Venezuela is facing the biggest economic crisis in modern history with hyperinflation, leading to starvation, deaths and mass migration.
The U.S. announced Saturday that USAID will be sending hundreds of tons of food, medicine and supplies to the administration of President Juan Guaido. Nicolas Maduro, who has long refused to allow foreign aid to enter the country, has yet to relinquish his hold on power and has even threatened the possibility of a civil war.
It could be days or weeks before USAID’s shipments are distributed to malnourished Venezuelans, but the Christian humanitarian aid group World Help is already providing assistance in the country through its partners, who know how to get food and supplies to families under the radar of Maduro’s military backers and special police force that has been raiding citizens’ homes in recent weeks.
On Saturday Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., urged the Venezuelan military to let the aid in, when it arrives. “Military and police leaders in Venezuela must now decide to either help food and medicine reach people, or help Maduro instead,” Rubio wrote on Twitter. President Trump reiterated in an interview with CBS on Sunday that sending U.S. troops to Venezuela could be “an option.”
Under socialist rule, the military has taken over much of the economy, including food distribution.
“The political unrest is creating a humanitarian crisis. One of our partners on the ground said it’s the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world right now,” said Vernon Brewer, founder of World Help, in an interview with The Christian Post about the organization’s work and ways Americans can help. “The electricity is cut off on a daily basis. There’s food and medicine shortages; the plunging price of oil. And then you add to that the political upheaval has left the nation in turmoil.”
Many Venezuelans and political leaders around the world believed that Maduro’s re-election in May was fraudulent. On Jan. 23 Guaido, who's head of the country’s opposition party which controls the National Assembly, was sworn in as the legitimate interim leader of Venezuela.
The U.S., E.U., and most countries in the Americas have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Bolivia, Russia and Cuba still support Maduro’s socialist regime, and China issued a statement last month opposing any foreign intervention.
In 2017, Maduro established a new Constituent Assembly that had the power to rewrite the Constitution and either bypass or dissolve the National Assembly. In response, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Maduro and the E.U. and most Latin American countries said they would not recognize his new assembly.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans protested against Maduro last Wednesday and again on Saturday, demanding his removal from power. It has been estimated that Maduro has retained about a quarter of the nation's support, including members of the armed forces, but it’s waning.
“Maduro became president several years ago after Hugo Chavez. He was mentored by Hugo Chavez, so he’s been a dictator,” Brewer told CP. “Last year, when he was re-elected, the people of Venezuela felt like it was an illegitimate election. There was fraud. And the Venezuelan Constitution states that anytime there’s not a fair election that the head of the National Assembly gets to take over as the president of the country; and that’s what Juan Guiado has done.
“The United States, along with the France, Spain, Germany and South American countries have supported Guiado," he continued. "Not surprisingly, China, Russia, North Korea, Cuba and Turkey have all sided with the dictator, Maduro.
“All of the demonstrations that are taking place, in one city last week there was a demonstration of 1 million people. There were military tanks on every corner, and all the radio and TV was taken over by the government. Even the use of Juan Guiado’s name was prohibited. And the government blocked all telephone service and stopped all the communication to try to keep an iron fist over the people,” Brewer said.
Venezuela’s GDP has shrunk by 47 percent, “a far steeper collapse than that experienced by Greece in the euro crisis, or Zimbabwe during its hyperinflation a decade ago,” The U.K. Times reports.
“It’s just a tragic situation,” Brewer said, “and you combine that with the inflation. … One of our partners on the ground told us that last week he went to buy 3 pounds of ham at the store and he had to pay the equivalent of $17 for just a small portion of ham. And he went back this week and had to pay the equivalent of $86 for the same 3 pounds. So they’re experiencing 500 percent inflation every week, and that’s unsustainable.”
Another World Help partner in Venezuela who’s helping to distribute food said he hadn’t eaten in three days. “So they’re even going without food to provide food for the people they’re trying to save,” Brewer said.
Consumer prices rose over 1.3 million percent last year, The Wall Street Journal reported in November, noting the country's economic disaster.
“The stories that we’re hearing are tragic and life-threatening,” Brewer added, recounting the stories of those who are among the 3 million who’ve fled Venezuela as well as those who stayed but died because basic medical supplies weren’t available.
“We heard a heartbreaking story of Mateo and Isabella (not their real names), who used to own a successful business that manufactured school uniforms. And when the economic crisis escalated they had to sell all of the company’s machinery, their cars, and eventually their house, and all that money ran out. Mateo became sick, and because they couldn’t afford medicine that he needed he eventually died, which is tragic in itself,” Brewer said.
“If he could’ve just afforded the medication he would’ve survived. And now, Isabella is responsible for providing for her family on her own. Her 14-year-old son only gets one meal a day and is on the brink of starvation.”
This is where humanitarian aid groups like World Help come in. World Help works in over 70 countries worldwide to provide food and medical supplies to the impoverished and malnourished. Brewer wouldn’t disclose their methods, but told CP that their partners on the ground have ways of getting food and supplies into Venezuela undetected.
“We have a very high percentage of success in the methods, and we’re doing it through different channels. So if one channel gets stopped we still have other channels to get in. These are partners that we have vetted that we’ve worked with for years in neighboring countries. And they have determined a way to get it in under the radar … because they don’t want to alert the Maduro government,” Brewer said.
Donating money to send emergency supplies through aid groups like World Help, he added, is a tangible way Americans can help, “instead of just wringing our hands and feeling hopeless.”
World Help’s aid packages start at $14, which provides an individual with emergency, nutrient-rich food and hygiene products for four weeks.
“We also provide spiritual hope by being the hand and feet of Jesus on the ground and showing the love of Jesus Christ, which is important at a time when these people are surrounded by hopelessness at every turn. And we’re not just distributing food to Christians, we’re distributing food to everyone,” he added.
Follow Melissa Barnhart on Twitter: @MelBarnhart