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[Editorial] Venezuela: food and medicines used as weapons

Tags: General

When Nicolás Maduro was first elected in April, 2013, he ambitiously aimed for “zero poverty” by 2019. Now, Venezuela's economy is collapsing, with people becoming even more impoverished. Those living without access to food and medicine display the reality of an unprecedented humanitarian emergency in the country. On June 7, the UN stated that more than 4 million people have already left Venezuela, while a further 7 million need humanitarian assistance. Maduro's strategy in the face of such a catastrophe includes the control of food production and distribution, and subsidising food handouts as a political weapon. He also controls international humanitarian help, which he considers a threat to his personal authority.

Reacting to this situation, the USA has stepped up economic sanctions against the Maduro government, with the aim of achieving regime change. Hand in hand with sanctions, the USA has also been offering humanitarian assistance. However, some observers believe America has a hidden agenda to secure control over the vast natural resources of Venezuela. As the principles of humanitarian aid are of neutrality and independence, such assistance should not be associated with any political agenda. Moreover, according to the UN Human Rights Council, the use of economic sanctions for political purposes violates human rights and international norms. Collateral effects of US sanctions include the blocking of food and medicine imports into the country, which is not acceptable.

In April, Maduro finally agreed to the first shipment of large-scale international humanitarian assistance. However, many fear that the agreements between aid agencies and the Maduro government cannot be trusted given allegations of corruption. The safest way to ensure that international assistance can reach Venezuelans is by using national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as operators in the field, which, despite their small capacity, can be more transparent about how aid is being distributed and managed.

The sovereignty of a country should be respected but can never be used to justify the use of humanitarian aid as a weapon. We call on the Venezuelan government to let NGOs restore access to food and medicines.

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