Planes land near Venezuela bor­der

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Fer­nando Vergara, Gisela Salomon and Fabiola Sanchez

U.S. mil­i­tary air­lifted tons of aid to a Colom­bian bor­der town in ef­fort to un­der­mine Ni­co­las Maduro.

CU­CUTA, Colom­bia — The U.S. mil­i­tary air­lifted tons of aid to a Colom­bian town on the Venezue­lan bor­der on Satur­day as part of an ef­fort meant to un­der­mine so­cial­ist Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro and back his ri­val to 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.

“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.

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 re­elec­tion was fraud­u­lent, mak­ing Maduro’s sec­ond term il­le­gal.

“We are sav­ing lives with these air­planes,” said Lestor Toledo, an ex­iled politi­cian 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 told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Thurs­day. “With dig­nity we say ‘No to the global show.’ ”

His vice pres­i­dent has al­leged, with­out ev­i­dence, that the aid pack­ages are con­tam­i­nated.

Satur­day’s 180-ton ship­ment in­cludes high-en­ergy food prod­ucts or hy­giene kits of soap, tooth­paste and other goods for more than 25,000 peo­ple.

Guaido spoke to a crowd of sup­port­ers gath­ered in eastern Cara­cas on Satur­day and vowed to form car­a­vans of ac­tivists to reach the bor­der and bring in aid on Jan. 23. He also called for peo­ple to gather in ci­ties across the coun­try to re­ceive the aid — and called for the armed forces to al­low it into the coun­try.

In the crowd was Ani­brez Peroza, a 40-year-old nurse, who said she was ready if nec­es­sary to go to Cu­cuta in a car­a­van to bring in the aid.

“We have to do some­thing to save so many peo­ple who are suf­fer­ing and dy­ing for lack of medicine,” she said. Peroza wept as she de­scribed a de­hy­drated child dy­ing in her arms for lack of a catheter to re­hy­drate him.

The U.S. and wide­spread Euro­pean recog­ni­tion of Guaido com­pli­cates Maduro’s ef­forts to find funds to keep his gov­ern­ment run­ning.

The U.S. has placed Venezuela’s U.S. as­sets, in­clud­ing oil com­pany Citgo, un­der Guaido’s con­trol while ban­ning fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions by Maduro­con­trolled en­ti­ties. Scores of Venezue­lan of­fi­cials also face per­sonal fi­nan­cial sanc­tions in the United States.

RAUL AR­BOLEDA/GETTY-AFP

One of three U.S. mil­i­tary air­crafts car­ry­ing tons of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid for Venezuela and aid work­ers are seen on the tar­mac at an air­port in Cu­cuta, Colom­bia, on Satur­day.

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