Remittances to Venezuela
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) defines remittances as “money transfers from citizens working abroad” as a contribution to the household income of their families in their home countries. The IMF sees remittances as a “lifeline for development,” especially in impoverished countries such as Venezuela. In Venezuela, the influx of remittances is growing rapidly and represents a large source of foreign income for Venezuelans. While remittances typically take the form of cash transfers, crypto remittances to Venezuela are playing a larger role in facilitating international transactions and becoming a vital source of income for Venezuelans, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic while the country faces hyperinflation and U.S. economic sanctions.

The Role of Remittances in Global Poverty Reduction

Remittances directly bolster the income of households that receive these payments and provide essential resources for the impoverished. The value of remittances lies in the fact that governance issues often linked to “official aid” do not impact remittances. Instead, remittances are able to circumvent “red tape” because the money goes directly into the pockets of the impoverished. According to the World Bank, “a 10% increase in per capita official remittances may lead to a 3.5% decline in the share of [impoverished] people,” further showing that remittances play a key role in poverty reduction. Harnessing technology and non-traditional approaches for remittances allow Venezuelans the opportunity to send and access this funding in a faster and more efficient way.

The Resiliency of Remittances

Experts expected remittances to decrease due to job insecurity abroad as a result of the pandemic. However, the flow of remittances remained resilient. According to the World Bank, remittances to developing countries only dropped 1.6% in 2020. Digitization of payments allows for a steady flow of remittances to countries like Venezuela —  according to a report by Global System for Mobile Communications, “international remittances processed via mobile money increased by 65% in 2020.” In 2018, United Nations member states adopted the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which recognizes the importance of remittances in the development of poverty-stricken countries such as Venezuela.

Cryptocurrency in the Context of Hyperinflation

As the bolivar continues to depreciate in Venezuela, cryptocurrency functions in a way that circumvents hyperinflation. Cryptocurrency is a decentralized form of currency, where its value does not stem from fiat currency or natural resources, but instead, derives from user demand. In 2021, the Venezuelan government introduced the 1-million-bolivar bill, which is equivalent to about $0.52, in an attempt to remedy the impacts of hyperinflation and economic sanctions. Venezuela has experienced hyperinflation due to falling oil prices, resulting in the government printing vast quantities of currency as a potential solution, but this only further devalued the bolivar. Increasingly, residents are turning to digital forms of payments. For example, street vendors in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas are accepting digital coins as a form of payment.

5 Benefits of Crypto Remittances to Venezuela

  1. Stability: Cryptocurrency remains steady compared to fiat currency, especially during times of inflation.
  2. Lower Fees: Commission fees for crypto remittances are lower in comparison to international transfer fees from companies like Western Union.
  3. Money and Time-Saving Costs: Research shows that crypto remittances “produce a 1% saving of income” because of the reduction of travel and wait time when sending remittances.
  4. Safety: Because Venezuela stands as “one of the most insecure [nations] in Latin America,” residents face the risk of theft when traveling with cash. Digital currency offers a degree of security and protection for people as their funds are stored on their devices.
  5. Continuing the Flow of Remittances: As the Maduro regime takes steps to further regulate remittances while rejecting foreign humanitarian aid, decentralized currencies could allow residents to continue receiving essential monetary flows.

Remittances to Venezuela’s Unbanked Population

According to the Global Findex Database, in 2017, close to 73% of Venezuelans had bank accounts and digital forms of receiving money are increasing each year as inflation devalues fiat currency and hyperinflation threatens the affordability of basic needs. More than 50% of transactions in the country use the U.S. dollar, and in 2020, experts projected that annual remittances would climb to $4 billion. The viability and sustainability of digital remittances, specifically cryptocurrency forms, are becoming more popular.

GiveCrypto Uses Cryptocurrency to Provide Aid to Venezuelans

As Venezuela continues to experience a financial crisis, cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, offers a degree of stability as an inflation-proof asset. Many nonprofits implement cryptocurrency in their strategies to bring aid to Venezuelans. In 2019, U.S.-based charity, GiveCrypto, “provided temporary assistance to hundreds of vulnerable families in Venezuela through weekly crypto deposits worth around $7,” which is equivalent “to the monthly minimum wage” in the country. This aid helped families purchase food and other essential goods.

In addition to aid, the organization provides resources that educate people about crypto apps to ensure that people have complete control of their digital currency. Efrain Pineda, the program manager, says, “We want to show that people who are not techies or investors can also benefit from this technology. Anyone can use crypto to protect themselves from inflation and make their daily life easier.”

Cryptocurrency Offers Hope for Venezuelans

With little end in sight for hyperinflation, Bitcoin is gaining traction as an alternative as traditional payment methods become regulated and overloaded. Venezuela ranks fourth globally for Bitcoin trade, and as more people flee Venezuela, digital forms of remittances continue to be an invaluable source of income for residents who remain.

– Jennifer Hendricks
Photo: Flickr

Domestic Violence Against Women in Venezuela
The fight to reduce domestic violence against women in Venezuela still needs improvement. In the past few decades, the country has faced severe political turmoil. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the violence women in Venezuela face. In most cases, women still have to rely on their domestic abusers for financial support. Currently, the country still presents many challenges and obstacles for women to obtain justice against their attackers. Recognizing the dire need for changes, domestic and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working hard to protect Venezuelan women’s rights and safety. Here are some NGOs leading the fight for reducing domestic violence against women in Venezuela.

Centro de Justicio y Paz (Cepaz)

Cepaz is a nongovernmental organization that works to promote democratic values, human rights and the culture of peace in Venezuela. The idea was born in a context that a great institutional crisis and generalized violence characterized. Cepaz focuses on the empowerment of citizens and women, activism networks and promotion of the culture of peace in the country. The organization aims to reduce violence against Venezuelan women by developing specialized work for vulnerable demographics. With its combined program in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action, the organization serves women victims of gender violence.

It accompanies grassroots women in impoverished areas to boost their leadership and awareness of rights. Cepaz is also supporting them in the generation of organizational processes that generate well-being. It provides assistance in the community in areas such as water, food, violence, sexual and reproductive health, among others. Through these works, Cepaz hopes to educate the country to recognize the immense danger Venezuelan women are facing due to domestic violence and gender inequality.

Prepara Familia

Prepara Familia is a nongovernmental organization committed to serving women and families. It is contributing to the construction of a solidary and a fairer society, as well as accompanying the defense and awareness of women’s rights. It began as a grassroots organization, working hand in hand with doctors, family members and children hospitalized at the J.M de los Ríos Hospital. Since its foundation, Prepara Familia has worked intensively for the rights of mothers, children and teenagers. The organization develops training and empowerment programs for Women Caregivers in the hospital and assists women who have suffered domestic violence. Through their works, the organization hopes to reduce violence against Venezuelan women and aid those in need.

Tinta Violeta

Tinta Violeta is a feminist nongovernmental organization that aims to use artistic expressions, such as the media and cinema, as mobilization tools. The organization seeks to mainstream feminism in all communication content and cultural discourses in Venezuela. Tinta Violeta wants to create a Venezuela with gender equality and free of domestic violence against women. Providing psychological and legal help the organization also accompanies the victim to the police station or the Prosecutor’s Office to file the complaint. Volunteers from Tinta Violeta have offered their own homes as safe houses and often listened to all those Venezuelan women that get in touch with them through their website, as well as their Facebook and Instagram accounts.

FundaMujer

FundaMujer is a nongovernmental organization that seeks to create a safe space for feminist leaders to discuss and advocate for gender equality and reducing violence against women in Venezuela. Created when the aggravated situation regarding violence affecting women in Venezuela has escalated, FundaMujer supports the protection of women’s rights defenders. It is monitoring any threat against feminist organizations or women’s groups and providing security for any individual who is at risk. The organization also promotes the right of women to a life free of domestic violence. It mobilizes national and international resources to support women. FundaMujer holds local, regional and national authorities accountable for any violation of women’s rights.

Together, these four NGOs are all fighting for reducing domestic violence against women in Venezuela in addition to efforts made by the government. Through these combined efforts, domestic violence against women in Venezuela has substantially declined and women’s rights have continued to strengthen.

– Tri Truong
Photo: Flickr

Mega-Gangs of Venezuela 
Heavily armed with automatic weapons, hand grenades and military equipment, meta-gangs in Venezuela are unlike typical street gangs. Often, they have more weapons than the police, launching attacks against law enforcement and driving officers from gang territory. Numbering anywhere from 50 to more than 200 members each, the mega-gangs of Venezuela rule over the fearful civilians in their territory with impunity.

The gangs have lost some of their power in recent years, but the political and economic crises in the country are driving people to join them, increasing their influence. Some of the most notorious gangs are “El Koki’s” gang, Los 70 del Valle, Tren de Aragua and El Picure.

El Koki’s Gang

In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, El Koki and his allies had full control of neighborhoods such as El Valle and Cota 905 until July 2021, the latter of which served as his gang’s stronghold. El Koki is distinct from other gang leaders. He never served jail time and is running his gang outside of prison. Additionally, he has already lived to the age of 43 when the average criminal in the country’s poorest areas does not live past 25. He has also had an outstanding arrest warrant since 2012.

In 2012, the Venezuelan government developed the “peace zones” policy. It began negotiations with hundreds of gangs from all over the country. The government offered a truce in which police would stay out of designated neighborhoods if the gangs ceased criminal activity in addition to providing financial incentives for gangsters to disarm. One such incentive was the use of money and other resources meant for starting legitimate businesses.

The policy backfired, however, when gangs like El Koki’s gang began using the money to discretely acquire heavier weaponry, as reported in El Pais. El Koki and other gang leaders also took advantage of Venezuela’s criminal organizations gathering for negotiations to bolster the size of their gangs. Merging with these other groups, they formed the numerous mega-gangs of Venezuela that followed the implementation of peace zones.

The “Peace Zones”

One of the established peace zones was Cota 905. El Koki seized the opportunity there due to the lack of a permanent police presence. He strengthened his control as he killed off rival gang leaders and made alliances with others. For four years prior to June 2021, the police did not cross into Cota 905 once to enforce the law, something El Koki’s connections to the military and government may have had a hand in. In June, however, the truce between El Koki’s gang and law enforcement fully broke down. The two sides entered a war when the gang invaded the La Vega neighborhood southwest of Cota 905.

Demonstrating how empowered the mega-gangs of Venezuela have become, El Koki’s gang launched an attack on central police headquarters. The government retaliated by sending roughly 800 troops into Cota 905, where they went door to door battling the gang. According to InSight Crime, El Koki’s whereabouts are unknown. However, some have said that he may be in Cúcuta, Columbia, a common sanctuary for Venezuelan gangsters where he can continue to run his gang.

Tren de Aragua

In the state of Aragua, the mega-gang Tren de Aragua operates out of Tocorón prison. With nearly 3,000 members in groups spread across the country and expanding into nations like Columbia and Peru, Tren de Aragua, once a railroad workers’ union, is the most powerful criminal organization in Venezuela. Last spring, the gang made headlines with the completion of a baseball stadium it constructed within the prison it occupies. Reportedly possessing other luxuries such as a swimming pool and a disco hall while brandishing greater firepower than the police, the gang has demonstrated its financial success to an impoverished nation enduring an economic crisis.

Using its large arsenal, vast numbers and extreme wealth, Tren de Aragua has been able to expand rapidly as it repeatedly clashes with police and the military. Like other mega-gangs, it is alluring to people in poverty who do not get enough help from the government, have limited opportunities and are lacking in police protection. According to Mirror, to entice youths and build rapport with communities, it offers food packages at a time when much of the population faces starvation due to poor economic conditions that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened.

Police Brutality

It is not strictly poverty and recruitment efforts that motivate people to join and comply with the mega-gangs. Police brutality is another contributing factor and extrajudicial killings in retaliation for gang violence are all too common. As El Pais reported, in July 2021, more than 3,000 officers responded to gun violence between police and El Koki’s gang. There were reports of the police committing extrajudicial executions and robberies, and the circumstance resulted in 24 victims. When police assume the role of executioner and their responses to gang activity cause innocents to die, people end up in the mega-gangs for membership and protection.

The Work of NGOs

Currently, various NGOs and nonprofits are working to alleviate the situation in Venezuela. One such nonprofit is InSight Crime, which conducts investigative journalism, data analysis and makes policy suggestions for governments regarding organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean. InSight Crime speaks with police and officials when doing on-the-ground research. It also interacts with people involved in illegal activity to gain their perspective.

The International Crisis Group organization advises governments on preventing, managing and resolving deadly conflicts. Additionally, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is an organization that operates in Ecuador and provides shelter and supplies to migrants who the ongoing turmoil and violence displaced. There are also local organizations such as Mi Convive, a nonprofit that feeds thousands of hungry children a week. Nonprofits providing food to children like Mi Convive are essential in preventing mega-gangs from bribing them with food.

Other Solutions

The Venezuelan government is addressing the high levels of gang violence with police reform and crackdowns to kill or drive gang leaders out of their territory. However, to put an end to organized crime and dismantle the mega-gangs of Venezuela, the government must take a complex, multifaceted approach. Corruption in politics and the military has led to impunity and the mega-gangs becoming better armed than the police. Eliminating financial incentives for organized crime is important. Otherwise, materially motivated criminals will continue to organize for profit. The police and other local public institutions should receive empowerment to rally their communities. They should act against the mega-gangs while scaling back military involvement.

The Venezuelan government, NGOs and foreign nations must work together. They have to ensure there is funding for robust social programs and that Venezuelans have economic opportunities where they live. They should be doing sufficient community outreach to sway people from the criminals and meta-gangs of Venezuela should be facing appropriate consequences.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Venezuela
Due to the ongoing humanitarian and economic crises in the nation, mental health in Venezuela has become a forefront issue for both people who remain in the country and those migrating to flee the trouble at home. Mental health troubles affect Venezuelans of all ages and the changes that COVID-19 has brought about have compounded the issue.

Mental Health in Venezuela

Following the death of former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro assumed power in 2013. Due to a reduction in foreign aid and outdated spending policies, the economy spiraled into a deficit, which eventually led to food and medical shortages. Since the start of the conflict, more than 5.6 million people have fled Venezuela, mostly to Peru or Colombia.

The turmoil from hyperinflation, political unrest and the ensuing mass exodus has created a stressful environment in which the development of mental health issues is common. Before the pandemic, one out of every two Venezuelan migrants in Peru exhibited some health issue, including those related to depression, fear, anxiety or stress, and went without professional care. Following the advent of COVID-19, estimates indicate that less than 10% of those in need of healthcare can receive treatment because of economic constraints or policies related to quarantines.

The Effects on Children

Mental health in Venezuela is not an issue limited to the adult population. Although Venezuela’s government does not track data on the mental wellness of its youth, it is possible to get a glimpse of the circumstances through those who work firsthand with Venezuelan children. Cecodap is one such NGO that focuses on child and adolescent rights. Psychologist Abel Saraiba works closely with Cecodap in Venezuela, reporting that the number of children exhibiting symptoms of depression and anxiety rose from 9% in February 2020 to 31% in June 2020. Venezuela’s first quarantine measures, which it implemented in March 2020, may have influenced this. Saraiba tells Reuters, “We have a complex humanitarian emergency on top of a pandemic,” and “the combination of these factors produces a deterioration in living conditions.”

Actions to Address Mental Health in Venezuela

While the situation of mental health in Venezuela remains dire, hope is on the horizon for those in need. UNICEF and the United Nations have taken notice of the struggles Venezuelans face, especially with COVID-19 exacerbating these issues.

One of the most significant sources of stress for children is unrest at home. UNICEF is working extensively with the population of Venezuela to spread awareness about the rise in domestic violence since the start of the pandemic. In addition, UNICEF helps provide support for returning Venezuelans and their families. UNICEF is also positioning counselors at the borders and assigning caseworkers to help stem domestic disputes.

The United Nations’ 2021 Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan targets 4.5 million Venezuelans in need. The plan aims to “provide life-saving emergency assistance, secure livelihoods through improving access to basic services and ensure the protection of the most vulnerable,” among other goals. The plan’s funding will allow many who struggle with mental health in Venezuela to seek treatment. So far, showing support of the plan, the international community has committed roughly $83 million to aid struggling Venezuelans.

With aid to Venezuela from multiple organizations focusing on several aspects of well-being, including mental health, there is hope for mental health in Venezuela to improve.

– Kevin Leonard
Photo: Pixabay

WFP in Venezuela
In April 2021, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reached a deal to distribute food to vulnerable school children in Venezuela. The program ambitiously seeks to help 185,000 students in 2021 alone and 1.5 million children by the end of the 2023 school year. Since schools in Venezuela remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and teachers can pick up rations at their local schools. A monthly ration consists of nine pounds of lentils, 13 pounds of rice, one pound of salt and one liter of vegetable oil. The WFP additionally manages its own supply chain and partners with local teachers and nongovernmental organizations to distribute food. Once schools open again, the WFP in Venezuela will also teach school faculty about food safety.

First Shipments Arrive

Recently, the first shipments of food arrived in Maracaibo, Venezuela. The stockpile includes 42,000 packages of food for this month. The WFP in Venezuela targets children under six deemed to be the most food insecure. Originally, the program began in the state of Falcón and intends to expand to other Venezuelan states gradually. The first set of rations went to a total of 277 schools in the state of Falcón.

Venezuela’s Economic Crisis

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, 96% of Venezuelans live below the poverty line. The country is heavily reliant on the export of natural gas and oil. In fact, oil makes up one-quarter of Venezuela’s gross domestic product (GDP). As oil prices dropped dramatically in 2014, Venezuela began to undergo an economic crisis. Between 2014 and 2016, oil prices had decreased from $100 to $30 per barrel. Since 2015, over 5 million Venezuelans have left the country in search of better opportunities, according to the United Nations. Additionally, Venezuela’s GDP reduced by two-thirds between 2014 and 2019.

Venezuela was once the second-largest producer of oil in the world, behind the United States. Venezuela was also a founding country of OPEC in 1960. The country has had a long history of dictatorships and consolidation of the oil industry, which the state and a select few companies controlled. Some believe that the current president, Nicolás Maduro, underwent reelection through undemocratic means in 2018. In January 2021, after Maduro had claimed victory in the election, candidate Juan Guaidó argued that Maduro had won illegitimately. The United States and several other countries acknowledged Guaidó’s victory.

Although exact figures are unknown, the WFP estimates that one-third of Venezuelans do not have enough to eat. Furthermore, approximately 16% of children suffer from malnutrition within the country. About 7 million Venezuelans are in need of humanitarian aid.

The Importance of WFP in Venezuela

The WFP in Venezuela is much needed as the country struggles economically and fails to provide for its citizens. WFP representative Susana Rico said that “We are reaching these vulnerable children at a critical stage of their lives when their brains and bodies need nutritious food to develop to their full potential.” Hence, this program will be instrumental in providing the necessary resources to underserved young children.

– Kaylee DeLand
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in VenezuelaMenstrual products are instrumental to a woman’s daily life. These products, deemed nonessential by many governments, affect women in their home life, work and education. However, up to two million Venezuelan girls and women end up victims of an economy in crisis, unable to afford the basic menstrual necessities. Several organizations are addressing period poverty in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s Inflation Crisis

Venezuela’s economy, once rich and booming, has fallen into a crisis over the past two decades. By 2014, 90% of the country’s earnings came from oil. However, as oil prices dropped, an economic collapse began. The value of the Venezuelan currency fell, and as a result, the cost of goods increased.

At the time, the newly inaugurated President Nicolas Maduro made the executive decision to print more money. This intended solution simply made the problem worse as an increased supply in currency only decreased its value even more. Maduro’s government continued to print more money to combat the falling prices, creating a dangerous cycle of hyperinflation. The current inflation rate is an estimated 9,986%, the highest inflation rate globally.

How Hyperinflation Impacts Menstrual Products

Due to hyperinflation, many women in Venezuela are affected by period poverty. One package of sanitary pads can cost more than a quarter of a month’s salary. A box of tampons is even more inaccessible, costing “up to three months’ salary.” Women who cannot afford these prices are forced to improvise by creating “temporary pads made of old socks, toilet paper or cardboard.” These makeshift menstrual products carry health implications for girls and women, putting them at heightened risk of toxic shock, urinary tract infections and other diseases.

Period Poverty Affects Education and Employment

Menstrual products affect not only a woman’s health but also every aspect of her daily life. Women who cannot afford products often have to miss school or work as a consequence. For school-aged girls, this can total 45 days of the school year missed. Since education is linked to poverty reduction, a lack of menstrual products exacerbates cycles of poverty. By missing work, womens’ incomes are reduced, intensifying conditions of poverty.

Sustainable Menstrual Solutions

Sustainable menstrual products may provide a solution to addressing period poverty in Venezuela. While standard pads and tampons have to be regularly purchased due to their disposable nature, menstrual cups are resilient and reusable, proving both effective and affordable.

Marian Gómez, the founder of The Cup Ve, created a menstrual cup that costs $10-$20 and lasts about seven years. This proves significantly cheaper long-term compared to buying monthly disposable menstrual products.

Sisters Marianne and Véronique Lahaie Luna also recognized the potential of menstrual cups in reducing period poverty in Venezuela. Their NGO, Lahai Luna Lezama, donated more than 400 menstrual cups to Venezuelan migrant women in 2019 alone. More than 300 menstrual cup recipients reported that the menstrual cups significantly transformed their lives.

Menstrual Education in Venezuela

Menstrual myths and stigma as well as a lack of menstrual education also exacerbate the issue of period poverty in Venezuela. To address this, Plan International hosts educational menstrual workshops for migrant girls and women. The organization distributed hygiene kits to more than 41,000 “Venezuelan people in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.” Plan International’s future plans include not just giving out resources but opening the conversation around menstruation.

The commitment and dedication of organizations help to combat period poverty in Venezuela, removing barriers to female advancement and development. By combating period poverty, global poverty is simultaneously reduced.

– Caroline Bersch
Photo: Unsplash

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela 
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has been significant in regard to food security and medical care, but food shortages and malnutrition were already rampant between 2015 and 2017 in Venezuela. By the end of 2018, wholesale prices doubled nearly every 19 days due to inflation. More than 3.4 million Venezuelans migrated in search of more stability and opportunity.

In response to these issues, Venezuelans protested against the authoritarian leader, Nicolas Maduro, in 2019. The outbreak of protests demanded a new constitution addressing issues related to economic instability and medical care. Then, on March 13, 2020, the first COVID-19 case occurred in Venezuela.

Since the first case of COVID-19 in Venezuela, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 250,309 confirmed cases and 2,814 deaths. The impact of COVID-19 on Venezuela compounded on preexisting humanitarian issues of economic instability, health and food insecurity. In response, nonprofit organizations and international government organizations began providing aid to people in vulnerable situations in Venezuela.

Life Before the Pandemic

Prior to the spread of the coronavirus, Venezuela’s economy experienced a debt of higher than $150 billion. In addition, the GDP shrunk by roughly two-thirds, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Due to this, Venezuela experienced the highest poverty rates in Latin America, affecting 96% of the people. These issues resulted in a lack of essential products such as medical care, potable water, food and gasoline.

Health Security in Venezuela

In the past five years, over 50% of doctors and nurses emigrated from Venezuela to escape economic instability. This is according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A declining health system was unable to provide aid for infectious disease, malnutrition and infant mortality. As a result, the spread of COVID-19 resulted in heavily populated hospitals with minimal resources.

Without adequate pay and protection for medical professionals, as well as a shortage of potable water and protective medical gear, Venezuela’s hospitals experienced difficulty in responding to COVID-19. According to WHO, around 3.4% of confirmed COVID-19 cases resulted in death. WHO predicts this number to be much higher in Venezuela. This is because the country’s hospitals lack basic X-rays, laboratory tests, intensive care beds and respirators.

In response to these issues, the National Academy of Medicine in Venezuela, a politically independent medical organization, sought to reduce the impact of the pandemic on existing health care systems. The Academy made a request to the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, James Story, on May 2, 2021, for the U.S. to add Venezuela to its international donor list for millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccinations. Venezuela already received around 1.4 million vaccines from China and Russia.

However, the National Academy of Venezuela stated that to control the pandemic, the country needs to vaccinate 70% of the adult population. The vaccines they received represent less than 10% of what Venezuela needs.

Food Insecurity During the Pandemic

At the end of 2020, with exports at a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, food inflation rose to 1,700%, resulting in a significant increase in food prices. As a result of inflation and international sanctions, the WFP also projected that Venezuela will experience a slow recovery to intensifying humanitarian issues, including food insecurity.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has resulted in 65% of families experiencing the inability to purchase food because of the hyperinflation of food products and inadequate income. In order to survive while experiencing food shortages, families in Venezuela reduced the variety of food and portion sizes of meals.

However, those in vulnerable positions, such as children, pregnant women, those with preexisting health conditions and the elderly, experienced malnutrition because of the inability to meet nutritional needs. The World Food Program (WFP) estimated that one of every three people in Venezuela is food insecure. During the pandemic, those experiencing food insecurity continued to increase. The U.N. reported that prior to the pandemic, one in four elderly people, a demographic that maintained the majority of wealth in Venezuela, skipped meals. During the pandemic, more than four in 10 have been skipping meals.

Humanitarian Response to the Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela

In 2020, the U.N. developed the Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan, which seeks to provide 4.5 million adults and children throughout Venezuela with access to humanitarian assistance, according to OCHA. The plan requires $762.5 million to provide health care, water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition, shelter and educational support. The plan carries out objectives of providing emergency relief, improving access to basic services and providing protection for the most vulnerable in Venezuela, especially during the pandemic.

Over 129 humanitarian organizations, including agencies associated with the U.N., will implement the Humanitarian Response Plan in Venezuela. It has already responded to emergency relief to COVID-19 and led to the return of tens of thousands of Venezuelan refugees, according to OCHA.

Throughout 2020, the U.N. received $130 million in support of this Humanitarian Plan. This allows humanitarian organizations to reach 3.3 million vulnerable people in Venezuela with basic necessities. This will include humanitarian assistance, per OCHA’s report. Additionally, the Plan allowed for 1.4 million people to receive humanitarian assistance in response to COVID-19.

The global pandemic and humanitarian issues are continuing in Venezuela, leading to a necessity for improved food security and medical care. As a result, throughout 2020, the United Nations, as well as humanitarian organizations, increased their presence in Venezuela. They will continue to encourage additional humanitarian organizations to provide humanitarian aid.

Amanda Frese
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Venezuela TPS ActVenezuela is currently experiencing “the second-largest migration crisis” in the world. More than five million people have fled the country in the past five years. Many Venezuelans look to the United States as a potential place of refuge to escape the extreme poverty in Venezuela. To help accommodate the refugees, Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL-9) introduced H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 in the House of Representatives. The bill will grant Venezuelan refugees temporary protected status (TPS) and other authorizations.

H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021

Introduced on January 4, 2021, the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 is a bill that would make Venezuelan citizens eligible for temporary protected status, allowing refugees to stay, work and travel in the United States for 18 months from the date of legal enactment if the bill becomes law.

Many Venezuelan refugees had to completely abandon their old lives and seek out a better one without a plan in mind. With 96% of Venezuelans living in poverty, it is clear that there are very few opportunities left in Venezuela. As a result, Venezuelans need support and opportunities to succeed in a country that is not their own. On March 4, 2021, the House referred the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship for further review.

Accepting Refugees Benefits the US

The U.S. is currently experiencing labor shortages in low-skilled jobs in the wake of COVID-19. According to research from The Conference Board, 85% of companies in blue-collar industries are struggling with recruitment. These jobs range from factory work to service jobs with commercial fast food employers.

Venezuelan refugees are eager to work and earn money to provide for their families in essentially any role. Many U.S. citizens are not interested in such jobs and hold degrees that make them more suitable for the white-collar industry. However, most Venezuelan nationals would be more than willing to fulfill these roles. This allows the refugees to earn an income while also helping the U.S. reduce its labor shortages. In this way, the Venezuelan TPS Act will aid the U.S. economy while providing a path out of poverty for Venezuelans.

Federal Register TPS Notice

On March 9, 2021, the Federal Register posted a notice that Venezuela would be granted TPS for 18 months through September 9, 2022, just five days after Congress moved the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. President Biden granted this allowance as part of his campaign promises. This allowance makes 323,000 Venezuelan people eligible to receive the same entitlements expressed in the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021. The bill still remains alive in the House, however.

Columbia is a good example of an open-door refugee policy. Colombia has been a leader in the refugee crisis, granting TPS to Venezuelan refugees for up to 10 years. This has helped nearly two million Venezuelans in the process. It is important to realize that most Venezuelan refugees are not looking to permanently settle in a new country and would rather return to Venezuela once the country is no longer under the dictatorship of President Nicolás Maduro. In a survey conducted by GBAO, 79% of Venezuelan refugees said they would be likely to return to Venezuela if the president was replaced by “an opponent of the Maduro regime” and the economy improved.

Extended TPS for Venezuelans

An improved home country is likely going to take longer than 18 months given the scale of the crisis in Venezuela. As a result, the U.S. should grant Venezuela TPS for longer than 18 months. Making this change falls on the members of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship as the Subcommittee is responsible for deliberating and suggesting changes to the Venezuela TPS Act. Increasing the span of Venezuela’s TPS would grant more long-term stability to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees while providing the U.S. with its labor needs.

The Venezuelan TPS Act of 2021 ensures a better future for Venezuelan refugees. Amending the bill to match Colombia’s provision of 10 years of TPS for Venezuelan refugees will provide long-term protection and support as refugees await the end of the crisis in Venezuela in order to return home.

Jeremy Long
Photo: Flickr

brazil helps Venezuelan refugeesDue to the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela, many of the country’s citizens are fleeing for refuge in other countries in Latin America. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Venezuelan refugee crisis is among the worst in the world. Currently, more than 5 million Venezuelans are living in other locations because of issues in their home country. These issues include violence, poverty and a plethora of human rights concerns. Of the Venezuelans living abroad, around 2.5 million of them are living somewhere in the Americas. One country hosting these refugees is Brazil. Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees in several ways.

Brazil’s Relocation Efforts

Brazil has gone above and beyond for the Venezuelan refugees that have come to the country for refuge. Many of the Venezuelan refugees resided in the Brazilian northern state of Roraima. However, a relocation strategy that launched three years ago meant 50,000 refugees that were living in Roraima were relocated to other cities across Brazil. This effort is part of Operation Welcome and it has immensely improved the quality of life for Venezuelan refugees, according to a survey that the UNHCR conducted in which 360 relocated Venezuelan families participated.

Within only weeks of being relocated to a new city, 77% of these families were able to find a place of employment, which led to an increase in their income six to eight weeks after relocation. Quality of life improved for Venezuelans who partook in this survey. The majority of them were able to rent homes and just 5% had to rely on temporary accommodation four months following their relocation. This is a great improvement in comparison to the conditions refugees lived in before relocation. Before relocation, 60% of Venezuelan refugees had to rely on temporary shelter and 3% were entirely homeless. This relocation effort is a significant way in which Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees.

Brazil’s Social Assistance

Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees with its social assistance programs, specifically Brazil’s key conditional cash transfer program, Bolsa Familia. Social assistance programs are designed to help impoverished families, many of which are Venezuelan refugees. Currently, there are low but rising numbers of Venezuelans that are taking advantage of this program. According to the UNHCR, only 384 Venezuelans were using Bolsa Familia in January 2018. More than two years later, in February 2020, this number rose to 16,707. While the number could be higher, the past two years show an upward trend of Venezuelans using this important program to improve their living conditions in Brazil.

The Catholic Church in Brazil Assists

The Catholic Church in Brazil is providing its fair share of help to Venezuelan refugees. A center in the capital of Brazil is hosting Venezuelan migrants relocating from the refugee centers in the Amazon region. The center is receiving support from ASVI Brasil, which has a relationship with the Catholic Church, and Brazil’s Migration and Human Rights Institute. The effort was designed to support Operation Welcome, the Brazilian government’s initiative to address the Venezuelan migration crisis. The center will be able to house 15 Venezuelan families at a time and will rotate families every three months. The center will ensure working people from families have a safe place to live before moving on.

Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees by providing several forms of support. Many of these Venezuelan refugees have left their country because of unimaginable conditions of poverty and violence. The support from Brazil allows these refugees to avoid the hardships of poverty and secure shelter, basic needs and employment in order to make better lives for themselves.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in VenezuelaAccording to the World Food Programme’s 2019 report, in the current Venezuelan economy, food insecurity has brought approximately 2.3 million Venezuelans into extreme poverty. Thankfully, international organizations are coming in to help mitigate this reality.

Food Insecurity and Poverty in Venezuela

Andres Burgos wakes up around 3 a.m. every day to prepare arepas: the Venezuela staple of cornbread. After filling his backpack, he rides his bicycle through the streets of Caracas, Venezuela. He looks for people prying into trash bags for food and offers them this bread stuffed with ham, cheese or vegetables. There are many others like Burgos that do the same in Venezuela’s major cities.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), levels of food insecurity are higher in 2021 than in the WFP study from 2019. In the same line of analysis, ENCOVI, a group of national universities, conducted a survey that concluded 74% of Venezuelan households face extreme poverty and food insecurity.

Due to the economic situation in the country, the pattern of consumption has forced the fragile population to change diet habits. Individuals are forced toward consuming more carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and beans. Items including meat, fish, eggs, cheese and vegetables are often too expensive for this sector of society. This type of diet leads to chronic malnutrition.

Addressing Food Insecurity in Venezuela

Numerous organizations are advocating to improve the lives of Venezuelans in need. Recently, Executive Director of the WFP David Beasley arrived in the country to set up the program: The Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan with Humanitarian Needs Overview 2020. The goal is to reach out to the most vulnerable populations and include them in the program’s three objectives: to ensure the survival and well-being of the most vulnerable, to continue sustaining essential services and strengthening resilience and livelihoods and to strengthen institutional and community mechanisms to prevent, mitigate and respond to protection risks

Cuatro Por Venezuela Foundation is another organization that collects funds with the goal of empowering vulnerable Venezuelans with the skills to provide for their own needs and ultimately improve their quality of life. Programs include a health program, a nutrition program and an empowerment program. The health program provides medicine and supplies and hosts educational health drives. The focus of the nutrition program is providing food staples, including formula, to orphanages, nursing homes, schools, hospitals and organizations that cook for the homeless. Additionally, the empowerment program offers training for success in micro-business and funds educational programs centered around children’s creativity, social dialogue and use of their free time.

GlobalGiving is a website that hosts groups and organizations that are collecting funds for a variety of social programs. This one site offers the ability to donate to programs targeting a large spectrum of vulnerable individuals, including the food insecure in Venezuela. Likewise, Alimenta la Solidaridad is an organization that develops sustainable solutions to the food security challenges of Venezuelan families. The organization promotes community organization and volunteer work as a way to provide daily lunches to children at risk of or experiencing a nutritional deficiency as a result of the complex humanitarian crisis.

These organizations are just a handful from the vast number working toward helping the most vulnerable populations of Venezuela who are facing food insecurity and poverty.

– Carlos Eduardo Velarde Vásquez
Photo: Flickr