U.N. Appeals to Maduro and Guaidó to End Battle Over Humanitarian Aid
Detailing an increasingly desperate situation in Venezuela, the United Nations made a confidential plea on Wednesday to the country’s two rival leaders to end a political battle over humanitarian aid that has blocked shipments of food and medicine.
A copy of a report delivered to representatives of both sides, obtained by The New York Times, casts no specific blame for worsening a crisis in Venezuela that by some estimates has plunged nearly the entire population of 32 million into poverty.
But it suggests that measures carried out by the government of President Nicolás Maduro, such as blockading Venezuela’s borders and imposing restrictions on aid organizations, have made the crisis more acute, as have sanctions put in place by the United States and others.
The report also suggested that Mr. Maduro’s antagonist, Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader, also had seized on aid deliveries to try to gain the upper hand, exacerbating tensions by forcing a confrontation in February in which Mr. Maduro repelled an effort to puncture the blockade.
This use of the human suffering as a political weapon by both sides is the greatest impediment to improving conditions for Venezuelans, the report said.
“The politicization of humanitarian assistance in the context of the crisis makes delivery of assistance in accordance with the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence more difficult,” the report said.
As much as anything, the United Nations document reads like an entreaty for a country on the brink of ruin.
As much as 94 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the report, and up to seven million people, or a quarter of Venezuela’s population, are now in need of humanitarian assistance in a country that was once one of the world’s wealthiest.
Millions are without regular access to water, food and medicine. Almost four million people suffer from undernourishment. Crime and disease are flourishing. For many, the only solution is to flee.
It is the kind of collapse rarely seen outside war zones, a senior United Nations official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to give a candid assessment of the report’s findings.
The three-month standoff between Mr. Maduro and Mr. Guaidó over who will lead Venezuela is as intractable as ever, and each day more closely resembles the proxy conflicts of the Cold War.
Mr. Maduro, Venezuela’s president since 2013, continues to cling to power after his widely disputed re-election last year, bolstered by unwavering support from Russia, which over the weekend sent two military planes to Caracas with supplies and technical advisers.
Mr. Guaidó has been recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate president by about 50 countries, including many in Latin America, as well as the United States, which has imposed punishing sanctions in an effort to oust Mr. Maduro.
The Venezuelan people are caught in the middle.
Preventable diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles, malaria and hepatitis A are on the rise, fueled by a shortage of medicines, as well as the doctors to administer them. As many as 22,000 doctors have fled the country, about a third of Venezuela’s estimated total, the United Nations report said.
People with chronic diseases are among the most vulnerable. Four million people with diabetes and hypertension lack access to insulin or heart medicine, and 80,000 people with H.I.V. have not received antiretroviral treatment since 2017, a death sentence for most.
Women and older people, indigenous populations and people in rural areas are the most at risk. Children are also suffering. As many as 22 percent of children younger than 5 years face chronic malnutrition, the report said, citing a 2017 survey.
About one million school-age children are not receiving an education as a result of the crisis, and about 48 percent of those enrolled in school are at risk of dropping out because of irregular attendance, the report said.
Rising crime rates have also become a serious concern, the report said, with some indications that Venezuela has become the most violent country in Latin America.
“Violence has increased within households, schools, institutions and in communities, particularly in some border and urban areas where armed groups and common crime organizations are present, the report said.
The 45-page report was compiled by a consortium of United Nations agencies and local nongovernmental organizations. The political crisis has limited the ability of the United Nations and its partners to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the needs of Venezuelans, it said.
Rural areas in particular are hard to reach, because of poor roads and irregular air service. Since 2015, most public institutions have stopped publishing socioeconomic information.
The report argues that only the United Nations, with its partners, can be a neutral arbiter in the crisis. Funding, however, is an issue. In November, the United Nations put out a call for donations from member states, seeking $109 million to augment humanitarian assistance programs in Venezuela.
That was a modest sum, given the need. But only $50 million has been donated so far.