CUCUTA, Colombia—A shipment of humanitarian aid from the United States landed in this Colombian border city Saturday as part of efforts in response to the crisis in neighboring Venezuela.
The United States Agency for International Development and the State Department coordinated the shipment, which was flown on three military planes from Florida. The C-17 planes arrived in Cucuta Saturday afternoon and were met by USAID Administrator Mark Green and representatives of Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader who is recognized as interim president by the U.S. and nearly 60 other countries.
The three planes carried around 180 tons of aid. Flights will continue next week, said Steve Olive, assistant administrator for Latin America at USAID.
The aid from the United States has primarily gone to Cucuta but “plans are in the works” to position some in Curacao.
Olive said USAID plans to participate in the distribution of the aid inside Venezuela, “once it is safe” to do so. USAID officials are coordinating daily with Guaido’s team and relying on them to identify groups inside Venezuela that could distribute the aid to those in need. But so far, he said, there’s fear among these groups that they could be targeted by the regime of Nicolas Maduro, who also claims the presidency.
“That’s why Maduro and the military need to stand down,” Olive said.
The delivery of international humanitarian aid to Venezuelans has become a test of power for Guaido. At an international conference held in Washington Friday, his representatives announced the commitment of several countries to raise $100 million. The United States has allocated close to $140 million to support countries such as Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Panama, among others, which have given refuge to more than 3 million Venezuelans who fled the country in search of food, medicine and work.
The day after Guaido claimed the presidency Jan. 23, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an additional $20 million for humanitarian aid and there will be more, Elliot Abrams, the special envoy for Venezuela at the State Department, said in Washington.
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The aid shipment includes high energy nutritional food to treat an estimated 3,500 malnourished children for two months. It also contains hygiene kits with toothpaste, sanitary towels, soap and other personal hygiene products. Aid already in Cucuta includes medical emergency kits in addition to food and hygiene products.
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Lester Toledo, appointed by Guaido to oversee the distribution of humanitarian aid, said help will reach Venezuela from aid collection points set up in three countries: Brazil, Colombia and Curacao. The aid will arrive from that Caribbean island to the state of Falcon in northwestern Venezuela.
Toledo said he was moved by the “tsunami of humanitarian aid” that the international community and the United States have organized.
The distribution plan within Venezuela includes a commission from the National Assembly, several churches, nongovernmental organizations and a group of volunteers who would provide transportation to move aid throughout the country, Toledo said. The Assembly commission has already conducted a preliminary study on which drugs are most needed and which hospitals should get help first. Organizers plan to use the networks of soup kitchens run by churches for the distribution of food.
According to USAID, the money allocated to support countries that have taken in Venezuelan refugees has been used to help pay for soup kitchens, the vaccination of 300 Venezuelans daily, medical treatment, food and other things. The humanitarian aid that the U.S. is currently storing in Colombia includes fortified foods, first aid kits and personal hygiene items.
Maduro has blocked the entry of humanitarian aid claiming that it is an excuse by the United States to launch a military intervention. Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez has said the U.S. aid accumulating in Cucuta and other collection centers is “contaminated and poisoned, it’s carcinogenic.”
To show that Venezuela did not need medicines, despite its severe shortage in the country, Health Minister Carlos Alvarado announced the arrival Wednesday of more than 900 tons of medical products, mainly from China and Cuba.
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