Imagine trying to ration one tomato for a family of three for a day because a single bag of groceries costs 20 times your monthly salary. Or desperately turning to social media to plead for urgently needed antibiotics because every hospital in the city is out. Or sleeping in a bathtub to protect yourself from stray bullets fired by government security forces who are cracking down on protesters.
I don’t have to imagine. My loved ones back home in Venezuela tell me this is their reality every day.
This past week, the United States and the United Nations (U.N.) took important steps to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis and increase international pressure to end ongoing human rights violations in Venezuela.
This assistance can’t come soon enough.
More than 1.5 million Venezuelans are currently displaced in the region and the U.N. estimates that approximately 4,000 people are fleeing to neighboring countries each day. Of those who remain, 87 percent live in poverty.
Last week, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report that reveals the ever-worsening conditions in the country. Specifically, the report documents human rights abuses committed by government authorities, including the use of excessive force, torture, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, and violations of the rights to food and health care.
Days later, Vice President Pence announced a $10 million commitment from the U.S. government to support the work of the World Food Program (WFP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The funds will help provide food, water, hygiene supplies, shelter, and education and career opportunities for Venezuelans who have fled to neighboring countries. This announcement builds on a $16 million contribution made in April to support the U.N.’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR)’s regional response.
“For years now, institutional checks and balances and the democratic space in Venezuela have been chiseled away, leaving little room to hold the State to account. The impunity must end,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein before the 38th Session of the Human Rights Council (U.N.HRC). “Given that the State appears neither able nor willing to prosecute serious human rights violations, there is also a strong case to be made for deeper involvement by the International Criminal Court,” he added.
There is no Venezuelan who has been spared by the horrific human rights abuses detailed in this report.
Our families and friends have lost half of their body weight because of chronic food shortages. They have inhaled tear gas, been shot with rubber bullets, and unjustly imprisoned for their political views.
They have been forced to flee their homes because of rampant violence or persecution and broken family ties. And they have mourned the loss of loved ones who fell victim to the crumbling medical system in Venezuela.
My heart breaks every day for the country where I was born and raised and for those who remain behind and continue to live in this terrible reality.
I have been an enthusiastic supporter of the U.N. for as long as I can remember, but nothing prepares you for the day when it’s your loved ones who desperately need the U.N.’s help.
Now more than ever, I am proud to work for an organization that supports the U.N.’s noble goals. It is my small way of participating in the fight for human rights, democracy, and the future of my birth country from afar. But the U.N. can’t do it alone.
As a dual Venezuelan-American citizen, I ask leaders in Congress, the administration, and at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., to continue to pursue opportunities to alleviate the humanitarian needs of Venezuelans while seeking to restore democracy and rule-of-law in the country. Most importantly, I thank them for supporting Venezuelans during our greatest time of need.
Erika Briceno Howard is the director of policy and advocacy communications at the U.N. Foundation.