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Governments and financial institutions pledged millions of dollars Friday for humanitarian and development projects to address the urgent needs of Venezuelans at home and abroad affected by a crisis that diplomats acknowledged requires renewed attention.
The funding promises came during a conference in Brussels designed to raise awareness of Venezuela’s protracted economic, social and political crisis, which has pushed millions into poverty and driven more than 7 million others to migrate, mostly within Latin America.
“So, how is it that a crisis of this magnitude has flown under the radar of public attention and also from international response?” Harjit S. Sajjan, Canada’s minister of international development, said, adding that the coronavirus pandemic and “competing international priorities” have overshadowed Venezuela’s situation.
“We need to take need to make sure that the world is aware of this massive challenge facing the Americas,” Saijan said.
Once one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America, Venezuela plunged into a crisis last decade as a result of mismanagement by its socialist-led government and a decline in oil prices. Today, three-quarters of Venezuela’s lives on less than $1.90 a day — the international benchmark of extreme poverty.
Most homes do not have reliable running water, and many experience regular power outages. The health care system crumbled long before the pandemic began.
The minimum wage paid in Venezuelan bolivars is the equivalent of $5 a month, down from $30 in April 2022. Neither of those wages is enough to feed one person, let alone a family. The cost of a basic basket of goods for a family of four was estimated at $372 in December.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan migrants often suffer discrimination for their nationality, have difficulties entering the formal economy and cannot afford housing, food, health care and other basic services. They are also increasingly embarking on second migration journeys within the continent, primarily to the U.S.
Funding pledges by the end of the conference amounted to $855 million.
The U.S. government offered more than $171 million, part of which will go for food, water and sanitation efforts within the crisis-wracked country. That money will also cover emergency shelter, health care and other services for Venezuelans who have migrated to other South American nations.
“We must continue to provide critical assistance to Venezuelan refugees, migrants, their host communities and those still in Venezuela,” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said via livestream from New York. “The work we are doing together will save lives and will change lives.”
Part of the funding from the U.S. will go to U.N. agencies and nongovernmental groups already operating in Venezuela.
Like other diplomats, Thomas-Greenfield urged conference attendees to work together to “advance a peaceful political solution in Venezuela.”
President Nicolás Maduro’s government and Venezuela’s opposition, including the faction backed by the U.S., reached an agreement four months ago to fund social programs with money drawn from the country’s assets frozen abroad. But the fund, expected to be managed by the United Nations and to progressively reach about $3 billion, has yet to materialise.
Gianluca Rampolla, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in Venezuela, told attendees the agency’s plan last year was only funded at 34% after losing $50 million in assistance from donors.
A U.N. report published in September estimated it would cost $795 million to help about 5.2 million people in Venezuela through health, education, water and sanitation, food and other projects, while a coalition of organizations assisting Venezuelans outside their home country in November estimated the needs of migrants at $1.7 billion.
Venezuelan diplomats did not participate in the conference organised by the European Union and Canada. Representatives of Colombia and Brazil, whose recently elected presidents restarted diplomatic relations with Venezuela, urged attendees to include Maduro’s government in the dialogue around humanitarian assistance and migration.
“For all of us present here, it is clear that we are at a solidarity conference towards Venezuelan refugees and migrants in which Venezuela is not present,” said Álvaro Leyva Durán, foreign minister of Colombia, where the largest share of migrants has resettled during the crisis. “…Let us reflect on the approach that we must have to achieve an inclusive, open and transparent dialogue.”
By Regina Garcia Cano, Associated Press