In 1985, the legendary band Queen participated in the Live Aid concert, an event held simultaneously in London, at Wembley Stadium, and Philadelphia, at John F. Kennedy Stadium, to raise funds for humanitarian aid to end famine in East African countries, mainly Ethiopia and Somalia.
At this time, Queen believed that the band was old-fashioned and that it was time to give way on stage to newer bands, but Live Aid came to reverse that thinking and it eventually became one of their most famous performances.
The proceeds of that concert, broadcast live to more than 72 countries, reached 100 million dollars, which did not help to end hunger in Ethiopia and Somalia, although it did help Bod Geldof, organizer of the concerts, to be named Knight of Honor of the Order of the British Empire a year later, and to define July 13 as the date of the International Day of Rock.
Food as a medium for humanitarian interventions
Two years after this show, in 1987, the UN called for participation in Ethiopia and Sudan in the distribution of international food aid to the population, and the following year France presented in the General Assembly the Res. 43/131, imposing the idea of a right to humanitarian interference so that the international community could have free access to victims of natural disasters; this action could be considered as the first precedent in the UN in which the right to non-intervention in the internal affairs of its members, enshrined in the charter of the organization, according to article 2, paragraphs 4 and 7, which extended even to humanitarian issues, while the Cold War lasted.
According to various approaches, this right of non-intervention was considered as a lack of action by the UN, always based on the search for consensus, which did not consider the human rights violated, nor the level of this violation, but rather focused on the possible consequences of a military intervention; and with this, in times of the Cold War, an escalation with the use of force was avoided and, therefore, a confrontation between superpowers or a nuclear war.
Three years later, in 1990, Resolution 45/100 called “The corridor of humanitarian intervention” was added, limiting its scope in time and space; and later, in 1992, the United Nations Security Council approved, at its first Summit of Heads of State, “the use of all necessary means” to guarantee the distribution of humanitarian aid, in any case, the right to intervene, even without prior request. This resulted in Res. 794 for Somalia.
With Res. 794 imposed on the United Nations Operation in Somalia I (UNOSOM-I), which had been carried out in the Horn of Africa since April 1992, the use of force to guarantee the arrival of food, validating from the UN a maneuver whose conception, command and even the name “Operation Restore Hope” was imposed by the United States under the command of George Bush, Thus becoming the UNITAF Mission (Unified Task Force), to carry out operations in southern Somalia through the use of a multinational force from December 1992 to May 1993, to enable the distribution of humanitarian aid in which 37,000 military personnel were deployed, of which 25,000 were US soldiers, under the coalition of 24 countries and at a cost of 42.9 million dollars.
Subsequently, after UNOSOM-I and UNITAF, the humanitarian mission UNOSOM-II was imposed between 1993 and 1995, considered the first United Nations peacekeeping operation, also led by the United States, where 28,000 troops were deployed at a cost of 1,643 million dollars, whose results were contrary to expectations, that is, non-humanitarian results; a massive failure, which left the country in a crisis greater than the one existing before the humanitarian intervention.
Evolution of humanitarian interventions
This was a concrete fact of how the use of military force was conceived for humanitarian interventions, related to food aid, and then its evolution to the Agenda for Peace (1992), thus emerging new forms of use of the military instrument in operations finally established, in addition to food and humanitarian, peace enforcement and peace building. All of them, through the use of force in asymmetrical contexts, finally modifying the criteria for UN intervention.
And in the case of the flow of humanitarian aid to carry out these and other operations, its conditioning always depends on the degree of interest of the donors, associated with the number of needy people.
Thus, in 2000, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty was established to address the challenge of the international community’s responsibility to act in the face of human rights violations, protecting the population of a State if its own government fails to do so, especially in a humanitarian crisis scenario.
This principle of the “Responsibility to Protect” or R2P was incorporated in a final United Nations document in 2005, applauded by international affairs specialists as the beginning of a new era of peace and security, in response to the humanitarian crises of the 1990s in the world.
A principle first put into practice to “alleviate the suffering of the Libyan population” through the military intervention of the country in 2011, the result of which was a regime change imposed by NATO by assassinating President Muammar Muhammad al-Qaddafi, about whom US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shamelessly exclaimed, “We came, we saw, and he died.”
“We came, we saw and he died” This is how Hillary Clinton expressed herself after Gaddafi’s assassination. WikiLeaks revealed more details https://t.co/r0LXc2FETu pic.twitter.com/dhRWwtTJkc
– RT en Español (@ActualidadRT) November 8, 2016
What is certain is that, with this operation, the formal use of the use of force for supposed humanitarian reasons was accentuated, serving so far as a valid instrument to justify military interventions, particularly by the States of greater power, moved by their own interests and in the name of the international community.
The Discursive Construction of the Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela: Southern Command and National Assembly 2016-2020
It is precisely this principle that is suggested to be applied to Venezuela since the beginning of the economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by the United States on the country, through which the standard of living of the Venezuelan population is violated as a factor of national power, in order to impose a regime change, building at the same time the rhetoric of a food crisis that adds up to a humanitarian one, where the international community needs to intervene “to alleviate the suffering of the population” that the government supposedly does not protect.
Thus begins this construction in October 2015, seven months after Obama declared Venezuela an unusual and extraordinary threat to the United States, when the then Head of the Southern Command, John Kelly, asserted that “if there is any major humanitarian crisis in Venezuela (…) to the point of desperately needing food, water and things like that, they could react through organizations like the UN, the OAS, or the World Food Program, FAO”.
Four months later, on February 11, 2016, the Venezuelan National Assembly, of majority opposition to the national government, declared the existence of a humanitarian crisis and the need to request help from international organizations to prevent a threat of famine; as well as in April 2016, it turned on the construction of a food crisis in total coordination with the Plan Operation Venezuela Freedom-2 of the U.S. Southern Command.
At that time, in the midst of a shortage of basic foodstuffs, it was argued by economists critical of the government, but also by national, transnationalized and transnational oligopolies in the food sector, that it was caused by the price control, which harmed the national production, and the control of foreign currency for the payment of its foreign suppliers, and not by the imposition of the economic war as economic options of the strategy against Venezuela, added to the unilateral coercive measures of the United States against the country.
Economic war that was constituted around basic foodstuffs as a programmed and selective shortage, not caused through a decrease in production, but through the alteration of distribution mechanisms, preventing the timely and efficient placement of products on the shelves, inducing shortages and, with it, the appearance of long lines, rationing of purchases and illegal markets.
In May 2016, before the rejection by the opposition National Assembly of the subsidized food program Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP) launched by the national government, the then MUD deputy Freddy Guevara stated that the “food crisis in Venezuela was a consequence of corruption in food imports and the destruction of national production”, in a speech he made at a forum called “Corruption and hunger in Venezuela. An inexcusable reality”, organized by this National Assembly as the enforcement arm of the United States against the country, together with the NGO Transparencia Venezuela, where former nutritionist Susana Rafalli, a political activist closely linked to the interests of the United States in the promotion of unilateral coercive measures, emphasized the need to internationally classify the situation in Venezuela as a food crisis.
NGOs such as Provea, Foro Penal and Transparencia Venezuela have close connections with the U.S. and Great Britain.
These NGOs allege that the Bolivarian Government “intends” to use laws “to intimidate, criminalize, persecute and shut them down” https://t.co/lQnC1Bl1bY
– MV (@Mision_Verdad) May 28, 2021
Luis Almagro’s Contribution from the OAS
For international projection, on June 23, 2016, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, in his speech before the Permanent Council of the organization presented a report against the government of Venezuela with which he demanded an end to what he called a “humanitarian crisis”, caused by a food and medicine crisis that was reaching a crucial point, and stating that these problems were not being caused by external forces but were the result of actions taken by those in power, referring to the Bolivarian Revolution and the cycle initiated by Hugo Chávez since 1999.
In 2018, again Almagro shared “his opinion” in an article published in Financial Times on the need to protect Venezuelans from a humanitarian crisis, using as a comparison a speech by Bill Clinton on Rwanda, and invoking the need to “act in accordance with public international law, including the UN’s 2005 ‘Responsibility to Protect'”, where he labeled the Bolivarian Government as “a state-run killing machine”, a “dictatorship” that “deprived civilians of essential food and medicine”.
Therefore, the “Responsibility to Protect”, according to him, would “put an end to the inaction of the international community to address the humanitarian crisis”, just like a Cold War discourse, whose “commitment required leaving all options on the table”, just like Donald Trump, “to put an end to the suffering of the Venezuelan people”, just like the preaching used for more than two years to impose the “humanitarian intervention” in Libya in 2011.
And in line with the discourse of the National Assembly against the Bolivarian Government, he affirmed that “corruption is starving the entire population of a country”, therefore it was necessary to “provide humanitarian assistance to those who desperately need it”.
In the same vein, Fernando Cutz, former director for South America of the U.S. Security Council, in a conference at the Wilson Center, assured that an international military intervention was the best option at that time to remove President Nicolás Maduro from power, because he “did not care that people were starving and fleeing the country”, therefore, there was no other way out than the use of force.
The use of “humanitarian aid” to impose another government
On January 15, 2019, the opposition parliament agreed to authorize humanitarian aid days before the self-proclamation of Juan Guaidó as “interim or acting president” of the country, imposed by the United States.
On February 19, a new agreement was taken up again demanding the unblocking of the Las Tienditas International Bridge and other national border posts that would allow the entry of a supposed “humanitarian aid”, whose ultimate purpose, as evidenced, was the violation of Venezuela’s territorial sovereignty. A day later, Senator Marco Rubio sent via social networks a message with images of Gaddafi, which was considered a direct threat to the Venezuelan president.
However, these statements were not isolated to the siege imposed by the United States on the country. Since on May 18, 2017, Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, stated that “Venezuela is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis and the international community should work together to ensure the restoration of democracy”, in an attempt to discuss Venezuela at the Security Council. As well as in the Human Rights Council the same year.
Something that did not happen only in 2017, since on February 26, 2019, days after the failed attempt to enter by force the alleged “humanitarian aid”, mainly donated by the United States through USAID and through the figure of Juan Guaidó, a new resolution was incorporated by the U.S. country before the UN, in which it requested to facilitate the entry of “humanitarian aid”, but primarily requested the recognition before the body of an “interim president” for Venezuela, which Russia and China rejected as a means for foreign interference.
On this occasion, Elliott Abrams, special representative of the State Department for Venezuela, affirmed that the rejection of his resolution prolonged the suffering of Venezuelans through a “man-made crisis that threatened to destabilize the region”, while assuring that the United States would “seek all avenues to increase humanitarian aid to Venezuelans inside and outside the country”.
Of course, the Lima Group, which always bet on increasing the siege against Venezuela, assured that the “illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro intentionally subjected Venezuelans to a systematic deprivation of food and medicine, and of access to basic services, to ensure its permanence in power”, in other words, a “man-made crisis”, in agreement with Elliott Abrams.
And in April of the same year, Luis Almagro was desperately calling for more economic “sanctions” and the use of force to resolve the situation in Venezuela, among several things, to address “the humanitarian crisis”, insisting on the use of humanitarian intervention under the “Responsibility to Protect”, while considering that supporting the virtual figure of Guaidó was “the best way forward”.
From Live Aid (1985) to Venezuela Aid Live (2019)
But as the evolution of humanitarian interventions in the UN to the “Responsibility to Protect” began to position itself globally thanks to the Live Aid concert for Ethiopia and Somalia in 1985, the application of the same script for Venezuela in 2019 could not be missing.
In this case, Venezuela Aid Live (Venezuela Ayuda en Directo) was the benefit concert, organized by British businessman Richard Branson, who assured that soon “Venezuelans would be on the verge of starvation or death”. His goal was to raise 100 million dollars in 60 days to address the crisis in Venezuela, coincidentally the same amount raised for Ethiopia and Somalia but in 1985: 36 years ago.
The concert was held the day before in Colombian territory to justify worldwide the forced entry of “humanitarian aid” in an attempt to violate Venezuelan borders with impunity, while proclaiming “freedom” and the right to unblock the borders for the “international community” to enter, as represented by Sebastián Piñera (Chile), Iván Duque (Colombia), Mario Abdo Benítez (Paraguay) and the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro. The purpose: to qualify the non-admission as a “crime against humanity”, finally set on fire by the Venezuelan opposition’s own supporters.
The donor of the “humanitarian aid”, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that sent, for example, vegetable oil, flour, lentils and rice for 5 thousand Venezuelans for 10 days, or soap, toothbrush and toothpaste for 7 thousand people for 10 days.
The most remarkable thing is that the amount that was intended to be collected in this concert barely corresponds to 6% of the total Venezuelan resources withheld only in England, which exceed 1 billion 614 million euros, protected by the economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by the United States on the country.
An amount with which 10 million monthly boxes of the CLAP subsidized food program can be purchased and distributed to the Venezuelan population, or equal to 120 million CLAP boxes for families throughout the country for 20 months, at the current monthly coverage level (6 million families) and with the resources of Venezuelans themselves, without the need for USAID to make any effort to donate cereals and toothpaste for a handful of Venezuelans for just 10 days.
More than 35 years after the Live Aid concert, it is still stated that Ethiopia is one of the top ten countries in the world with food crisis, where 3.1 million people are in crisis (IPC Phase 3 – Integrated Food Insecurity Phase Classification), 2.1 million in emergency situation (IPC Phase 4) and more than 350 thousand people in Catastrophe level (IPC Phase 5) between May and June 2021, considered the highest number of people in Phase 5 since the 2011 famine, occurred coincidentally in Somalia.
While Somalia is claimed to be 2.7 million people facing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or higher) until mid-2021, in the absence of humanitarian assistance.
And with respect to Libya, 10 years after the UN principle or the international community’s “Responsibility to Protect” was applied, the UN Secretary General has urged countries to support a new UN Humanitarian Response Plan for the country, concerned about “the serious and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya, estimating that 1.3 million people were in need of assistance, an increase of 400,000 since 2020.”
This shows that, behind humanitarian interventions, there are always strategic interests of the different actors of world power, whose interests are generally non-humanitarian, deepening the crises in the intervened countries.
In the case of Venezuela, coincidentally, it is these “humanitarian interventions” that are allegedly applied since the beginning of the unmasked siege by the first world power, where food and hunger are issues with which the country is constantly kept on the international agenda, evolving, no longer on the number of people suffering from it, but has been rising to a higher level, with the alleged mortality due to the scourge that in 2020 was expected to reach a level of collapse driven by the pandemic, whose forecasts fortunately turned out to be wrong.
The objective: to lay the groundwork on Venezuela as one of the biggest food crises in the world, where urgent humanitarian assistance is required, inserting in the world imaginary the need for a “humanitarian” military intervention or the “Responsibility to Protect” the population that the United States is precisely violating, in order to cause suffering that will allow it to achieve a “regime change”.
Further development of the subject will be published in a second part of this research paper.
This article was originally published on the Food and Power website on July 6, 2021.
Translation by Internationalist 360°