The Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) issued a ruling ordering the termination of the Venezuelan Red Cross Society directorial board. The ruling, issued on August 4, came as a result of an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office regarding allegations of harassment and mistreatment committed by the president of the Venezuelan Red Cross Society, Mario Villaroel, against volunteers and workers in the organization.
The organization announced a reconfiguration of its directorial boards. It appointed a new restructuring board which will focus on “the updating of statutes, the creation of transparency mechanisms, the integrity of volunteers, and holding democratic elections within 12 months.” The restructuring board comprises members of civil society, academic and business sectors under the leadership of businessman Ricardo Cusanno.
Se confirma la Junta Reestructuradora de nuestra Sociedad Nacional, que solicitará el acompañamiento de la @ifrc y el @icrc, se centrará en la actualización de estatutos, la creación de mecanismos de transparencia,
— Cruz Roja Venezolana (@CruzRojaVe) August 7, 2023
It was also announced that the board will request support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for holding the election.
Corporate origins of Red Cross
During the Italian Unification wars, the battle of Solferino took place in June 1859, and Swiss businessman Jean-Henri Dunant, who was on a business trip, organized emergency relief services for the wounded Austrians and French. His vision was that relief should reach the whole world, and he proposed the formation of voluntary relief societies in all countries.
In 1863, Dunant devised the International and Permanent Committee for the Relief of the Military Wounded in Time of War. On August 22 of the following year, the Geneva Convention was held as the first multilateral agreement on such societies, committing signatory governments to care for the wounded in war, irrespective of whether the wounded was friend or enemy.
In 1876, the organization officialized its name as the International Committee of the Red Cross. Dunant received the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. Over the 20th century, the convention was revised and expanded to protect victims of war at sea (1907), prisoners of war (1929), and civilians in wartime (1949).
More than 30 Islamic nations access the services of the Red Crescent. Its programs and services address both immediate and long-term needs, such as emergency response, disaster preparedness, community care and public health, first aid training and activities, restoring family contact for disaster victims, and youth and volunteer activities.
The Red Cross also prepares doctors and medical staff for military service and sends specialists to work with disaster survivors. It has won the Nobel Peace Prize three times, in 1917, 1944 and 1963.
During General Joaquín Crespo’s government in Venezuela, businessman Sir Vincent Kennett Barrington arrived in 1895. Apart from promoting the founding of a chamber of commerce for the private sector in Venezuela, he also founded the Venezuelan Red Cross Society. Its current headquarters is the Children’s Hospital in Caracas, which bears the name of physician Carlos J. Bello (1886-1933), the leading proponent of the Venezuelan Red Cross Society.
The US Congress placed the charity’s operations under “government supervision.” Eight of the 50 members of its board of governors are appointed by the US president, who also acts as its honorary chairperson. Currently, the US secretaries of State and Homeland Security are members of its board of governors.
The striking red emblem of the international NGO is printed on the sides of vehicles that appear in natural devastations, storms or fires all over the world to care for survivors. However, its history includes racist policies towards African Americans and corporatist mentalities towards human beings.
John Barry’s book Rising Tide documented how, during the Great Flood of 1927, US plantation owners refused to evacuate Black farm workers and sharecroppers from the Mississippi and Louisiana delta for fear that most would not return to their miserable slave-like conditions.
Instead, the Red Cross constructed “temporary housing” for the workers, which in reality were prison-like camps where racist, white National Guard members routinely beat the workers. In addition, the Red Cross gave “food aid” first to whites and, only if there was any left, was it given to Black survivors.
African American scientist Dr. Charles Drew was director of the institution’s Blood Bank in 1941 and developed techniques to store large quantities of blood before World War II. He resigned from his position after the US War Department ordered the segregation of blood from Black and white donors.
Although the organization did not refuse cash donations from Black people, it initially refused to accept blood donations from African Americans. Throughout WWII, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) investigated complaints from Black servicemen about racist treatment by the Red Cross. After the war, it eventually desegregated the blood supply nationwide but allowed its southern chapters to continue its segregationist policies through the 1960s.
A deadly example of its history was the response to the early stages of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. As the largest blood bank in some countries in the Global North, such as the United States and Canada, it made infected plasma transfusion to patients, adding to the HIV outbreak. Its blood banks refused HIV testing because of “financial cost.” In 2005, the Canadian Red Cross pleaded guilty to distributing contaminated plasma that infected thousands of Canadians with HIV and hepatitis C in the 1980s, prompting its withdrawal from supply in the late 1990s. But the American Red Cross, whose top administrators and officials almost always come from the boards of directors of large corporations or the military high command, never admitted to any wrongdoing.
Disasters, criticisms, and allegations
Several recent cases show that the Red Cross’ fundraising efficiency is greater than the operational optimality of its humanitarian responses. While the Red Cross has undoubtedly helped during disasters, there have also been dozens of criticisms and accusations against it for not publishing details of how it spends money during its operations.
- According to NBC News, after September 11, 2001, the American Red Cross CEO herself decried that people traumatized in the Twin Tower attack were initially treated cruelly at the organization’s “compassion centers” and that volunteers stood by and did nothing, comforting no one.
- Despite having enough blood available, the Red Cross solicited donations for a week. Of the more than 475,000 units that were generously given, only 258 were used, and the rest were destroyed.
- According to the New York Times, the American Red Cross did not open any shelter in the most affected areas until two days after Hurricane Katrina (2005). There were also allegations of racial insensitivity and “non-existent” aid.
- NPR reported that after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the organization spent $125 million—25% of donations—on internal expenses and then lied to the public and Congressional investigators about it. The resulting government report said, “There are substantial and fundamental concerns about [the Red Cross] as an organization.” Five years after the earthquake, it was impossible to know where the $500 million raised had gone. For example, in all that time, they had built only six permanent houses.
- ProPublica, an open information website, uncovered internal memos that called for funds to be diverted from relief efforts to “public relations purposes” during operations following Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy (2012). In addition, supervisors circulated dozens of empty relief trucks “just to be seen” and removed them from active duty for use as backdrops during Red Cross press conferences.
- In 2013, the American Red Cross helped its former executive, Gerald Anderson, get a job at Save the Children after he was ousted for sexually assaulting a female subordinate and was accused of raping another.
- In 2014, the American Red Cross refused to disclose how it raised and spent more than $300 million after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Instead, it hired a powerful law firm that argued that some spending details should be redacted as “trade secrets.” The organization did not specify who its competitors were.
- In 2019, under the coordination of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Chilean Red Cross participated in the attempted entry of weapons disguised as humanitarian aid into Venezuelan territory from Colombia. This operation was led by coup plotter Juan Guaidó as part of the United States’ regime change operation in Venezuela.
As for the current situation of the Venezuelan Red Cross, the investigation against Mario Villarroel continues. Villarroel had served as president of the Venezuelan Red Cross Society for over four decades. The accusations against him go beyond labor matters. Recently, National Assembly Deputy Diosdado Cabello alleged that Villarroel is involved in a conspiracy against the Bolivarian Revolution and is linked to a “judicial mafia.”
During the Guaidó project (2019-2022), the Venezuelan Red Cross Society bolstered the narrative of the “humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela, and its activities generate curiosity about the destination of the funds and supplies it received. USAID reports “close collaboration” between the US State Department, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to assist Venezuelan “displaced persons.” These resources amount to millions of dollars and are distributed in 17 countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Given the history, the reorganization of the Venezuelan Red Cross will remove the hands of foreign interests, a tool of interference and financing of national and foreign factors that live off the coup and permanent destabilization attempts.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
Misión Verdad is a Venezuelan investigative journalism website with a socialist perspective in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution
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