In light of the serious crisis in Venezuela, the Argentine government announced the creation of the Management Unit to Support Venezuela’s Reconstruction, February 14. The Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship said in a press release that the unit’s mission would be to assist with humanitarian aid to meet the needs of the Venezuelan people.
“The unit will gather and systematize information on humanitarian needs in the country, as well as on infrastructure needs and requirements and institutional strengthening,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship stated. “It will coordinate the receipt, management, and shipment of donations and other humanitarian aid.”
The new unit has the support of the White Helmets Commission, a humanitarian civil organization under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship. Its mission will also be to facilitate the participation of Argentine entities—private and academic institutions and nongovernmental organizations, among others—in various activities such as cooperation initiatives, human rights assistance, and education.
Coordinating humanitarian aid
On March 4, members of the White Helmet Commission, joined by Elisa Trotta Gamus, Venezuela’s diplomatic representative in Argentina appointed by Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó, started training volunteers who will form the unit. The first training sessions took place at the Argentine Navy’s Buenos Aires Quartermaster Naval premises.
“We are the ones responsible for coordinating humanitarian assistance in this unit,” said Alejandro Daneri, president of the White Helmets Commission, who highlighted the Argentine Navy’s support in training volunteers. “There is ongoing support to carry out this joint task.”
The volunteers, Venezuelan nationals who immigrated to Argentina to escape the crisis in their country, learned how to receive donations and manage warehouses that store supplies, among other tasks. They will collect and sort food, medicines, and other basic supplies, such as pasta, sugar, powdered drinks, soap, toothpaste, and towels, among others, that will be sent as humanitarian assistance.
“Our experts trained Venezuelans living in Argentina to manage and store donated supplies in warehouses, which will be sent to Cúcuta [on the Colombian-Venezuelan border],” Daneri said. “Humanitarian assistance is the most important [factor] in the Venezuela issue. People are having a very hard time.”
The Argentine government estimates that more than 130,000 Venezuelans who were forced to leave the country are currently living in Argentina. According to the Organization of American States, there are more than 3 million Venezuelan refugees in Latin America—more than 1 million in Colombia alone—and the number could grow to more than 5 million by late 2019.
In June 2018, a group of White Helmets traveled to Colombia to provide medical care to Venezuelans in Cúcuta, such as general medicine, pediatrics, gynecology, and psychology, as well as lab tests, diagnostic imaging, and medications. The six-month mission assisted thousands of Venezuelans, giving priority to women of childbearing age and children under 17.
Daneri also highlighted the participation of White Helmets members in the humanitarian mission of the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise mission, conducted from October to December 2018. The Argentine volunteers provided medical assistance to underprivileged communities from Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras, as well as to Venezuelans who fled the crisis in their country. “Participating in that mission was a great experience, and it shows the cooperation and good relationship between the White Helmets and the United States,” Daneri said.
Support for Juan Guaidó
With the creation of the unit, the Argentine government reaffirms its backing for Guaidó’s roadmap, which emphasizes taking peaceful action, authorizing the entry of humanitarian aid into Venezuela, and reaching out to the Venezuelan military to restore the constitutional order with their support. Days after the announcement, on February 23, Maduro’s government blocked the entry of basic supplies that were part of the international assistance on the borders that Venezuela shares with Colombia and Brazil.
The Lima Group, along with the United States, condemned Maduro’s actions, the violence that took place, and the blockage of tons of humanitarian supplies. Leaders of the Lima Group, which includes Argentina, issued a press release on February 25 urging the Venezuelan military to recognize Guaidó as their commander in chief and to “stop serving as instruments of Nicolás Maduro’s illegitimate regime.”
On March 1, Argentine President Mauricio Macri hosted Guaidó in Buenos Aires, as part of Guaidó’s tour to strengthen support against Maduro’s regime. The leaders discussed how to organize the democratic transition in Venezuela and humanitarian assistance, among other topics.
“Argentina welcomed many Venezuelans, and we are grateful for this grand gesture toward our fellow citizens,” Guaidó said during a press conference. “This is the start of a new stage for Venezuelan-Argentine relations. A relationship based on fundamental values, not on the interests of a few people.”
On Twitter, Macri again condemned Maduro’s actions and confirmed Argentina’s support for the Venezuelan people. “The situation Venezuelans are going through is critical. Argentina will support all efforts to reconstruct Venezuelan democracy and restore decent living conditions for all Venezuelan citizens,” he said.