Embattled Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro may be keeping humanitarian aid from getting into Venezuela out of fear that such efforts could loosen his grip on the Venezuelan people.
But nonprofits led by Venezuelan expats in North Texas have found a way to break through the political blockade by sending care packages back home via private shipping companies.
It’s an expensive process, but it hasn’t failed them yet.
Zeanly Gomez, a teaching assistant in Frisco, is among those leading the charge in Dallas-Fort Worth. Gomez has been shipping everything from vitamins, nutritional shakes, medical equipment, over-the-counter medicines, clothes, hygiene products and food thousands of miles back home through Rayito De Luz, a nonprofit she founded in March 2015.
“At my house I was taught that if I have one arepa and you don’t have one, then we each have half an arepa,” Gomez said.
The nonprofit, named after a group in Venezuela, focuses on collecting medical supplies to help clinics and families treating children with cancer. It was one of the first groups to start sending aid back to Venezuela in North Texas.
But as scarcity of food and other essentials grew in Venezuela, Gomez said, Rayito De Luz started collecting and sending anything it could to people of all ages.
“I feel indignant. I feel much impotence. And I feel much pain at seeing the images from back home of sick children, dead children,” Gomez said. “But this is affecting everyone. Adults. Grandparents. Everyone.”
At least 200 people gathered across the metroplex from February 22 to 24 to help groups like Rayito de Luz, VeneDallas, Hope 4 Venezuela and Ayuda A Venezuela pack hundreds of individual boxes full of food, medicine, clothes and other essentials.
Gomez said the volunteers managed to pack about six tons of items that were shipped to Miami for free thanks to a shipping group in the area. From Miami, the aid is expected to arrive in Venezuela by next month.
As volunteers worked that Saturday, two trucks full of humanitarian aid were set on fire at a bridge near Cucuta, Colombia that connects to Venezuela. The opposition, led by Juan Guaido, who became president of the National Assembly in January, allege that it was the Venezuelan military that set fire to the trucks.
This method of shipping individual boxes through private companies is one of the almost surefire ways these groups have found to deliver help right into the hands of Venezuelan families. But it’s expensive.
The last time Rayito De Luz shipped a container full of about 120 boxes was about three months ago. It cost the group $10,000 to ship it from Dallas to Florida and then to Venezuela.
Carla Rincon is one of the Venezuelan expats who showed up to help in those efforts last month. Seeing those trucks burn, she said, only served as motivation for her to keep working.
“Seeing Venezuelans stay until 1 or 2 in the morning filling boxes to send back home was beautiful and it made clear that Venezuelans are united for change. But to see people who aren’t Venezuelan staying that late with us, even though they have no family or anything tying them there, that was unforgettable,” Rincon said.
Rincon is the founder of VeneDallas, a nonprofit founded in 2012 that initially focused on advocating and educating Dallas-area residents about the ongoing political turmoil in Venezuela.
But as the population of Venezuelans leaving home because of the country’s economic collapse swelled in North Texas, VeneDallas started collecting and giving away furniture, clothes and anything that could make life somewhat easier to those adapting to life in the U.S.
The worsening situation in Venezuela again forced VeneDallas to expand its scope of who to help and the group became involved in area efforts to ship aid back home. Now, Rincon said, it’s important for those who want to help people in Venezuela to know that there are already groups like hers that are successfully delivering relief to people there.
“We need a lot of help and each of the groups working in the metroplex needs help from the Dallas community so that we can keep helping people back home,” Rincon said.
David Smilde, senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, a research and advocacy nongovernmental organization, said one of Maduro’s last options now is to double down and keep Venezuelans reliant on CLAP boxes, a monthly supply of food handed out to the many families.
Maduro introduced the CLAP box policy in 2016 and it’s one of the main reasons why his government retains support among the country’s poorest citizens.
“To accept international aid undermines the government’s own self definition. It’s really hard for them to accept that situations are so bad that they would require humanitarian aid,” Smilde said.
Right now, only those with access to foreign currencies, namely dollars, Smilde said, have an easy time buying the essentials to keep their families fed. Lower income families in Venezuela are sometimes working to make $5 a month.
Images have surface from inside the country that show Venezuelans eating from garbage trucks and malnourished children in need of medicine lying in beds.
Atala Sosa, who works with Venezolanos en Acción en Dallas, a group of about 88 volunteers who help the various nonprofits in their efforts to help Venezuelans back home, said the images are heartbreaking, but they motivate her to stay involved in these local efforts.
“Sometimes you want to be optimistic, but you see so much corruption. You try to understand how someone can be so sick to do this to their own country,” Sosa said, as tears streamed down her face.
Atala has been living outside of Venezuela since 2001, most of that time in Dallas. The last time she visited her home country was in 2016. She said she can’t see herself going back until Maduro is gone from power. And now the only thing she can do, she said, is keep collecting aid to send back home.
“It’s not about who is the president, it’s not about what party is in power,” Sosa said. “It’s about how you can be the best citizen and how you can contribute to the country.”
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