NGOs and “humanitarian aid”

The soft power strategies for hardline aggression in Venezuela

Mercy Corps
Mercy Corps and other non-governmental organizations have been active in assisting U.S. geostrategic objectives in the area of Venezuela under the pretext of humanitarian concern. | Photo: @MercyCorpsCo / Twitter

By J. Kassem

The Trump administration ratcheted up the aid sent to the Venezuela, deploying U.S. military aircraft to deliver over 250 tons of aid at the request of Juan Guaidó, backed by the U.S. and its allies since the January 23 attempted coup led by the United States.

Venezuelan President Maduro thwarted earlier U.S. attempts to deliver the aid on Thursday, having made clear his rejection of the “crumbs” delivered by the US that was otherwise “stealing billions.”

Last month’s coup attempt is the latest attempt by the U.S. and its allies to undermine the democratically elected government of Nicolás Maduro in attempts to replace Venezuela with a U.S. and NATO ally.

A recent State Department briefing for a joint strategic plan for 2018 to 2022 detailed a series of soft power strategies designed to target the Maduro administration.

Included in this strategic plan is increased cooperation with international aid organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in promoting a “resolution” to the “humanitarian crisis” by means of promoting “civil society” and encouraging “the market based economy” and private property: “Ultimately, the crisis facing approximately 85-90% of Venezuelans will only be adequately and sustainably addressed when a national government – new or incumbent – acknowledges the problems, fully embraces international support, and redesigns their national framework to solve the country’s many problems.”

These goals, outlining the objectives for a soft-power regime change strategy, have already been ground tested with the assistance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), where organizations such as USAID actively collaborate in support of State Department objectives.

In the last decade, beginning with the 2002 attempted coup against then-President Hugo Chávez, right-wing, pro-interventionist protests were largely funded and trained by Washington. This in turn helped give rise to Guaidó as a chosen proxy for U.S. influence and interference in the region. Washington had worked alongside USAID and its satellite, the Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI), in regime change schemes to help support a U.S.-friendly outcome for the unrest that came out of Washington’s sanctions in 2002.

Another partner NGO, Mercy Corps, has also been active in assisting U.S. geostrategic objectives under the pretext of humanitarian concern. It explains why Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the World Economic Forum, organizations tasked with serving Washington’s imperialist and capitalist interests around the world.

Many NGOs, particularly Mercy Corps, had previously aided opposition efforts in Douma and Eastern Aleppo in Syria, propping up the pretext of government chemical weapons attacks to allow money and aid to flow in and information crucial to US interests in Syria to circulate.

Likewise, Mercy Corps is currently stationing itself in areas along the Colombian-Venezuelan border, and in La Guajira, where American troops have recently been deployed.

A recent needs-based assessment for Venezuelans in Colombia run by the organization in March of 2018 conducted key informant interviews with refugees in Riohacha, La Guajira to assess migrant movement patterns and conduct a local market assessment.

The report, describing austere conditions of the Venezuelan economy, failed to once even entertain the effect of U.S. sanctions on the stated effects of hyperinflation, difficulty in obtaining food (though costs are attributable to private company food import sabotage) or medicine (despite admitting that medical care was free in Venezuela) and high transaction costs. The organization frames the influx of Venezuelans to Colombia as the effects of a “humanitarian crisis” or “economic collapse,” placing the blame instead on the Venezuelan government.

The proposed solution, as recommended by the report: push for passportless entry into U.S.-backed Colombia, make it easier for Venezuelans to access the cheap labor market, and profit off selling more U.S. aid and NGO-issued vouchers, medicines and rationed food.

Ultimately, as economist David Harvey affirmed in “The New Imperialism,” profit-gaining motives by international finance capital will always override the pretext of humanitarianism: “While some of these NGOs came out of religious and humanistic traditions in the West, others were set up in the name of battling poverty but were funded by groups assiduously pursuing the aim of proliferating market exchange.“

In August, five months after the report was issued, nearly half a million Venezuelan migrants were granted two-year permissions to stay in Colombia without passports or visas, in line with the policy objectives of Mercy Corps earlier that year.

In May of 2018, the organization announced its expansion into the La Guajira province and, later that year, retained their commitment to operating in Colombian border towns.

This “assistance” has included conducting interviews with residents, coordinating and passing information to other U.S. agencies, including USAID and possibly the U.S. military, in line with “promoting and advancing U.S. interests” in these border towns.

The close cooperation and collaboration between these agencies and the army also opens up the potential for more information sharing for potential movement patterns and access points that would be beneficial for the US to leverage.

This idea is not alien to the U.S. armed forces, whose primary joint document, JP 1, recommends a host of “interagency, IGO, and NGO coordination as a part of [U.S. army] activities” through “coordination and/or integration of the activities of governmental and nongovernmental entities with military operations to achieve unity of effort.”

The potential for this collaboration, and the guilt-by-association between medical aid and military intervention was apparent in Pakistan after workers with various NGOs objected to a CIA plot using a fake polio vaccination distribution scheme to leverage a collaboration between itself and a Pakistani doctor in tracking down Osama Bin Laden in 2011.

In a 2012 joint complaint letter, workers from various NGOs said their lives were put at risk, also objecting to the incident’s effect in further sowing feelings of distrust against humanitarian organizations.

It is unclear whether the U.S. is considering adding to its assaults on the Venezuelan government through military force, as evidenced by a handwritten note on John Bolton’s notepad at a press conference last month that disclosed plans to deploy 5,000 troops to Colombia.

The added benefits of U.S. money to Colombia, in addition to poverty-pimping refugees through NGOs, work alongside stockpiling spy equipment in the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. A June 2017 State Department invoice reveals an order of pocket voice recorders, extraction devices for mobile phones, headsets, and spy cameras to Bogota from the State Department, possibly accounting for a part of the $140 million in “foreign aid” in FY 2017, which the U.S. gave to countries for “development efforts” and to “build up long term capacity.”

Since last August’s U.S.-backed attempted assassination of Nicolás Maduro from Colombia, there’s virtually no limit to the extent that the Trump administration will take in adding Venezuela to the United States’ decades-long regime-change itinerary.

Likewise, both Pompeo and Juan Guidó’s insistence on green-lighting over $20 million in U.S. “humanitarian aid” alongside increased calls for U.S. intervention have made inseparable soft power strategies from increased hardlined warfare.

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