IL Newswire

Amid Protests, Venezuela's Humanitarian Crisis Worsens


Venezuelans sleep in hammocks outside a shelter in Brazil, while others sleep on the floor inside. February 11, 2017.  © 2017 César Muñoz Acebes/Human Rights Watch

Venezuelans sleep in hammocks outside a shelter in Brazil, while others sleep on the floor inside. February 11, 2017. 

© 2017 César Muñoz Acebes/Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that a severe lack of medicine and food in Venezuela is amounting to a humanitarian crisis within the country, and that several thousands of Venezuelan citizens have been fleeing due to the shortages.

Unfortunately, the Venezuelan government is not taking the appropriate action to protect its citizens from the worsening situation. Not only is the government, headed by President Nicolás Maduro, denying that the crisis exists, but police repression towards protesters of the government has reportedly increased tremendously. Residents of the Montana Alta neighborhood stated that police forces could be heard firing shots well into the night this past weekend, and a 6 April protest even claimed the life of one teen protester there. Additionally, residents have insisted that the government's claims that the police are only protecting citizens from looting and violence are incorrect, with some claiming they feel safer among the protesters than the police forces.

While citizens protest against the regime they believe has led the country to "the brink of political and economic collapse," President Maduro has ominously sought to ostracize those who speak out against the government. On 17 April, Maduro publicly told a gathering of thousands of pro-regime militia members that they are either "with the homeland or against it," before announcing his plans to increase the size of the civilian militia five-fold. Consequently, many are angry that not only is Maduro refusing to address the humanitarian crisis, he is instead directing funds towards repressing citizens even further. As one young Venezuelan stated, Maduro is "spending money on tear gas... and equipment to suppress demonstrators instead of spending money on health care," the latter of which he believes is "totally dismantled."

According to HRW, it is the duty of neighboring states to pressure Maduro into responding to the crisis. Brazil in particular is heavily burdened with Venezuelans fleeing their own country in pursuit of medical care that they are unable to obtain at home. Consequently, not only is Brazil's healthcare system suffering, but the rest of its public institutions and shelters are struggling to handle the over 12,000 Venezuelans that have remained in the country since escaping from their own in 2014. The situation is so precarious that even some Brazilian regions have issued states of health emergency, and Brazil is struggling to handle the increased need for funding. Therefore, Venezuela's crisis is prompting secondary crises for at least one of its neighbors, and others may follow if the situation in Brazil worsens and Venezuelans are forced to go elsewhere.

Unfortunately, even if Brazil's infrastructure could adequately handle the large influx, its laws restrict Venezuelans' abilities while inside Brazilian borders. Because asylum cases take time to decide upon, Brazil's Justice Ministry has only resolved a fraction of the thousands of asylum requests that Venezuelans have filed since 2012. While waiting for a decision, Venezuelans do not have legal authority to work inside Brazil, resulting in poor conditions or exploitation at the hands of employers. 

Therefore, not only does the Venezuelan government have the responsibility to respond to the crisis within its borders, it would be beneficial for the country's neighboring states to pressure the Maduro government, as well. Brazil's infrastructure, in particular, would benefit if fewer Venezuelans were in need of its public services. However, due to the Maduro regime's efforts to isolate its opposition rather than unite Venezuelans and address the country's issues, it seems unlikely that a solution will be easily found.