Opinion: Help, the helpers are coming! | Opinion | DW | 23.02.2019
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Opinion: Help, the helpers are coming!

What's happening on the borders of Venezuela is anything but a humanitarian aid operation, according to DW's Astrid Prange. She says using aid for political purposes is abhorrent and dangerous.

Let's first avoid any misunderstanding: Venezuela's population is without question in urgent need of aid. More and more people there are struggling just to exist; the supply chain of food and medicines has collapsed.

This makes it all the more appalling the way the interim president, Juan Guaido, and his supporters are abusing the provision of humanitarian aid as an instrument of power. Guaido may gain good TV publicity by being shown amidst packages of baby food, but it does not give him any political credibility.

Read moreTurkey and Venezuela: The rise of a new alliance? 

Covering up political failure

Nicolas Maduro, who wields the power in Venezuela, is no more credible. Maduro, the successor to President Hugo Chavez who died in 2013, has systematically mismanaged the country. He has his political opponents arrested, has disempowered the parliament, which has been dominated by the opposition since 2015, and left the people to fend for themselves.

Both sides are now looking to use humanitarian aid to make up for political failure. For the sanctions that have been imposed on the Maduro regime by the US since 2015 have so far not led to the desired "success," i.e., the collapse of the "socialism of the 21st century."

Read more: How long can Maduro hold on?

Seeking refuge in Moscow's arms

Rather, they have led to the virtual collapse of Venezuela and pushed Maduro further and further toward Moscow and Beijing. Even though Maduro last week was still claiming that there was no hunger in Venezuela, he announced ahead of the showdown in Cucuta on February 23 that he was expecting a delivery of 300 tonnes (330 US tons) of aid supplies from Russia. Guaido is set to arrive at the border on Saturday to help volunteers transport tonnes of aid supplies into the crisis-ridden country.

 Astrid Prange (DW/P. Böll)

DW's Astrid Prange

Russia is currently Venezuela's most important ally. Even while Hugo Chavez was president, the Kremlin delivered arms to the Venezuelan army. Caracas is also in debt to Moscow to the tune of €12 billion ($13.6 billion). As security for the loans, Venezuela mortgaged half of the shares for its Citgo gas stations in the US, which belong to the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA.

This gives Moscow two aces to play against US President Donald Trump: It has influence on the Citgo gas-station network and the fuel supply in the USA. And its presence in Venezuela means it has established itself as a major player in Latin America alongside China and the USA.

Blockade at the Security Council

The most recent example is Russia's veto at the UN Security Council last week. Moscow countered Washington's resolution calling for new elections and international aid for Venezuela with a rival proposal.

The stalemate points to a return of the Cold War. The fact that this is now happening in Latin America, of all places, is particularly tragic: After all, the official confrontation between the USA and Russia there has only finally come to an end since the normalization of relations between the US and Cuba at the end of 2014.

Read more: How to resolve the Venezuelan debt conundrum

'Help' from Russia

If it were really about help for Venezuela's people, UN organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP) could supply food to the country — if necessary with a mandate from the UN Security Council. American and Russian aid organizations and aid workers from across the world could make their deliveries available to UN organizations instead of aid supplies being used to aggravate the political divisions in the country.

And what is even more important: Venezuela's government could itself ask the international community for support. If necessary, aid supplies could even be brought by volunteers on foot via other border crossings than Cucuta — completely away from any media attention.

The current political exploitation of humanitarian aid, on the other hand, is anything but humanitarian. It is making political hostages of an entire population and turning aid workers into accomplices in a bitter political power struggle. It is highly dangerous. And a political crime to boot.

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