Venezuelans have experienced a progressive deterioration in their living conditions as a result of misguided political decisions, the erosion of the rule of law, the dismantling of institutions and widespread corruption over a number of years. In 2016, this resulted in a complex humanitarian emergency with very serious consequences: widespread hunger, reduced access to health and education, and the forced migration of almost 5 million people. A deterioration in essential services such as water, electricity and public transport contributed to deepening the damage.
This gradual deterioration has made it possible for people to develop survival strategies and many individuals, families and communities have used their skills and creativity to continue to provide themselves with an income and social support; others protected themselves by means of state subsidies, in money and in kind, although, the amount, quality and scope of the state subsidies were insufficient, and their implementation was based on politicized and discriminatory criteria.
However, the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic is immediate, in terms of suffering and loss of life, and it could be devastating for Venezuela. Even in countries where the public and private health systems have the capacity to respond to the crisis, such as Italy and Spain, the spread of COVID-19 has infected thousands of people in a very short time period and seriously compromised their health care capacities. The pandemic also requires an enormous effort on the part of health services, law enforcement, city sanitation, food distribution, transportation and, in general, from the entire population, since people are being told to remain in quarantine or, in the case of infected people, in isolation.
For the most vulnerable in Venezuela, who are already suffering the effects of the complex humanitarian emergency, it is neither possible nor enough to manage the spread of COVID-19 through isolation measures alone. They need to be provided with livelihoods and access to basic services.
Those who survive day by day without running water for weeks, suffer from hours or days of power cuts, and have to queue weekly for gas cylinders cannot be forced into their homes.
Those who survive day by day without running water for weeks, suffer from hours or days of power cuts, and have to queue weekly for gas cylinders cannot be forced into their homes. The Venezuelan situation is not the same as that of countries whose populations can endure mandatory quarantine or isolation.
In this emergency situation it is important that those who exercise political leadership in Venezuela reach agreement to protect the lives of the most vulnerable and to guarantee them dignified living conditions, while we face the serious impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
First, it is crucial that a high-level, interdisciplinary and inter-institutional group is created, consisting of experts who are appointed without ideological-political considerations, from the fields of health, food, economics, community organization, to coordinate the national response to the COVID- 19. This group must have the capacity and independence to take action and have links with international humanitarian agencies and national and international civil society organizations. The actions of the National Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies must be kept accountable for the powers they are granted.
This group should also have unrestricted access to public information and a joint voice in the government response. The population must be regularly informed about the challenges posed by the health, economic and humanitarian situation and the gaps in resources throughout the country, as well as about progress in the decisions and actions, through public and private media, in open press conferences. This is the way to generate confidence in the population.
In order to take urgent action to threat posed by COVID-19, the politicians and actors that are currently disputing the power vacuum in the country must come to an agreement. On the one hand, the government of Nicolas Maduro, who has de facto control over the country’s response and the power to allow the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to cover areas of need so that medicine, supplies, food can come into the country and be effectively distributed through it.
On the other hand, the National Assembly and its President, Mr. Juan Guaidó, have the trust and recognition of 60 governments and multilateral financial institutions, and could very quickly request the conditional relaxation of general sanctions and approve financial and in-kind resources to help the population. The Government and the National Assembly are essential to the implementation of the response needed to save lives and to provide conditions of decency for the country's most vulnerable people.
Only by guaranteeing mechanisms for the protection of human rights and by creating a space of trust will it be possible for people to ask for help, to take preventive and protective measures
These agreements and all resources should have control mechanisms to enable for transparent and accountable implementation. International agencies, the public and private sectors, churches, national and international civil society, with their different levels of human and technical resources and geographical reach, have the capacity to assist the most vulnerable populations, provided that access is guaranteed, including transport and fuel to enable this help to reach them.
Likewise, the human rights of the population must be respected and guaranteed. All repressive actions by security bodies and armed groups must immediately stop and the recommendations of the High Commissioner and more than 20 United Nations human rights special rapporteurs, which refer to the fact that "states must not abuse emergency measures to violate human rights" must be accepted.
Only by guaranteeing mechanisms for the protection of human rights and by creating a space of trust will it be possible for people to ask for help, to take preventive and protective measures and to help each other whilst in solidarity and whilst taking responsibility.
The political agreements needed to resolve the underlying conditions that generated the complex humanitarian emergency, now compounded by the speed of the impact of COVID-19, can be addressed as part of this process, without delaying the urgent implementation of the humanitarian response. The governments of Norway, Canada and the United States, the countries of Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union, as well as those of Russia, China and Cuba, all of which are also impacted by COVID-19, have an opportunity like never before to support and assist these humanitarian and political agreements. We do not want a destroyed Venezuela, thousands of lives are at stake, there is no time to lose.