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On April 24, fourteen Venezuelan organizations in France launched a call to solidarity for the fight against coronavirus in Venezuela. Our call was supported by more than 400 signatures from the civil society, academic, and humanitarian sectors in France, Venezuela, and other countries in the European and American continents. Two months after its publication, the call and its demands remain relevant, given the pandemic’s spread through the country and the resulting aggravation of many other problems affecting the health and daily life of Venezuelans.
Our call is based on a single fundamental demand: the construction of an international engagement and the resources to establish a real humanitarian space in Venezuela.
This demand is divided into three concrete requests:
- The extension of the scope of action of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to support the deteriorating Venezuelan health care system in the context of the pandemic.
- The use of the UN World Food Program (WFP) and its logistical capacities to address food scarcity in the Venezuelan population.
- The humanitarian management of access to Venezuelan gasoline, as its availability determines access to food, medical care, water (water trucks), electricity (electric generators), and other resources.
Two months after launching our call, these demands remain urgent. Although some political and social factors have undergone small changes during this short period, the basic structural issues remain the same.
Firstly, we would like to commend the signing of the first agreement of collaboration between the Ministry of People’s Power for Heath, the Advisory Team for the Health of the National Assembly, and the Pan American Health Organization in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Venezuela. This agreement was welcomed by Josep Borell, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs, and by António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations. Nevertheless, concrete applications of this agreement are yet to be seen.
In the same way, we believe it essential to have in place accountability and transparency in the administration of resources involved in the fight against coronavirus in the country. Above all, it is essential to ensure the involvement of Venezuelan associations and organizations in health management and administration, given that they have accumulated years of experience and expertise in this area. The preventative measures and medical attention for COVID-19 cannot only focus on large hospitals; instead, these responsibilities should be distributed equally between areas that are well known to domestic volunteers and organizations. This system should also integrate the cooperative work of Venezuelan humanitarian associations abroad, whose abilities and support are essential for the collection and distribution of medical supplies as well as for the circulation of knowledge necessary to most effectively address the pandemic as it affects Venezuela.
Secondly, the food scarcity situation remains serious. Recently, we have seen that the challenges in transportation in the interior of the country (resulting from the scarcity of gasoline) have resulted in the loss of crops that could not be distributed to commercial and retail hubs. The already limited access to food has been further aggravated as a result of inflation, which dramatically devalues Venezuelan household incomes. Within the context of the pandemic, this phenomenon is accentuated, affecting economic exchange between Venezuelan residents abroad and within the country. Due to the global economic consequences of the pandemic, there are many Venezuelans living abroad that are longer able to send remittances to their families in Venezuela, who rely on this income for their everyday lives.
Household access to food and consumption in general is closely tied to the issue of migration, a reality that particularly affects the thousands of people who return to Venezuela only to encounter a precarious social and economic situation once more. Recently, the Maduro government declared that Venezuelan migrants returning to the national territory are threats to the health and stability of the country, placing the weight of the Venezuelan epidemiological situation on them.
Finally, access to gasoline is a key issue that affects the core of Venezuela’s traditional way of life as an oil-producing nation. The country’s day to day life was built on a structural dependency on energy derived from oil, thought to be easily accessible. Today, a number of both internal and external factors (the representations of which are highly controversial) result in the current scarcity. Within this context, an agreement between Iran and Venezuela allowed the importation of important gas reserves to the country. Nevertheless, this will not be sufficient to eliminate the structural scarcity, which is evidenced by the long lines formed outside service stations for several hours, even days. Furthermore, the establishment of two types of prices for the gas, one in bolivars and the other in dollars, accentuates the dollarization of the economy, making gas inaccessible to communities not incorporated into the currency exchange market.
Within this context, the search for humanitarian agreements to confront the coronavirus and the general emergency situation in Venezuela is viewed as an opportunity to explore political agreements. One of the most urgent questions at the moment is that of the upcoming legislative election. This election requires agreements and guarantees between the actors in the Venezuelan political conflict with the goal of building a new democratic basis for the negotiated exit from the current crisis. With this goal in mind, various actors observe that Europe can play an important role as conflict mediator. A first step in humanitarian action was taken by the organization “International Donors Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants,” organized by Spain and the European Union, along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration. Nevertheless, this conference seems to have neglected the internal context of Venezuela in both its analysis as well as its proposed means of action to support Venezuelan migrants, whose situation cannot be understood without addressing the origin of these displacements. In this sense, the necessity of mediation to find a negotiated solution to the internal political conflict in Venezuela is essential.
We were pleased to see the meeting and declaration of the Senior Officials of the International Contact Group (ICG) on the 24th of June, which urged the advancement of political dialogue in Venezuela and emphasized the need to increase humanitarian action directed to Venezuelans. We were also pleased to see that multiple promoters of dialogue in Venezuela demonstrated a willingness to find ways of working with the ICG (from the Lima Group and the Montevideo Group). In this light, it seems important to not neglect the weight of actors like the United States, China, and Russia and that of their specific and competing agendas regarding Venezuela. It is necessary to facilitate a dialogue with them as well.
Still, above all, within all the efforts to engage in dialogue, we advocate for the urgent need to consider the voice of Venezuelan civil society in all of its heterogeneity and from the perspective of the organizational capabilities that enable it to act for the future of the country. In this way, we regretfully note that in various international events, conferences, and meetings about Venezuela, the Venezuelan representation is carried out exclusively by the country’s political actors or by actors closely linked with them. We Venezuelans who work in civil society and academia and in national and international solidarity movements, are carriers of ideas, knowledge, technical abilities, and human resources, working to act, dialogue, and negotiate in favor of the construction of a peaceful solution to the crisis occurring in our country.
Hence, as Venezuelans organized in France, we demand a place at the negotiation table, and we are ready to participate in the efforts to build a better future for Venezuela.
Elizabeth FLORES PAREDES
Fernando GARLIN POLITIS
Co-editors of the “Call to international solidarity to fight the coronavirus in Venezuela, from the Venezuelan community’s associations in France”
Translation by Lily Swaine-Moore.