Don't Forget About Venezuela

While news regarding Covid-19 and the upcoming U.S. elections floods our feeds, it can be easy to miss or scroll past stories that haven’t captured enough attention from the mainstream media. This appears to be the case with the crisis happening in Venezuela right now. As we speak, the Venezuelan people are suffering from a political crisis, an economic crisis, a migration crisis, and a health crisis. Venezuelans experienced an increase in human rights violations after the election of President Nicolás Maduro in 2013. Although the United States and many of its allies have imposed sanctions against the Maduro regime in an attempt to weaken the alleged illegitimate government, efforts have yet to be successful. Since 2014, an estimated 5 million+ Venezuelans have fled their home country to find refuge abroad, often in neighboring countries such as Colombia and Brazil. 

The exodus of Venezuelans to nearby countries puts stress on the resources of these nearby nations. With a pandemic now in the mix, the countries in which Venezuelans found refuge and work in have had to implement their own lockdowns and restrictions, leaving Venezuelan refugees out of work and unable to sustain themselves and their families. Without much of a choice, an estimated 130,000 Venezuelans have returned to their home country where they have been forced into quarantine centers and in some cases, met with inhumane treatment by Venezuelan authorities. 

 

microscopic image of the coronavirus Photo by CDC from Unsplash

 

As of 12 October 2020, Venezuela has reported 83,137 cases of Covid-19 and 697 Covid-related deaths. Human Rights Watch (HRW) argues that the true Covid-19 figures are far greater than this report, “given [Venezuela’s] limited availability of reliable testing, limited transparency, and the persecution of medical professionals and journalists who report on this issue”.  

In quarantine centers throughout Venezuela, HRW and the Johns Hopkins Centers witnessed overcrowding and unsanitary conditions likely to contribute to the spread of Covid-19. In addition, interviewers claim there is a lack of water available to those quarantined, as well as a shortage of electricity needed to power water pumps. Basic hygiene supplies are also lacking, notably soap. Without access to running water and soap in some quarantine centers, as well as overcrowding, how are those Venezuelans supposed to adhere to basic recommendations such as handwashing and social distancing?

 

person washing hands Photo by Nathan Dumlao from Unsplash

According to a physician and member of Johns Hopkins Centers, Kathleen Page, many of these quarantine facilities “[serve] no reasonable public health purposes”. In fact, due to extreme testing delays and an “unnecessarily elaborate testing protocol”, many Venezuelans have surpassed the 14 day quarantine by weeks - which could be argued as arbitrary detentions. HRW, the JHU Center for Humanitarian Health and CPHHR have therefore categorized this treatment of Venezuelan returnees by Venezuelan authorities as abusive

A London bank is currently holding $2 billion in Venezuelan gold while a British court of appeals is contemplating who should be granted control over it; the arguably illegitimate President Maduro or the U.S-backed interim President Juan Guaidó. Previously, a U.K. judge granted Guaidó control of the gold, arguing that the Maduro government is corrupt and illegitimate. But on 5 October 2020, the appeals court set aside the previous ruling, calling for a further investigation into the matter. 

If granted control of the gold, the Maduro regime claims it will sell half of the $2 billion worth of gold for supplies provided by the United Nations Development Program to combat Covid-19 in Venezuela. In contrast, opposition leaders in Venezuela argue that the money, let alone the supplies, will never reach the Venezuelan people fighting for their lives. 

The British government faces an interesting predicament given its current diplomatic ties with Venezuela. Although the government recognizes Guaidó as the legitimate Venezuelan leader and Guaidó has appointed an ambassador to the U.K, the British government has yet to grant the envoy diplomatic credentials. In fact, Maduro’s ambassador to the U.K. is still present at the embassy in London, while the U.K. ambassador is still present at the embassy in Caracas.

Whether Maduro or Guaidó is granted control of the Venezuelan gold in London, nations throughout the world should not forget about the growing crisis in Venezuela. HRW, JHU for Humanitarian Health and the CPHHR have called on “[m]embers of the Lima Group, the United States, and the European Union [to] press Venezuelan authorities under Nicolás Maduro to immediately open doors to a full-scale, UN-led humanitarian response to prevent catastrophic spread of Covid-19 in the country”.

 

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This article was written on the 18th of October.