Of all households in Venezuela, 35% depend on financial support from family members working overseas. According to local economic researcher Asdrúbal Oliveros, remittances to Venezuela will suffer a heavy blow as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its severe effect on the global economy. With an estimated $2 billion decrease in remittances, the health of millions of Venezuelans is in serious danger due to the combined effects of COVID-19 and the Venezuelan Crisis.
The World Bank believes the pandemic will cause a 20% decrease in global remittances, the biggest drop in recent years. With 90% of citizens in Venezuela living in poverty, the drastic fall in remittances and oil prices spell trouble for countless people. Furthermore, the unprepared Venezuelan healthcare system has struggled to control the pandemic.
Despite numerous U.N. groups imploring for money-transfer businesses to make international transfers cheaper, Venezuela’s foreign exchange policy and volatile economic system are difficult to reform. “Venezuelan remitters” are instead left using unnecessarily complex methods to send money back home.
The Venezuelan Government Under Nicolás Maduro
In 2019, the Venezuelan government politicized humanitarian aid when it vilified the U.S. government’s foreign aid as the beginning stage of a U.S. invasion. However, the government has finally acknowledged the long-denied humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. President Nicolas Maduro has accepted the deliverance of aid after negotiations with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Subsequently, the United Nations declared it was increasing its efforts to aid Venezuela.
Despite the progress made, politics continue to negatively affect potential aid. According to Miguel Pizarro, a U.N. Representative, the political influence leaves many without fundamental necessities. Pizarro explains, “If you demonstrate and raise your voice and go to the streets, you do not have food, medicine, water or domestic gas.” Pizarro continues, “Eighty percent of Venezuelan households are supplied with gas by the state. If you become active in the political arena, they take away that right.”
Sharp declines in oil value, numerous embargoes globally and negligent economic policy largely caused the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela. Since 2014, the nation’s GDP has fallen by 88%, with overall inflation rates in the millions. A 2019 paper published by economic researchers at the Center for Economic and Policy Research attributed medicine, food and general supply deficits in 2018 to the deaths of at least 40,000. According to findings from the Coalition of Organizations for the Right to Health and Life, a scarcity in medicine puts over 300,000 Venezuelans in peril.
Dr. Julio Castro, director of Doctors for Health in Venezuela, says “People don’t have money to live. I think it’s probably a worst-case scenario for people in Venezuela.” Despite recent increases in aid and medicine from U.N. operations and the IFRC, the Venezuelan struggle persists.
Venezuelan Healthcare Amid COVID-19
Most of the Venezuelan population can only afford to receive aid from public hospitals. These public hospitals often experience persistent deficits in necessary supplies. A study conducted by Doctors for Health indicated that 60% of public facilities frequently face power outages and water shortages.
In response to this, the Venezuelan government authorized $20 million in healthcare aid, which will be administered by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a territorial agency of the World Health Organization. They will use the capital to develop COVID-19 testing and to obtain personal protective equipment (Ex: masks, gloves, etc).
According to Luis Francisco Cabezas of local healthcare nonprofit Convite, a recent study identified a worrisome struggle. Data indicated that roughly six in 10 people had reported trouble obtaining medication for chronic illnesses. The problem has only worsened since the pandemic.
Local Nonprofits Redirect Efforts Toward Venezuelan Crisis
Numerous nonprofits in the country have responded to COVID-19 and the ongoing Venezuelan crisis by shifting their efforts. A director for Caritas, a Catholic charity, says the ongoing economic disaster compelled his organization to prioritize humanitarian work over its original mission of civil rights advocacy.
Similarly, Robert Patiño leads a nonprofit civil rights group, Mi Convive, which shifted to humanitarian work in 2016. Since its inception, the organization has directed its efforts to child nutrition. Through the group Alimenta La Solidaridad, Mi Convive has opened over 50 community kitchens in Venezuela, feeding over 4,000 kids weekly.
Although the efforts by Venezuelan nonprofits have aided thousands, it is not enough. COVID-19 and the Venezuelan crisis need to be in worldwide focus until the government can reliably provide for its citizens. The work of numerous good samaritans can only reach so many people, and their work is constantly hindered by “Chavistas,” a group of Venezuelans who are loyal to President Nicolas Maduro’s government. Mi Convive’s Robert Patiño claims the radicals have been known to go as far as withholding food boxes from areas where the nonprofit is trying to begin new programs. The humanitarian emergency in Venezuela must be appropriately addressed, for the livelihood of millions of people are at stake.
– Carlos Williams