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Planning for Maduro’s collapse, USAID sees a ‘different’ sort of crisis in Venezuela

If a day comes when the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro collapses into chaos, the U.S. humanitarian aid agency has a plan to step into the breach.

USAID Administrator Mark Green told McClatchy in an interview on Wednesday that the agency has been “scenario planning” for Maduro’s departure, researching the logistical challenges that will face its teams in a devastated country twice the size of California.

The humanitarian crisis emanating from Venezuela has resulted in over 4 million migrants and refugees pouring into neighboring countries, according to the United Nations — the worst event of its kind the Western Hemisphere has ever seen.

But unlike with other international emergencies, such as the Syrian refugee crisis that shook the Middle East and Europe, Green expects most Venezuelan migrants will ultimately return home.

“I find the Venezuelan crisis different than others I’ve seen in the world,” he said. “We’re always thinking through what happens the day after — what will be necessary.”

USAID is studying reports from humanitarian organizations with access inside the country, as well as surveys of those migrants, many of whom fled over health concerns. The collapse of Venezuela’s power grid and repeated blackouts have eliminated its ability to keep medicine climate-controlled.

That has led to a crisis for diabetes patients and threatens outbreaks of new diseases nearly conquered, such as malaria and measles.

“We think in terms of how do you relieve those who have suffered for so long and so deeply. So the day after, the ability to provide life-saving assistance to people in the interior — it’s a big country. We’ve done lots of scenario planning.”

Other U.S. departments, such as the Commerce Department and the Pentagon, have similarly drawn up plans for various scenarios of a Maduro exit. But Green’s focus is on preventing a rapidly deteriorating health crisis from getting worse.

“I was struck in Miami in my diaspora meetings the number of doctors and nurses who are going back quietly, somewhat regularly, to do charity care, and to try to help out,” Green said. “You have a healthcare system in Venezuela — it’s always hard to get accurate fixes — but you hear talk in terms of not a single hospital in the country being properly equipped. So when the day comes, I mean, those are things that will have to take place.”

It is an issue on President Donald Trump’s radar, as well. After meeting with Latin American leaders on Wednesday, he told reporters at a press conference that “people are dying” due to the hospital crisis, justifying continued U.S. humanitarian aid to the region and to support Juan Guaidó and his followers.

Also on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced $119 million in additional humanitarian aid to deal with the Venezuelan crisis — including health and medical assistance for those inside the country — bringing the administration’s total commitment to $568 million.

The United States and more than 50 countries recognize Guaidó, president of the National Assembly, as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela.

“In my line of work I get to see lots of displaced communities from all around the world,” Green said, “and as a general matter, I say when we have refugees or migrants, I say they’re unlikely to go home. I don’t think that’s the case here.”

“I have seen, from my trips to Miami to my trips to Colombia, and Ecuador and Peru, that Venezuelans want to go home. They’re a fiercely proud people. They also remember a day not so long past when there were different economic circumstances, and they want to go home,” he said.

“When we get to the day after, there is a long road of rebuilding, obviously, but I think it will be turbocharged by the Venezuelans who want to go home,” Green said.

Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.
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