Mexico City, Mexico, April 21, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela reached an agreement with the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) to supply food to 1.5 million school children by the end of 2023.
The deal was announced on Monday by WFP Executive Director David Beasley together with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro during a televised event from the Miraflores presidential palace.
"This is the first step toward a series of ambitious projects that will provide food support to all of the Venezuelan people," said Maduro after signing the memorandum of understanding.
The program is expected to serve 185,000 children this year and progressively expand to include upward of 1.5 million school children by the end of the 2022-2023 school year. The initiative has an expected annual budget of US $190 million.
Describing the deal as a “tremendous breakthrough”, Beasley expressed gratitude to the government for respecting the WFP’s principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence. According to a 2019 report from the UN agency, 7.9 percent of the Venezuelan population face severe food insecurity, whereas 24.4 percent face moderate insecurity.
Humanitarian aid has become deeply politicized in the country, with Venezuelan officials accusing Washington and the US-backed opposition of using the issue as a political weapon. During his visit to the country, Beasley also met with opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who praised the deal.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) likewise issued a statement welcoming the agreement. Former US Ambassador to the UN and President Biden’s nominee to lead USAID Samatha Power recently faced strong criticism after criticizing the Maduro government in a tweet. Meanwhile, Acting Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung and White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan celebrated the agreement via statements on Twitter.
Various statements from US officials called on Venezuela to allow humanitarian organizations “full and unhindered access” throughout the country, a position that was sharply refuted by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.
“Since 2018, the UN and the Venezuelan government have agreed to humanitarian response plans. The UN requests funds and those same ‘concerned’ countries refuse to give them,” he wrote on Twitter.
Venezuela has worked closely with other UN-affiliated bodies in recent years, including UNICEF and UNESCO, as well as receiving support from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to fund sectors hardest hit by US-led sanctions, such as health and nutrition.
Arreaza additionally pointed out the fact that the same countries that impede the arrival of humanitarian aid are those that are imposing sanctions on Venezuela, hindering the country’s ability to address malnutrition and food insecurity.
Humanitarian aid proved a significant flashpoint in early 2019 when the Maduro government refused to allow an opposition convoy to enter the country from Colombia. The effort to bring in the “aid” formed part of a strategy to destabilize the Venezuelan government after opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself “interim president.” During efforts to cross into Venezuelan territory by force, a truck was set ablaze and the Maduro government was widely blamed for the incident. However, video evidence proved opposition activists were responsible, while it was also revealed that the USAID-coordinated operation contained very few supplies.
In her preliminary report, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights Alena Douhan criticized the obstacles to food imports for contributing to the growth of malnourishment in the South American country. Douhan, as well as other bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council, has demanded an immediate lifting of unilateral measures against Caracas.
As part of a wide-reaching sanctions program aimed at ousting the Maduro government, US authorities have targeted government initiatives such as Venezuela’s CLAP program, which delivers subsidized food bags to a reported seven million families. The US Treasury Department likewise targeted oil-for-food swap deals in 2020.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.