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Venezuela's appeal to UN 'an admission of inability'

It's now official: Venezuela needs help. President Madura has asked the UN for aid. In this interview with DW, Caracas-based journalist Juan Francisco Alonso speaks of responsibilities, shortages and misconceptions.

DW: We've been hearing reports of shortages in Venezuela for quite a long time already. Why has the appeal for help come now?

Juan Francisco Alonso: That has not been disclosed. [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro has given no explanation whatsoever as to why he's taken this step at this particular moment. There were reports on Saturday morning that several fully laden ships were at anchor in Venezuelan ports, but were not bringing their goods ashore because they hadn't been paid. No one wants to lend the government money and deliver goods in advance. But now it's clear that the government can't resolve the problems by itself and so it is asking for humanitarian aid. The medical situation is especially critical.

That's precisely what Maduro's appeal makes reference to. He asks for assistance with medical care. How bad is the situation in Venezuelan hospitals and medical practices?

Some organizations have estimated that the lives of 4 million people in Venezuela are in danger: 200,000 people with high blood pressure, a similar number of patients with cancer and HIV, and so on. When you add up the number of people who have no medication, or have only a little left, it's very clear that this is not a game. People in Venezuela are dying because there's nothing left to treat them with. There's also a lack of medical equipment. And that's the government's responsibility. It has to guarantee the right to medical care, and it is not fulfilling its obligations.

Venezuela Versorgungskrise Krankenhaus (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Ismar)

A children's hospital in Caracas: Up to 4 million people in Venezuela could die for lack of medicines

Isn't it somewhat ironic that Maduro has turned to the United Nations? Caracas has always professed to see the spirit of US imperialism in this big, supranational organization.

Maduro has never directly criticized the United Nations. He has above all attacked those who encouraged him to ask the UN for assistance for Venezuela. And he criticized those who used the term humanitarian aid. Although it's never officially expressed, many Socialists believe that humanitarian aid could open the gates for foreign intervention. These men really think that if they ask for medicines and food from the UN, UN peacekeeping soldiers will come into their country to distribute the goods. But of course that's not how it is.

Nonetheless, the appeal for aid does now come across as a defeat for Socialist politics under Nicolas Maduro.

Definitely. It's an admission of the government's inability to resolve the problems by itself. I see it as being like Alcoholics Anonymous: Admitting you're an addict is the first step towards resolving the problem. In the case of Venezuela, the government has to admit that the economic model isn't working in order to be able to change it. But the government doesn't want to do that.

Venezuela | No more dictatorship-Proteste in Caracas (picture-alliance/AP Photo/F. Llano)

Maduro has faced large opposition protests accusing him of beig a dictator

The request for help is now an unofficial announcement that the situation is really serious. And there has never been such a situation in Venezuela before. You have something like that in Haiti, but not in a country where the oil revenue was still pouring in only three years ago. There were indications of problems even then.

Now that the money isn't pouring in any more, there's none of it left to disguise the problems, and they're now revealing themselves in all their severity.

What could the United Nations do to support Venezuela through the food shortages?

That could take quite some time. It's a question of getting an entire health system back on its feet. The first thing we need is a few hundred ships full of medicines to alleviate the acute need. Next, the production of medicines would have to get underway again.  Bayer and other pharmaceutical companies have production facilities here, but they're not producing anything any more because they don't have the raw materials. These must be supplied again. In addition, the equipment in the hospitals has to be repaired - we need spare parts for that. Last but not least, we must find replacements for the almost 19,000 doctors who've left the country these past few years.

Juan Francisco Alonso is a freelance journalist. He lives in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

The interview was conducted by Nicolas Martin.

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