recognizes interim President Juan Guaido as the nation’s chosen leader.
Venezuela’s economic crisis also stems from a sharp decline in oil output. As the prices for fossil fuels change, the economic status of a petrostate can change in an instant. Venezuela’s oil output hit its lowest production in decades because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lowered production decreased foreign investments, job availability, and income, forcing Venezuela’s extreme poverty rate to increase rapidly and peak at 77% in 2021.
Medical, food and water shortages are constants in Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis. The medical crisis sees hospitals receiving no shipments of gauze, disinfectants and essential medical tools. Contaminated food and water are causing the deaths of children across Venezuela. Venezuelans are crossing the border into Colombia for proper medical treatment and clean food and water. Maduro and his government have halted numerous efforts to bring medical supplies or clean water to Venezuela. Due to the struggles of being a health care worker in Venezuela, many health care workers have left with few expectations of returning to Venezuela.
It is not only health care workers fleeing Venezuela, at least 6.8 million Venezuelans are also refugees.
H.R.8813 could help form a coherent picture of what forces are interfering with access to basic supplies and how the U.S. government can feasibly assist Venezuelans.
Previous US and UN Aid Missions’ Results
The U.N. and U.S. have attempted to end or improve the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis. Some plans have included immediate rescue or aid missions venturing into Venezuela, but most of these have required tremendous funding that has been difficult to achieve. The U.S.’s relief plans are challenging to accomplish, with unknown factors hindering progress, but efforts continue.
The U.S. is organizing efforts to help Venezuela through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). One of the latest efforts is USAID’s newly announced pledge of $376 million for humanitarian assistance in Venezuela. The purpose of this mission is to commence efforts on water sanitation and provide food in the nutritiously poor areas of Venezuela.
The U.N.’s most significant efforts for Venezuelan relief came between 2020-2021. In 2021 the U.N. launched the 2021 Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan to assist 4.5 million Venezuelans. The plan was to use the appropriated funds for “223 projects by 144 humanitarian actors, including U.N. agencies and international and national NGOs working in partnership with national institutions.” There has been little progress made, which is why there is a call to extend the fact-finding missions in Venezuela with H.R.8813.
On September 27, 2019, during the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting (UNHRC), the Council established an independent fact-finding mission to investigate “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment since 2014 to ensure full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”
The fact-finding mission reports, “Venezuelan people ‘have endured a decade of deepening economic, humanitarian and human rights crises, as well as the breaking down of State institutions, all of this exacerbated, most recently, by the impact of COVID-19. The clearest showing of this are the more than six million people who have had to leave the country.’” H.R.8813 proposes continuing the fact-finding mission so the U.S. government can fully understand the challenges of poverty and the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
U.S. government officials believe that the fact-finding missions will best help the government navigate policy-making that will bring an end to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis. As Venezuelans continue to flee, the fact-finding mission must continue so the U.S. can help Venezuelans through the crisis that is leaving them starving and economically disadvantaged. U.S. government officials bipartisanly share a concern for Venezuelans. They know that H.R.8813 is the best chance of providing suitable support to Venezuelans in their hour of need.
– Clara Mulvihill