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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

American Foreign Policy in Venezuela
Following the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, Nicolas Maduro of the United Socialist Party was selected as president of Venezuela and the country has been under his authoritarian rule ever since. Economic crises and major human rights violations have flourished in Venezuela, calling the attention of international human rights organizations and U.S. officials. This crisis has only intensified the maltreatment of poverty-ridden Venezuelans resulting in the influence of American foreign policy in Venezuela.

Human Right Violations in Venezuela and resulting effects on Poverty

The Venezuelan government’s reluctance to listen to its citizens – particularly low-income workers – has led to the growth of poverty and poor living conditions throughout the nation. According to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018, Venezuelan workers have been gathering in “sporadic and often spontaneous small-scale protests” throughout 2018 to demand basic needs such as water and electricity. The Venezuelan government used arbitrary detention and strict police tactics to halt protests in 2017. The government repression and suspension of the freedom to peacefully assemble has stalled the granting of aid to those suffering in these poor conditions.

The economic crisis has further exacerbated the maltreatment of Venezuelan workers. In fact, during January 2018, workers in several sectors – such as health, petroleum, transportation, and electricity – held protests and strikes in order to denounce hunger salaries, which are wages insufficient to afford a basic food basket and unable to keep up with the rate of hyperinflation. In response, President Maduro raised the national minimum wage to 1,800 Bolivares Soberanes ($11). However, union leaders from the petroleum, health, telecommunications and electricity sectors stated that this decree did not include wage adjustments. Therefore, people would still not be able to afford a basic food basket.

Basic human rights in Venezuela, such as water, electricity and especially food, have become contingent on political loyalty. In fact, the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018 states that President Maduro has “[conditioned] the receipt of food assistance on support for his government and increasing military control over the economy.” Food shortages have become a severe problem among the poor in Venezuela. A study showed that 64.3 percent of Venezuelans stated that they lost weight in 2017, with the poorest people losing the most. In fact, this study also found that nine out of 10 Venezuelans could not afford daily food.

“Its just government incompetence,” William Meyer, a professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware, said. “They can’t even run the country officially anymore. They can’t even provide basic services like electricity anymore, the government is so corrupt and chaotic and inept.”

American Foreign Policy Intervention in Venezuela

The U.S. government has already established new rules through foreign policy in an attempt to oppose Venezuela’s authoritarian government. Along with Canada, the European Union and Panama, the United States imposed targeted sanctions on more than 50 Venezuelan officials in response to their implications with human rights abuses and corruptions. Additionally, in 2017, the United States imposed financial sanctions that banned dealings on new stocks and bonds issued by the Venezuelan government and its state oil company.

However, these new changes to American foreign policy in Venezuela may have a negative effect on its people. This is in the hope that the changes will produce long term benefits.

“Unfortunately, all economics sanctions are going to make things worse for all the average people,” Meyer said. “The hope is that economic sanctions will undermine the regime and somehow Maduro will leave and be removed from power.”

Meyer makes it clear that Venezuela has extremely limited options for American foreign policy and that intervening through other options, such as military intervention, would be a drastic mistake.

“[Humanitarian aid] is about the best that we can hope for right now,” Meyer said.

The United States has donated a sum of humanitarian aid towards the Venezuelan Crisis, as USAID reports having provided $152,394,006 in humanitarian funding. This includes a $40.8 million State/PRM contribution to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to support regional relief efforts. Additionally, USAID funded another $15 million for the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) in order to support Venezuelan refugees in Colombia.

Additionally, there are charities and organizations throughout the U.S. that are donating aid towards the crisis in Venezuela to ease the effect of poverty. One of those organizations is the Cuatro Por Venezuela Foundation, which has already shipped over 63,000 lbs of life-saving supplies to Venezuela.

The poverty that plagues Venezuela is dependent solely upon the wrongdoings of its authoritarian dictator. While U.S. foreign policymakers have limitations when it comes to fixing Venezuela’s deep economic and political crisis, it is clear that Venezuela’s impoverished need long-term humanitarian aid. However, it is clear that much of the aid and assistance that goes towards Venezuela is dependent on the donations and assistance of individuals rather than the government. Due to efforts and donations of volunteers, the Cuatro Por Venezuela Foundation was able to quadruple its impact in its second year of operation, sending 60,000 Ibs of shipments to Venezuela.

Healing Venezuela

Healing Venezuela is another charity that helps the country by sending management programs, medical supplies, support and staff to Venezuela. Once again, due to the donations of donors, Healing Venezuela was able to send 7 tonnes of medical supplies, install a water treatment plant, sponsor HIV and provide cancer tests for over 150 low-income patients.

Many human rights violations are occurring in Venezuela under the unchecked dictatorship of Nicholas Maduro, such as the lack of access to free speech, food, water and electricity. American foreign policy in Venezuela can only go so far when it comes to fixing the problem. However, the generous donations and work of successful charities, such as Cuatro Por Venezuela and Healing Venezuela, are helping to relieve the many issues that plague Venezuela.

– Shreya Gaddipati
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Venezuela
The situation in Venezuela, sparked by political turmoil and hyperinflation, has denigrated into a dire case of global poverty. Despite its former status as one of the richest countries in South America and its access to the largest oil rig in the world, Venezuela’s economy has sparked both a humanitarian crisis and a refugee crisis within South America. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Venezuela:

Food Scarcity & Weight loss

According to a study by three universities in Venezuela, 74.3 percent of the population lost an average of 19 pounds of weight in 2015, and around 9.6 million Venezuelans ate two or fewer meals a day.

Due to past government subsidies of oil production, the people of Venezuela have historically relied heavily on imports of even basic necessities rather than domestic production.

Now that Venezuela’s borders have been closed and its currency devalued, imported resources within Venezuela have become increasingly scarce, making food prices rise significantly.

Population and Inflation

Approximately 81 percent of Venezuela’s 31.5 million people are now considered to be living in income poverty, while over 50 percent are estimated to be living in extreme poverty.

Additionally, the IMF predicts that inflation will reach 13,000 percent in the coming year, making it the biggest recession in the history of the Western Hemisphere — twice as large as the Great Depression.

Education Decline

For a country that once boasted free education for all students under Hugo Chavez’s socialist regime, the education structure in Venezuela is crumbling under the current economic crisis. Many schools in Venezuela have closed or are operating at limited capacity.

Such conditions are due to insufficient salaries for school teachers who are working for just over a dollar a month, as well as lack of school lunches as the government has run out of funds for the state-run program that provided children with free lunch. An increasing number of children have stopped going to school because, without food, they may faint in class.

Of 8 million school children, approximately 3 million students have stopped attending some or all classes. Education professionals within Venezuela fear for a future of uneducated and unskilled workers if this trend continues too long.

Lack of Hygiene

As most families have been scraping by just to put food on the table, those receiving the minimum wage face a choice every time they receive their paycheck: food or hygiene? According to Jonathan Marquez, a security guard and now also a taxi driver, he always picks food, adding water to the little bit of shampoo that he has left to make soap.

Additionally, one reporter from Venezuela spent 86 percent of the monthly minimum wage on eight rolls of toilet paper, after failing to find it in any stores for a whole week.

Businesses Cannot Operate

Number five of the top 10 facts about living conditions in Venezuela is that lack of resources for the individual means lack of resources for small businesses as well. The economic emergency in Venezuela has led to declining business within Venezuela, resulting in layoffs and even many business shut-downs.

Hairdressers only have running water two days a week and hair products are scarce to find; bakers have no flour to make bread; restaurant owners have no customers to cook for and very little pasta to cook.

Lack of Medicine

The medical profession is suffering as well. While doctors can still prescribe medicine, there is hardly any medicine to supply to their patients as the country endures an estimated 85 percent shortage of medicine, according to the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela. Chronic diseases like kidney disease or diabetes are not being treated due to this limited supply of medicine, which leads to serious health risks.

A box of ten pills for high blood pressure can be more than a retiree’s monthly pension. Even highly preventable and curable diseases can now develop into life-threatening illnesses from the lack of antibiotics and proper treatment.

Water and Electricity Shortages

Drought from the Guri Dam has sparked a country-wide rationing of water and electricity. The hydroelectric plants in the reservoir contribute to 70 percent of the nation’s electricity supply.

While a standardized 4 hour outage was enacted daily, residents have noted that some days there is no electricity for up to 14 hours. In efforts to conserve electricity, Maduro has cut public sector work weeks to two days per week.

Concerning water rationing, faucets only run once or twice a week for most people; however, in harder-to-reach places like Margarita Island, water is only supplied once every 21 days.

Violence and Protests

Street protests and looting have become almost commonplace in Venezuela as people continue to lose faith in their government. In three months, 111 protests were recorded in Sucre — one of Venezuela’s 23 states — as reported by Indice, a human rights group monitoring the protests.

Reporters have noted 5 or 6 protests per week, all demanding basic necessities and fighting through tear gas and rubber bullets to get it.

The South American Refugee Crisis

To escape the turmoil within Venezuela, there has been a mass exodus into neighboring countries, particularly Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. The UNHCR estimates that nearly 5000 people escape from Venezuela each day, totaling 2.3 million migrants from Venezuela since 2015.

While South American border policies have eased the refugee migration process for many Venezuelan people, neighboring countries are not equipped with the facilities and resources to host refugees in the capacity at which they’re arriving.

Aid and Access

Government restrictions under President Maduro have rejected humanitarian aid by obstructing shipments, particularly targeting medicine, but that does not mean that there is nothing that can be done. Church groups and non-profit organizations like Sanando and the Cuatro Por Venezuela Foundation are doing their best to provide aid to the people of Venezuela.

Cuatro Por Venezuela began in 2016 when four Venezuelan women living in the U.S. decided to deliver relief to their country. They have since provided over 50,000 food servings per year and attended to over 17,000 medical patients. Neighboring countries, such as Colombia, have also been immensely helpful to Venezuelan refugees by providing food and shelter for hundreds of thousands of people.

While the U.S. is still pressing sanctions on President Maduro, Mike Pence has promised $48 million to support regional partners that are taking on the brunt of this crisis.

Giving Hand, Willing Heart

The humanitarian readiness to help is inspiring; however, the onus remains on Nicolas Maduro and the Venezuelan government to open its borders to aid and imports to ensure the safety and health of their people.

The U.S. government and the world is ready to help alleviate the situation in Venezuela. The hope is that these top 10 facts about living conditions in Venezuela will have significantly changed by next year.

– Sara Andresen
Photo: Flickr