Humanitarian aid provision by The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies faced hostility characteristic of a deeply polarised Venezuela. Commendable efforts by the self-proclaimed apolitical organisation represent the first step in relief provision for a fragmented nation, which, according to the World Health Organization, is currently victim to resurgence of tropical diseases, dwindling life expectancy, and troubling food and medicine shortages. Although the organisation’s cross and crescent logo originates from Swiss and Ottoman influences, in arguably representing Christianity and Islam, the unification of these two symbols presents an impartial and unifying ethos. The unifying identity of the organization appears to come into direct contradiction with the current polarised nature of the Venezuelan nation, rooted in an authoritarian history and regional friction with the US, positioning the sovereign at the behest of western sanctions.
“This is a pretty unique situation with no precedent in modern Latin American history,” stated Tamara Taraciuk, Human Rights Watch expert on Venezuela. “It’s a completely man-made crisis. No one can tell you how long it will last or how much will be needed.” Taraciruk’s comments, needless to say, in asserting the absence of political incompetence renders the crises avoidable, reflects the ruins of a divisive political arena filtering into the citizenry’s economic life. This dismal sentiment of man-made disempowerment is echoed in a troubling statement by Maribel Das Neves, a mother from Caracas interviewed by Al Jazeera, who states ‘The food and medicine shortages paralyse my soul. I ask God for help every night’.
Families consistently struggle to make ends meet – with a rice packet costing an average of a week’s wage, the sharp rise driven by hyperinflation and western sanctions. Consequentially, flour, water and the bare bones of staple food provide barely sufficient nutrients to an average family. Despite the initially dismal portrayal of a fractured nation told through the lives of the Venezuelan people, the Red Cross’ humanitarian mission remains adamant in making a difference. In this regard, an internationalist Red Cross implicitly aims to unify a divided nation through meeting basic nutritional needs, such that individuals naturally feel more empowered and are better positioned to productively contribute to their political and social life. For example, contesting divided electoral politics, an institution currently disputed by Guaido and Maduro, the former the self-proclaimed president.
However, in spite of apolitical humanitarian assistance, critics claim that both internal organisational and domestic Venezuelan politics pose barriers towards the effectiveness of the Red Cross. Alongside on the ground struggles (armed pro-government paramilitaries disrupting deliveries in Caracas and the opportunistic politicisation of aid by Maduro and Guaido), a plethora of concerning overtones add to the domestic difficulties. The starkest example is first, an opaque organisational structure, raising spending concerns on effectiveness per dollar, and second, power of its U.S. division. The organisation decided to include Israel’s national emergency emblem upon the U.S. branch withholding its annual dues of $42m in 2006, paralleled with Guaido’s links to Trump, raising concerns of the impact of internal domestic US politics on Venezuelan aid.
Regardless of domestic on-the-ground difficulties and organisational political nuances, the alleviation of human suffering and the fulfilment of basic needs provide ample reason in arguing humanitarian organisations play a pivotal in the bridging of Venezuela’s political divide.