Un­der­stand­ing aid stand­off

Mil­lions of Venezue­lans have mi­grated; those left be­hind strug­gle to af­ford food and medicine.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Scott Smith

CARACAS, Venezuela — Op­po­si­tion law­maker Juan Guaido de­clared him­self Venezuela’s in­terim pres­i­dent last month, vow­ing to oust Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro from power and end the once-wealthy na­tion’s deep­en­ing po­lit­i­cal and hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

Mil­lions of Venezue­lans have mi­grated, and those left be­hind strug­gle to af­ford scarce sup­plies of food and medicine. Guaido called upon the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid. The world watches now whether Maduro’s gov­ern­ment will let the first ship­ments from United States cross its bor­ders.

How did we get here?

De­spite hav­ing the world’s largest oil re­serves, Venezuela is in a his­toric cri­sis af­ter 20 years of so­cial­ist rule launched by the late Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez. Dozens of po­lit­i­cal par­ties that make up Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion have failed to mount a vi­able po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge.

Crit­ics ac­cuse Maduro, Chavez’s hand-picked suc­ces­sor, of un­fairly win­ning an elec­tion last year for a sec­ond six-year term by ban­ning his pop­u­lar ri­vals from run­ning. Some an­tiMaduro lead­ers are jailed and oth­ers have fled Venezuela fear­ing for their safety.

Last month, the 35-yearold Guaido was named leader of the op­po­si­tion­con­trolled Na­tional Assem­bly. He’s man­aged to rally masses of Venezue­lans into the streets to show their sup­port, and he’s won back­ing from nearly 50 coun­tries world­wide, in­clud­ing the United States.

How does aid fit in?

Of­fers of hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance are com­ing in Venezue­lan Bo­li­var­ian Army sol­diers guard the Tien­di­tas In­ter­na­tional Bridge that links Colom­bia and Venezuela.

from around the world. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fered Guaido’s in­terim pres­i­dency an ini­tial $20 mil­lion in sup­port and Guaido says the aid will come in through neigh­bor­ing Colom­bia, Brazil and as yet uniden­ti­fied Caribbean is­lands.

The first ship­ment in­cludes food kits for 5,000 Venezue­lans and high-pro­tein nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments that can treat an es­ti­mated 6,700 young chil­dren with mod­er­ate mal­nu­tri­tion. It ar­rived at the Colom­bian border city of Cu­cuta, where vol­un­teers are bag­ging them in preparation for at­tempts to bring them across the border.

The boxes of emer­gency aid came from the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment, and are marked with USAID la­bels.

What’s Maduro say­ing?

Maduro has re­fused the aid, dis­avow­ing any hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis and say­ing Venezuela is not a coun­try of beg­gars. He’s of­fered to try to re­solve the po­lit­i­cal im­passe in a di­a­logue with op­po­si­tion lead­ers, which crit­ics call a stalling tac­tic that has failed to lead to any changes.

More de­fi­antly, the so­cial­ist pres­i­dent con­tends that the aid is part of a U.S.-led coup against him,

with a goal to col­o­nize Venezuela and ex­ploit its vast oil re­sources. The Venezue­lan mil­i­tary has bar­ri­caded a bridge con­nect­ing the two na­tions with a tanker and two cargo trail­ers in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to block the aid.

What’s the op­po­si­tion’s next move?

It’s un­clear what will break the stand­off play­ing out at the Venezuela-Colom­bia border. U.S. Am­bas­sador to Colom­bia Kevin Whi­taker said the U.S. will get sup­plies to the border, and Guaido will take it from there.

Guaido has given few de­tails of his strat­egy, but says the food and sup­plies will reach Venezuela’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in the next few days. Lester Toledo, who rep­re­sents Guaido in the aid mis­sion in Cu­cuta, is­sued a mes­sage to Venezue­lan troops, telling them the aid con­tains food and medicine their own fam­i­lies need.

Toledo sug­gested one strat­egy: A mass mo­bi­liza­tion of his coun­try­men rem­i­nis­cent of how in 2016 a large group of Venezue­lan women dressed in white and in­tent on cross­ing the closed border with Colom­bia made their way through a line of na­tional guards­men in or­der to buy food on the other side.


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