US planes land near Venezuela border with aid

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY FER­NANDO VER­GARA, GISELA SALOMON AND FABI­OLA SANCHEZ As­so­ci­ated Press

The U.S. mil­i­tary air­lifted tons of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to a Colom­bian town on the Venezue­lan border Satur­day as part of an ef­fort meant to un­der­mine so­cial­ist Pres­i­dent Nico­las Maduro and back his ri­val for the lead­er­ship of the South Amer­i­can na­tion.

Two of three sched­uled Air Force C-17 cargo planes that took off from Homestead Air Re­serve Base in Florida had landed in Cu­cuta. That border city, swollen by a flood of mi­grants from Venezuela, is a col­lec­tion point for aid that’s sup­posed to be dis­trib­uted by sup­port­ers of Juan Guaido, the con­gres­sional leader who is rec­og­nized by the U.S. and many other na­tions as Venezuela’s le­git­i­mate pres­i­dent. He has called for the aid.

“This wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last,” said USAID Ad­min­is­tra­tor Mark Green, stand­ing on the tar­mac in Cu­cuta at a cer­e­mony to re­ceive the aid. “More is on the way.”

Com­mer­cial planes had been used for ear­lier ship­ments of aid, which is aimed at dra­ma­tiz­ing the eco­nomic cri­sis – in­clud­ing hy­per­in­fla­tion and short­ages of food and medicine – grip­ping Venezuela. Crit­ics say last year’s re-elec­tion was fraud­u­lent, mak­ing Maduro’s sec­ond term il­le­gal.

“We are sav­ing lives with these air­planes,” said Lestor Toledo, an ex­iled politi­cian who is co­or­di­nat­ing the in­ter­na­tional aid ef­fort for Guaido.

Maduro has been us­ing the mil­i­tary, which re­mains loyal, to help him block the aid from en­ter­ing Venezuela, de­scrib­ing it as “crumbs” from a U.S. gov­ern­ment whose re­stric­tions have stripped his ad­min­is­tra­tion of con­trol over many of its most valu­able as­sets.

“They hang us, steal our money and then say ‘here, grab these crumbs’ and make a global show out of it,” Maduro said Thurs­day. “With dig­nity we say ‘No to the global show.’ Who­ever wants to help Venezuela is wel­come, but we have enough ca­pac­ity to pay for ev­ery­thing that we need.”

His vice pres­i­dent has al­leged, with­out ev­i­dence, that the aid pack­ages are con­tam­i­nated. Green on Satur­day called the al­le­ga­tions “ab­surd.”

FER­NANDO VER­GARA AP

Aid flown in on U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo planes is loaded on a truck at Camilo Daza air­port in Cu­cuta, Colom­bia.

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