The everyday reality of Venezuela has turned neonatal incubators into cardboard boxes, pharmacies into covertly distributed phone numbers, hospital beds into pools of blood. After nineteen years of the Chavista regime, the once rich county is now a burial ground. Patients who enter hospitals with relatively high chances of survival are now losing their lives to the widespread shortage of medical supplies. Rather than accepting humanitarian aid, President Nicolas Maduro has deemed this crisis a result of the current economic war executed by the United States and its allies against his regime, assuring that accepting aid would equate to “kneeling before the empire” of the right-wing west. By preventing any form of humanitarian aid from entering the country, Maduro has made his presidency directly responsible for the exacerbation of the public health crisis.
The new health system developed under Maduro’s socialist Bolivarian platform has been subject to rampant political exploitation, leading to a persistent and ever-growing deterioration of hospital and outpatient centers. With high shortages of general treatment medicine, basic supplies, and equipment repairs, proper health care has become virtually impossible. From primary care to morgue services, every medical provision has been hindered by the lack of resources; daily blackouts constantly shut down life-sustaining respirators, broken dialysis machines litter the hospital rooms, and water, gloves, and antibiotics are nowhere to be seen.
Médicos por la Salud, a non-governmental health organization, found that Venezuela’s public hospitals currently have access to only 3% of medical supplies regularly required for patient treatment, with 76% of them lacking basic drugs and 81% of them lacking surgical equipment, catheters, and probes. The Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimates that the country is experiencing an 85% shortage of medicines throughout hospitals in the country, and a 95% scarcity of daily prescription drugs that treat diseases like diabetes and hypertension. The result has been a 30% increase in child mortality and a 65% increase in maternal mortality since 2014, as shown in reports by the Boletín Epidemiológico of Venezuela. Malaria has once again become endemic, while eradicated or controlled diseases, like diphtheria and dengue fever, are present again. Since 2016, the rate of patient mortality in Venezuelan public hospitals has skyrocketed from 2.96 out of 100 patient deaths to 31 out of 100.
And yet, despite all of this, Rafael Ramirez, the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN, continued to claim that “[Venezuela] has problems, but it’s nowhere near a humanitarian crisis.” In his show “Sundays with Maduro,” the current president announced that he will not allow these issues to make Venezuela a “country of beggars,” because he allegedly believes that the nation can surpass this tumultuous time through a “formula [of] solidarity, love, and socialism.” Further, former Foreign Minister and current Vice President Delcy Rodríguez supported Maduro’s position by arguing that humanitarian assistance is “a theory constructed by the Pentagon so that the U.S. can intervene” in Venezuelan affairs — a claim that has manifested into orders that constantly prevent international aid from entering into the country.
The implementation of humanitarian aid requires both an institution willing to grant aid and a beneficiary state willing to accept the aid. The International Monetary Fund and countries like Colombia, Canada, Peru, and Brazil have all announced their intention to provide humanitarian assistance. However, they do not know how to transport resources into the country after Nicolas Maduro has prohibited the entrance of any “foreign intervention” under the guise of protecting Venezuelan sovereignty.
According to journalist Nelson Bocaranda, shipments of 75,000 units of medicine and more are frequently detained in Venezuelan shipping harbors. It is only after several months, when the products reach their expiration date, that the shipments are allowed to enter. But even then, when viable resources actually do make it into the country’s borders, they are stolen by the military and police who claim to simply be following “commanding orders.”
Sadly, the stark absence of humanitarian aid in Venezuela has not forced its government to adopt the policies required to meet the increasingly more dire needs of its health system. There is an overwhelming national denial to the gravity of the crisis, and this, above all, is what is killing the Venezuelan people. As a result, the absence of a national response has made international assistance critical to the alleviation of the problem. Under the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, the United Nations has made itself accountable to respond to violations of Venezuelan human rights, even when the perpetrator is the country’s own president. However, how can the UN and the international community help Venezuela when the words of Rafael Ramirez reduce the crisis to a “few problems”?
Although the international community cannot try to provide a solution to Venezuela’s own conflict, we do have an obligation to demand that both the public and the Venezuelan authorities acknowledge the full gravity of the crisis. Currently, outside donations to Venezuelan refugees amount to a mere 100 dollars per refugee. Due to such inadequate funds, the neighboring countries receiving these refugees have been unable to provide them with proper resources and means of integration. Venezuelan migrants have begun to face increasing hostility from local communities, and the governments of Peru, Ecuador, and Chile have even gone so far as to close their borders and implement harsher visa restrictions.
The Venezuelan crisis is not just a domestic problem, but rather a concern for all of Latin America as well as for the international community. For almost a decade now, the political and economic situation has grown steadily worse, with millions of Venezuelans either being forced to flee their country or suffer through critical conditions of severe hunger and poverty. Humanitarianism is not a conspiracy; it is a means to relieve mass human suffering, and it necessitates the collaboration of foreign governments. If we ever hope to provide effective assistance for the Venezuelan people, the international community must first demand that Maduro’s regime accept this.