Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 18th 2017 Contents A28 world
guardian.co.tt Thursday, May 18, 2017
Groups quietly bypass Venezuela's
ban on humanitarian aid
CARACAS---In a stuffy, sec-
ond-floor store room, a volunteer
sorts through boxes of imported
medicines and arranges them one
by one on metallic shelves in alpha-
betical order. There's Euthyrox for
thyroid problems, Clexane to stop
blood clots and over-the-counter
painkillers like ibuprofen.
It's a thankless, routine task common
to pharmacies and hospitals worldwide.
But this being Venezuela, where short-
ages are widespread, viewing the treas-
ure trove of sometimes hard-to-find
medicines can feel almost subversive.
For months, as Venezuela's economy
has gone off the rails,the United Nations,
US and Latin American governments
have called for President Nicolas Ma-
duro to accept humanitarian aid to ease
shortages that have helped spark a grow-
The embattled socialist leader has
refused, seeing foreign offers of help
as a possible Trojan horse that could
open the politically turbulent nation to
foreign military intervention. The ban
extends to the Roman Catholic Church's
"The humanitarian corridor assumes
the existence of a humanitarian crisis,"
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said
recently. "It's a theory constructed by
the Pentagon so that the US can inter-
But in piecemeal fashion, with pains-
taking effort and quiet diplomacy,
some groups are chipping away at the
blockade. They include Accion Soli-
daria, which began two decades ago as
a small clinic and support network for
HIV/AIDS patients but has become a
lifeline for Venezuelans suffering from
all kinds of illnesses.
Every month, the group's offices in
central Caracas provide free medicine to
some 700 people arriving with a doctor's
prescription and looking for some of the
pharmaceutical drugs the organisation
has collected from donors around the
world. Its stockpile, posted daily online
to its almost 20,000 Twitter followers,
runs from neatly-packaged drugs off the
assembly line to half-filled pill contain-
ers with patient's names blacked out.
The group also accepts expired med-
icines rather than provide nothing to
people in need.
A new bipartisan bill in the US Con-
gress would provide $10 million in hu-
manitarian assistance to Venezuela.
Opening a "humanitarian corridor" is
also among the top demands of Madu-
The Venezuelan Medical Federation
estimates that hospitals lack almost 98
per cent of medical supplies needed,
while pharmaceutical industry repre-
sentatives last year said 80 per cent of
prescription drugs were in short supply
after most foreign drug manufacturers
cut off commercial ties over more than
$4 billion in unpaid debts.
Donations pour in from around the
globe, but especially from South Flor-
ida, home to the largest US concentra-
tion of Venezuelans. Initiatives range
from grassroots groups organized
over WhatsApp of people donating a
few boxes of baby formula to politi-
cally-charged groups such as "Rescue
Venezuela," started by the wife of jailed
opposition activist Leopoldo Lopez.
The largest group, Humanitarian Aid
for Venezuela Program, has dispatched
450,000 pounds of donated items col-
lected over the past three years.
More recently, as the anti-govern-
ment protests in Venezuela have turned
deadly,immigrants have mobilised sup-
plies that are harder to send and difficult
to find.They include gauze bandages and
rubbing alcohol, as well as gas masks and
walkie-talkie radios to keep protesters
safe against attacks of tear gas and rub-
ber bullets fired by security forces.
But getting goods into the country
requires some sleight of hand.
Most shipments are transported by
dubious Venezuelan-run courier ser-
vices that pay off customs officials to
look the other way. To draw as little at-
tention as possible, the mostly air ship-
ments are kept small and information on
the merchandise, some of which has a
high resale value on Venezuela's black
market, is omitted from delivery forms.
More sensitive items such as gas masks
for protesters are smuggled across the
border from Colombia.
Many items don't get through. One
major US relief organisation, which re-
quested anonymity to prevent jeopard-
ising its under-the-radar work in Ven-
ezuela, said it has resorted to bringing
items through the diplomatic pouch of
a Caribbean government aligned with
Maduro after half of its shipments were
confiscated the past year.
Leaders for the same group said Ven-
ezuela's refusal to allow foreign aid is not
seen even in conflict zones in the Middle
East andAfrica where governments such
as Maduro's oppose the US.
Officials with other aid agencies say
the supplies they manage to bring in are
a drop in the bucket compared to Ven-
"If the Venezuelan ports were to
open to relief supplies we want to be
ready to send dozens of containers,"
said Sean Lawrence, executive direc-
tor of Southern California-based relief
charity GivingChildren Hope, whichhas
started sending supplies to Venezuela's
neighbours in the hope they will be easier
to bring in by land. "We know we have a
responsibility to respond." (AP)
In this May 6 photo, volunteers pack first aid items bound for Venezuela at
a restaurant in Miami. In Venezuela, shortages are widespread, from food
items to medicines. Many pharmaceutical drug companies stopped shipping
medicines to Venezuela over the past year over billions in unpaid debts.
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