The Meaning of ‘Humanitarian Aid’

A poem by the late Salvadoran radical Roque Dalton helps to clarify what is going on in Venezuela, writes Vijay Prashad. 

By Vijay Prashad
Tricontinental: Institute
for Social Research

As the United States and its allies put pressure on Venezuela, a poem by the Salvadoran radical Roque Dalton (1935-1975) clarifies the structure of politics in Latin America.

Dalton came from one of Latin America’s smallest countries, El Salvador, which he used to call the little finger (pulgarcito). A deeply compassionate poet, Dalton was also a militant of the People’s Revolutionary Army, whose internal struggles claimed his short life. El Salvador, like so many other Latin American states, struggles to carve out its sovereignty from the tentacles of U.S. power. That hideous Monroe Doctrine (1823) seemed to give the U.S. the presumption that it has power over the entire hemisphere; “our backyard” being the colloquial phrase. People like Dalton fought to end that assumption. They wanted their countries to be governed by and for their own people – an elementary part of the idea of democracy. It has been a hard struggle.

Roque Dalton, Cuba 1967. (Wikimedia)

Roque Dalton, Cuba 1967. (Wikimedia)

Dalton wrote a powerful poem – OAS – named for the Organization of American States (founded in 1948). It is a poem that acidly catalogues how democracy is a farce in Latin America.

The president of my country
for the time being is Colonel Fidel Sanchez Hernandez
but General Somoza, president of Nicaragua
is also the president of my country.
And General Stroessner, president of Paraguay,
is also kind of the president of my country, though not as
much as the president of Honduras,
General Lopez Arellano, but more so than the president of Haiti,
Monsieur Duvalier.
And the president of the United States is more the president of my country
Than is the president of my country,
The one whose name, as I said,
is Colonel Fidel Sanchez Hernandez, for the time being.

Is the president of Venezuela the president of Venezuela or is the president of the United States the president of Venezuela? There is absurdity here.

Collapsed oil prices, reliance upon oil revenues, an economic war by the United States and complications in raising finances has led to hyperinflation and to an economic crisis in Venezuela. To deny that is to deny reality. But there is a vast difference between an economic crisis and a humanitarian crisis.

Rafael Enriquez, Foreign Debt, OSPAAAL, 1983.

Rafael Enriquez, “Foreign Debt”, OSPAAAL, 1983.

Most of the countries on the planet are facing an economic crisis, with public finances in serious trouble and with enormous debt problems plaguing governments in all the continents. This year’s meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, focused attention on the global debt crisis – from the near-trillion-dollar deficit of the United States to the debt burdens of Italy. The IMF’s David Lipton warned that if interest rates were to rise, the problem would escalate. “There are pockets of debt held by companies and countries that really don’t have much servicing capacity, and I think that’s going to be a problem.”

Hyper-inflation is a serious problem, but punitive economic sanctions, seizure of billions of dollars of overseas assets and threats of war are not going to save the undermined Bolivar, Venezuela’s currency.

Eradication of hunger has to be the basic policy of any government. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, 11.7 percent of the Venezuelan people are hungry. Hunger rates in other parts of the world are much higher – 31.4 percent in Eastern Africa. But the world’s attention has not been focused on this severe crisis, one that has partly generated the massive migration across the Mediterranean Sea.

The picture above, is from the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where – in 2015 – activists laid out the 17,306 names of people who have died attempting that crossing (the number is now close to 40,000 drowned). Members of the European parliament had to walk to their session over these names. They are harsh in their attitude to start a war against Venezuela, but cavalier about the serious crises in Africa and Asia that keep the flow of migrants steady.

Venezuela’s Anti-Hunger Programs

The government of Venezuela has two programs to tackle the problem of hunger:

  1. Comité Local de Abastecimiento y Producción (CLAP). The Local Committees for Supply and Production are made up of local neighborhood groups who grow food and who receive food from agricultural producers. They distribute this food to about 6 million families at very low cost. Currently, the CLAP boxes are being sent to households every 15 days.
  2. Plan de Atención a la Vulnerabilidad Nutricional. The most vulnerable of Venezuelans – 620,000 of them – receive assistance. The National Institute of Nutrition has been coordinating the delivery of food to a majority of the country’s municipalities.

These are useful, but insufficient. More needs to be done. That is clear. Through CLAP, the Venezuelan government distributes about 50,000 tons of food per month. The “humanitarian aid” that the U.S. has promised amounts to $20 million – which would purchase a measly 60 tons of food.

On the issue of “humanitarian aid” to Venezuela, the international media has become the stenographers of the U.S. State Department and the CIA. It focuses on the false claims made by the U.S. government that it wants to deliver aid, which the Venezuelans refuse. The media does not look at the facts, even at this fact – that $20 million is a humiliating gesture, an amount intended to be used to establish the heartlessness of the government in Venezuela and therefore seek to overthrow it by any means necessary. This is what the U.S. government did in the Dominican Republic in 1965, sending in humanitarian aid accompanied by US marines.


Vijay Prashad responds to U.S. economic squeeze on Venezuela on Democracy Now.  


The U.S. has used military aircrafts to bring in this modest aid, driven it to a warehouse and then said that the Venezuelans are not prepared to open an unused bridge for it. The entire process is political theatre. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio went to that bridge – which has never been opened – to say in a threatening way that the aid “is going to get through” to Venezuela one way or another. These are words that threaten the sovereignty of Venezuela and build up the energy for a military attack. There is nothing humanitarian here.

The term “humanitarian” has been shredded of its meaning. It has now come to mean a pretext for the destruction of countries. “Humanitarian intervention” was the term used to destroy Libya; “humanitarian aid” is being used to beat the drum for a war against Venezuela.

Meanwhile, we forget the humanitarian solidarity offered by the Venezuelan government to the poorer nations and to poorer populations. Why is Haiti on fire now? It had received reduced-price oil from Venezuela by the PetroCaribe scheme (set up in 2005). A decade ago, Venezuela offered the Caribbean islands oil on very favorable terms so that they would not be the quarry of monopoly oil firms and the IMF.

The economic war against Venezuela has meant a decline in PetroCaribe. Now the IMF has returned to demand that oil subsidies end, and monopoly oil firms have returned to demand cash payments before delivery. Haiti’s government was forced to vote against Venezuela in the OAS. That is why the country is aflame. If you don’t let us breathe, say the Haitian people, we won’t let you breathe.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 2019. (Hector Retamal.)

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 2019. (Hector Retamal)

In 2005, the same year as Venezuela set up the PetroCaribe scheme, it created the PetroBronx scheme in New York. Terrible poverty in the South Bronx galvanized community groups such as Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, Green Youth Cooperative, Bronx Arts and Dance, and Mothers on the Move.

They worked with CITGO, the Venezuelan government’s U.S. oil subsidiary to develop a cooperative mechanism to get heating oil to the people.

Ana Maldonado, a sociologist who is now with the Frente Francisco de Miranda (Venezuela), was one of the participants in the PetroBronx scheme. She and her friends created the North Star to be a community organization that helped deliver the resources to the very poorest people in the United States. “People had to wear their coats inside their homes during the winter,” she told me. That was intolerable. That is why Venezuela provided the poor in the United States with subsidized heating oil.

The South Bronx and Harlem, the privations produced by racism – all this is familiar territory in Latin America.

In 1960, Fidel Castro came to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly. He was refused a hotel in the city. Malcolm X, a leader of the African American community, came to his aid, bringing the Cuban delegation to Harlem’s Hotel Theresa, whose owner – Love B. Woods – warmly welcomed Fidel and his comrades. Four years later, at a meeting in Harlem, Malcolm X said in connection with his meeting with Fidel, “Don’t let somebody else tell us who our enemies should be and who our friends should be.”

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, journalist, commentator and a Marxist intellectual. He is the executive director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the chief editor of LeftWord Books.


20 comments for “The Meaning of ‘Humanitarian Aid’

  1. March 3, 2019 at 08:16

    Thank you, Vijay Prashad. Thanks for sharing it withus!

  2. Mild - ly Facetious
    February 28, 2019 at 17:00

    Much, much gratitude to you, Vijay Prashad, for your timely and highly sensitive presentation of Reality vis-a-vis the current circumstances in the Bolivarian Nation of Venezuela.

    The Clearly Apparent coup’d etat by US military and corporate interests follows close behind the the TakeOver of sovereign Brazil by fascist-style authorians who’ve already announced their intent to exploit / and destroy historic forest lands / and peoples in quest of ‘energy producing resources’.

    The Extinction of Native Peoples, in the pursuit of Economic Wealth – is ‘allowed’ beneath the Political Cover of “Creative Destruction.”

    Multiple examples of this design exist throughout history near & far, as, the exploitation and expropriation of resources, as boon and profit, has exalted the characteristic of Brutal Hostility, Subjugation, Dismemberment, Rape, Unlawful Brutality and Unrestrained Death Penalty sentences and executions.

    Throughout History, The White Man’s law has prevailed.
    Who can deny this Truth ? ? ?

    The WHOLE WORLD has witnessed the humanitarian catastrophe in north African/north Arabian nation of Yemen… ?
    Who has spoken out against this Massacre of innocent civilians …?

    So. The witness of US ECONOMIC SANCTIONS against Venezuela can be Presented as a Failure of the Venezuelan Gov/t ?? !!! ?

    ==== Only Under the “Rules” of “Law” RATIFIED by the Jewish World Bank Establishment ////

    where, hopefully and prayerfully, the MURDERER of Israel’s Peace Seeking Rabin, (Netanyahu)

    will face Justice for his crime then // and for his ongoing crimes against Palestinian People

    as and UNJUST RULER, as such, a Pharisee/Sadducee, an adherent to the Zionist ideology

    of a Jewish / Hebrew / Yiddish? “home land” in the Middle East, (a political ideology ). …

    ””’ The Jewish Merchants, Bankers, Teachers, Hebrew scholars which established themselves
    as patriots and teachers and merchants in Europe were Scapegoated by right-wing racist Nazi’s/
    \ Accusers /Haters > what became the framework of Accusation for Hitlers Hate Campaign
    \ against the Jews. … / … but, it was the Jewish Bankers/Owners of Currency that bankrupted/
    \ all of Europe/ and set in motion THE FIRST WORLD WAR. between “World Bankers” and/
    \ “Sovereign (National) Banks” was as an Outbreak Against The Rothschild Banks’ finance of wars/
    \that maintained Their Control over Nations/ National Peoples/ and their economic sustainability/

    / That the Trump Cadre of /New York\German Banks/
    has entered the fractional divide where the lives of people
    \ are relegated into terms of Profit and Loss, what means Life?/

    Que Bono ???

    • Mild - ly Facetious
      February 28, 2019 at 17:09

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      Benjamin Netanyahu faces the challenge of his career | CBC News…/benjamin-netanyahu-faces-the-challenge-of-his-career-1.49654…
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      Former Israeli General Jumps Into 2019 Race To Challenge Netanyahu…/former-israeli-general-jumps-into-2019-race-to-challenge-netany…
      Dec 27, 2018 – Israel is holding elections this April, and a political newcomer has emerged to … Netanyahu also faces the challenge of corruption allegations.
      Benjamin Netanyahu Israel PM Faces Draft Corruption Indictment ……/it-s-d-day-for-netanyahu-as-he-braces-for-possible-in…
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      12 hours ago – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a serious challenge from a centrist alliance led by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz at …

  3. Tedder
    February 28, 2019 at 15:13

    I want to note that billions of dollars in the PetroCaribe fund in Haiti have gone missing, most likely into accounts of the US backed president.

  4. February 28, 2019 at 11:54

    Don’t forget–rifles weigh a lot more than food.

  5. February 28, 2019 at 07:11

    Great reporting, breaking down the back story

  6. David Meserve
    February 28, 2019 at 00:43

    I agree with the basic premise of this article, but it is disturbing to see the math of aid value so misrepresented. The article states: “The “humanitarian aid” that the U.S. has promised amounts to $20 million – which would purchase a measly 60 tons of food.”
    60 tons of food is 120,000 pounds. If that food is worth $20 million, then it is somehow worth $167 per pound. Please check this out, and correct the error. It puts the rest of your argument in doubt.

    • michael
      February 28, 2019 at 11:57

      the reason food seems so expensive is because of their rampant inflation.

  7. Lois Gagnon
    February 27, 2019 at 21:37

    Good to see Vijay on CN. His understanding of the dynamics at work in the system of imperialist exploitation of the global south is vital if we are to put a stop to this infernal madness.

    Hi Garrett!

  8. Joe Tedesky
    February 27, 2019 at 15:35

    Herman in reply to your comment, the mechanics of regime change in the USA is so repetitive and predictable that eventually even an American child of 7 will be able to conduct a foreign invasion. Why if I didn’t know better I’d swear that ‘regime change’ is being taught in our American public schools. Don’t get me wrong there are many things to applaud our US ingenuity over in as, much as there is to take pride in our American people but, regime change isn’t one of these things to be proud of. Since WWII the USA has invoked many an internal conflict upon a poor divided and undivided nation. Only a twisted mind would take pride in that awful destruction of human life but, lately I have noticed that any mention of peace is thought by the establishment to be an act of traitorousness. And when I stumble across this type of mindset I think to myself, ‘where did we in America go wrong’. Peace Herman. Joe

    • evelync
      February 28, 2019 at 14:33

      The Big Banks; Big Oil; the MIC; a bought and paid for Congress; a foreign policy run as a secretive National Security criminal organization (how can it not be criminal when torture, kidnapping, theft, intimidation, plunder have become “normal”);an uninformed propagandized public distracted by the hardships created here at home from the shift away from New Deal policies has so far not demanded more public scrutiny of this costly regimen which is overlaid with Cold War rhetoric pushed every day even on so-called “liberal” networks like MSNBC…..

      The people living in the countries whose “leaders” we demonize don’t count for s..t to our policy makers. And neither does the horrific impact on the people who serve in our military and come home with lifelong PTSD.

      We never hear about the people of Russia or the people of Venezuela.
      But those two “enemies” and all the others that slip into the “enemy” camp are used to distract and frighten and gain acquiescence for policies that most people would not think are fair or just or serve our national security either.

      Our foreign policy ignores how the “unintended consequences” of regime change devastate millions of people around the globe and create PTSD here at home.

      I know I’m speaking to the choir…

      I hope with some of the new young people in the Congress, including some who have served in the military like Tulsi Gabbard, we will demand more accountability.

  9. Tim Lyons
    February 27, 2019 at 15:25

    Thank you, Vijay Prashad. I found your article very helpful.

  10. Garrett Connelly
    February 27, 2019 at 12:33

    I opposed barbarian atrocities of the united states government by supporting Sandinistas and visiting the frontier and the Nicaraguan troops. Now I work against all but three US representatives who refused to back the coup in Venezuela.

    Reform or replace ?

    Though not yet finished, here is a tool that helps us move past yes/no win/lose. Consider a new seven facet democracy designed to serve life instead of capitalist wealth. explore a bit and return periodically to see progress. Suggestions?

  11. Sally Snyder
    February 27, 2019 at 07:27

    As shown in this article, there is a reason why Washington wants to replace Maduro that is rarely discussed in the media:

    It’s all about Corporate America’s needs and wants.

  12. Dave Parks
    February 27, 2019 at 04:18

    After blockading billions of dollars owned by Venezuela, the $20 million in “aid” is clearly a ridiculous and humiliating gesture. However, the statement in the article about $20 million only purchasing 60 tons of food is clearly way off. At a guess of $2 per kilo, $20 million would buy 10,000 tons. Scale that up or down for a different average price. If actually made available in a usable way it would amount to something like 20% of what CLAP distributes per month or 2% of its annual distribution.

    • OlyaPola
      February 27, 2019 at 12:00

      “the $20 million in “aid””

      One of the components of exceptionalism is self-absorption.

      It may be useful to consider how others are interacting to address “The meaning of “Humanitarian Aid”

  13. TomG
    February 26, 2019 at 22:41

    Thank you again, Mr. Prashad for bearing witness to the pain of the least among us. Hearing Senator Sanders repeating the narrative for our latest manufacturing of consent on Venezuela I wrote this.

    I weep again
    I look in the mirror
    It is hard to have hope
    though I’m sure we must
    made difficult by those to whom
    we’ve pledged the benefit of doubt
    who then repeat the same old tired lies
    that prop up the hubris of exceptionalism
    at the expense of the poorest and vulnerable
    leaving us more complicit everyday with the
    evil perpetrated across our beautiful world
    and within the cities and villages where
    people are left with no alternative but
    to leave home for lands unknown
    in aimless wandering to walls
    that seek to keep them out
    It is hard to have hope
    I look in the mirror
    I weep again

  14. Joe Tedesky
    February 26, 2019 at 21:14

    The USA’s humanitarian aid to Venezuela along with Maduro being a dictator is, nothing more than a narrative to portend the calamity that’s about to come when the USA is determined to overthrow a sovereign nation. We Americans by now should be well aware of what’s going down with these often used neo-antics yet, many of us still tend to side with this official narrative within our own personal self confusion of the current events at hand. What’s even more diluted away from any well balanced thinking is, when has the USA ever made life better for a targeted nation with it’s American kindness? Just look at the Middle East and tell me how our American kindness paid off for those poor embattled people. Weren’t we Americans thought (by ourselves) to be the liberators? So don’t tell me about American humanitarian aid or, who is an evil dictator. The so called American ‘kindness’ is nothing more than a cover to allow us Americans to go about our day thinking nothing about the death and destruction that’s being waged with our hard earned tax dollars. Did I wake you up? Peace.

    Read how China is reacting…

    • February 27, 2019 at 08:15

      Joe, I could have misunderstood but don’t think when I heard Pompeo refer to “our” guy in Venezuela as elected. Could be wrong but don’t think so. Course he referred to Maduro who go 68 percent of the vote as a dictator. It’s from the playbook. Assad, voted in office overwhelmingly was a dictator as well. There is another part of the playbook regarding regime change. When the “bad” guys are elected, we cobble up a band of the willing not to recognize the results of the elections. That triggers a cry that guys like Maduro are not legitimate and then we get guys like Guaido, who was elected but not by the people of Venezuela.

      The tragedy, of course, is that the abundance of resources we have to help Venezuela are being withheld to push Maduro out. There was a time a long time ago when we at least made an attempt to hide our intentions and were not so ham handed. We did a lot of good in Europe immediately after WWII. Not entirely altruistic, but did do a lot of good.

  15. February 26, 2019 at 20:14

    We all know what it means:
    This Landwas your land,
    This Land is now my land,
    From California,
    To Venezuela,
    From the Gulf Stream waters,
    To the Gulf War oil wells,
    This Land was made for me and me

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