According to press releases, fact sheets, and administrator statements from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. is emphasizing efforts to pre-position direct aid for Venezuelans in warehouses along the border in Colombia and Brazil or stockpile supplies in shipping containers at the Dutch island of Curacao. USAID’s public statements are riddled with the words “pre-positioning aid” and repeatedly underscore their commitment to humanitarian support inside Venezuela.
Pre-positioning relief is only part of the solution, and USAID should provide a portion of their direct aid to organizations currently helping refugees on the border. Undue emphasis on pre-positioning is worsening a stand-off with the current Venezuelan regime, hurting the chances of smaller ancillary aid shipments from entering Venezuela, and fails to appreciate the needs refugees who have already fled.
With reports of Russia supporting the existing regime with cash and supplies, even seasoned diplomats can’t predict when large shipments of international aid will be ready for transport into Venezuela. Amassing inventory on the border and stalling delivery tacitly highlights the cruelty of a regime that will not accept aid from the international community. Like it or not, pre-positioning has become overtly political.
Wasteful Destruction of Food and Supplies
February’s showdown at the Simon Bolivar bridge, a huge pedestrian crossing between Colombia and Venezuela, is an example of how sending a high-profile shipment of aid across the border of the two countries ended in the wasteful destruction of food and supplies.
Bizzare scenes around Simon Bolivar bridge. On Colom. side, crowds accompany aid trucks; on Venz side, no man’s land patrolled by colectivos
— Anatoly Kurmanaev (@AKurmanaev) February 23, 2019
Sure, stockpiling can create situational readiness when the time comes, but pre-positioning aid and publicly challenging the Venezuelan regime with its delivery only politicizes humanitarian efforts. It’s a strategy that runs contrary to the spirit of humanitarianism that is now resulting in auxiliary shipments being denied entry into Venezuela.
I recently joined a Venezuelan expatriate on a WhatsApp call to his family living in the Venezuelan state of Merida. They described how, before last month’s border showdown, the occasional low-profile shipments of food and supplies were making their way into Venezuela, allegedly via quiet routes through Brazil and Colombia. They’re now claiming these shipments have stopped due to the regime’s heightened security and wholesale rebuke of the international community.
Pre-Positioning Aid and Venezuela’s Refugee Crisis
The U.S. predominate strategy for direct aid at the Venezuelan border, as suggested in public statements and further confirmed with anecdotal evidence on the ground, continues to emphasize pre-positioning. Besides causing the regime to clamp down on border security, this strategy fails to appreciate the growing needs of civic and faith-based organizations shouldering the brunt of refugee pressures in neighboring countries.
The Catholic Diocese of Cucuta, Colombia, for example, is serving thousands of daily meals to Venezuelan refugees in Cucuta alone. The mid-day queue stretches several city blocks. The coordinator on site indicates that USAID provides vouchers to buy ingredients for 48 meals a day from local markets – he claims that’s less than 1 percent of the meals they serve daily. Meanwhile, USAID workers I met at a hotel in Cucuta indicate they have untold volumes of food locked away in nearby warehouses.
Humanitarian aid distribution points outside Venezuela are becoming more difficult to manage as border towns become increasingly strained with desperate people. Venezuelans are on the move, especially as their socialist regime doubles-down on its fledgling power. Humanitarian organizations find themselves working beyond capacity, and additional mechanisms for aid delivery are disjointed and ad hoc.
The refugee crisis resulting from Venezuela’s economic collapse is getting worse by the day. Pre-positioned aid is not making its way to people inside Venezuela, and it’s not helping refugees who’ve made it out of Venezuela. USAID missions should make a more concerted effort to work with international relief, faith-based, and civic organizations to provide direct aid to refugees along the border with Venezuela.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.