San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Maduro consents to allow aid for hunger, pandemic
CARACAS, Venezuela — For a second time this month, President Nicolás Maduro has reached an agreement with the sort of global aid agencies he has often shunned to bring help to his country’s people.
Maduro last week signed a deal to let the United Nations World Food Program provide school meals for 1.5 million children. It follows an agreement worked out with another agency to access COVID19 vaccines under a U.N.backed program.
Maduro for years had rejected numerous humanitarian aid offers as unnecessary and as veiled attempts by the United States and other hostile forces to destabilize his socialist government. That stance appears to have wavered amid continuing hardships.
“I’m ready … as president of the republic to move boldly forward in signing new projects, new agreements and new food plans that put life, nutrition, protein and development at the center of the entire Venezuelan family,” Maduro said after signing the school lunch initiative.
Venezuela has been vaccinating part of its population with the Russian Sputnik vaccine and the Chinese Sinopharm. But Maduro’s government on April 10 announced it had covered a $64 million downpayment to join the U.N.backed COVAX vaccine program — a step that had been delayed by the fact that the U.S. and several other nations had stripped his government of control over its foreign assets held within their borders.
The U.S. and about 60 other countires instead recognize Maduro’s chief rival, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, as the country’s legitimate ruler — putting his hand on Venezuela’s purse strings. Weeks before Maduro’s vaccine announcement, Guaidó and a group of former members of the National Assembly agreed to ask the U.S. Department of the Treasury to release a portion of the frozen funds to pay for COVAX access.
“Clearly, the situation has gotten to a point where it’s more of an advantage for Maduro to pose with the head of the World Food Program than it is a weakness,” said Jacqueline Bhabha, professor of the practice of health and human rights at Harvard University.
Both Maduro and Guaidó tweeted images — separate ones — of themselves with David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program.