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There’s nothing humanitarian about politicized aid to Venezuela

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Mike Pence’s visit to Colombia this week is in line with the Trump administration’s overt interest in the Venezuelan crisis. His presence there suggests that the U.S. government wants to undermine humanitarian aid and diplomatic routes to diffusing the crisis. As he and President Trump have stated on several occasions, “All options are on the table.” 

Nevertheless, the administration has made it clear that only a military intervention will meet their requirements for dealing with a dictator. As Trump is meeting with Kim Jong Un for the North Korea summit, we have to be skeptical of the president’s matrix for deciding which dictator deserves a diplomatic option and which deserves a military one. 

{mosads}The U.S. government’s ties to humanitarian aid to Venezuela are deeply suspect and it’s common knowledge that it’s intended to fast track the military’s defection of current President Nicolás Maduro. It is not surprising that Maduro turned the aid away. If it truly is to be humanitarian aid, the Trump administration needs to decouple it from its aggressive, militaristic agenda. Such aid needs to be handed over to reputable, multi-lateral organizations with the necessary know-how to navigate the politics involved at the border zones with Colombia and Brazil and get it to those living inside Venezuela. There are several organizations already working on the ground in Venezuela — primarily tied to the United Nations — that Maduro regime has allowed in for several years.

If the Trump administration doesn’t stand down from its unilateral posture of parking aid at the border, it risks jeopardizing the work of these and other organizations. Humanitarian aid is by its very nature supposed to be neutral, impartial, and intended solely for the relief of suffering people. What Pence talked about does not meet any of these criteria. Bottom line: There’s nothing humanitarian about such politicized aid and scores of vulnerable Venezuelans will suffer and continue to flow out of the country out of desperation.

As for finding a peaceful solution that includes free and clear elections, the Trump administration’s envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, appears intent on sabotaging diplomatic efforts. In his words, “Maduro has proven he will manipulate any calls for negotiation to his advantage.” Yes, Maduro has proven to be an unreliable and reluctant negotiator. However, this is not surprising given his profile as a dictator with his back to the wall. The fact that Pence met with opposition leader Juan Guaido and assured him that the U.S. government was “100 percent” behind him exacerbates Maduro’s siege mentality. Let us remember that no one elected Guaido; he is a relative newcomer to the political scene and appears to want to capitalize on his newfound fame with the Trump administration to rise up the political food chain in Venezuela.

The current presidents of both Colombia (Ivan Duque) and Brazil (Jair Bolsonaro) are on the right of the political spectrum and, as such, sympathetic to the Trump administration. In Bolsonaro’s case, he is a populist through and through and reminiscent of Trump in style and substance. This is certain to make the military option even more likely given the Trump administration is forging allies with Venezuela’s neighbors from which to establish bases. 

It is understandable, then, that the viable diplomatic option called for by many in the international community includes elections to ensure we are not replacing one dictator with another. The Trump administration need to tread carefully with their rhetoric because, if they so aggressively dismiss diplomatic solutions, it leaves only one other viable alternative on the table: military intervention. The U.S. government’s long track record of such interventions in the region is abysmal at best and requires us, as Americans, to urge our leaders not to go down this pathway again because it never ends well. 

Gladys McCormick is an assistant professor of history in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. 

Tags Donald Trump Gladys McCormick Humanitarian aid International Kim Jong Un Mike Pence

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