Mexico’s foreign policy has long been based on the principle of non-intervention, a “mind your own business” approach. That approach has its benefits. It keeps you out of other nations’ armed conflicts. In general, it is hard to get in trouble when you aren’t involved. But it also means that Mexico doesn’t always help its neighbors when it could.
Right now, Mexico’s reputation for not getting involved is an asset and makes it one of the few countries that could make a difference in the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
The political/economic crisis in Venezuela has prompted an external displacement of around five million Venezuelans; a human scale second only to Syria. Everyone knows that Syria is a disaster. Syria is at war. But the sense of urgency in international response to the Syria crisis is missing from Venezuela. The Venezuela crisis was not created by natural disaster or war, but has been slow breaking and what the international community defines a “complex humanitarian emergency.”
In February, pre-Covid-19, a UN assessment found that one in three Venezuelans were “food insecure,” meaning that they were in need of food assistance. Many experts believe that to be an under-representation of the crisis.
Now there is also a scarcity of gasoline. This country has the largest oil reserves in the world, but production has been in decline for years. US sanctions have almost stopped oil sales. When gasoline is available, it is costly. In April Venezuelans reported paying US $7.50 a gallon, while international prices are at shocking lows. Very little gas is being produced in Venezuela. Without oil sales to fund the purchase of foreign gasoline, shortages are crippling the country.
Combine the pre-existing political/economic crisis with US sanctions and Covid-19 and you get Venezuela’s current humanitarian disaster. Essential workers don’t have transportation to can’t get to their jobs. Desperately needed food, produced in Venezuela, is rotting in the fields because trucks don’t have gasoline to take it to market. Electrical outages are constant and without electricity for pumps clean water is often unavailable to the general public. Worse yet, hospitals don’t have water for basic sanitation.
Even before Covid-19 and the tightening of US sanctions, providing humanitarian assistance in Venezuela was not easy. The Maduro government has not wanted to admit the extent of the crisis. Just a little over a year ago, the provision of humanitarian aid provided by the US, who supports the Guaido government, was grossly politicized in an assistance delivery stand-off at the Venezuela/Colombian border.
Many international non-governmental organizations, professional humanitarian assistance workers, not political groups in disguise, want to work in Venezuela, but are unable to do so because the Venezuelan government hasn’t approved their legal status. Applications have been pending for months, if not years.
This is where Mexico could help. The people of Venezuela need an a-political advocate for humanitarian assistance. They need someone who has a track record of not getting involved in others internal affairs. Mexico has not been close to either of Venezuela’s two competing presidents Maduro or Guaido.
Mexico doesn’t need to get involved in Venezuela’s internal political machinations, or the geopolitical dynamics involving Russia, Iran and the United States playing out there. Mexico could, and should, use its good offices and long history of non-intervention, to help the Venezuelan people by encouraging the acceptance and execution of an a-political humanitarian response.
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson