Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, speaking at a news conference interrupted by power outages in the crisis-hit nation, lashed out at U.S.-led plans to deliver humanitarian aid after the first cargo trucks with food and medical supplies arrived at the Colombian border.
“This isn’t any help, it is a message to humiliate the people,” Mr. Maduro said Friday at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas. “The package is nice on the outside, bringing humanitarian aid. But on the inside there is the poison of humiliation.”
Foreign aid is at the center of a political showdown in Venezuela between Mr. Maduro’s embattled authoritarian government and opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized as Venezuela’s rightful president by the U.S. and more than 40 other countries, including Argentina, Brazil and Spain.
While presiding over Latin America’s worst humanitarian crisis in decades, Mr. Maduro has blocked foreign aid, arguing that allowing it into Venezuela would pave the way for a U.S. military invasion. He blames the country’s economic collapse on U.S. meddling and domestic opponents, but economists say it is due to his heavy-handed policies, including price and currency controls and expropriations that have squeezed out the private sector.
Mr. Guaidó has called for humanitarian assistance to alleviate severe shortages of food and basic medicine that has forced millions of Venezuelans to flee abroad amid the world’s highest inflation. The opposition also hopes the arrival of aid can be used to convince military officials to abandon Mr. Maduro and remove him from power.
In the Colombian border city of Cúcuta on Friday, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, warned Venezuelan military officials about enforcing Mr. Maduro’s orders to prohibit the entry of the trucks, which arrived a day earlier.
“The decision you make will be remembered by your moms, your sisters, your daughters,” he said speaking from a podium at the Tienditas international bridge, which the Venezuelan government blocked with trucks. “What you see here is the first shipment of what we hope to be a great flood of humanitarian relief for the Venezuelan people.”
U.S. officials said they wouldn’t try to force the aid into Venezuela, risking a confrontation with the military, while opposition politicians said they were making every effort to ensure a peaceful entry.
But Mr. Whitaker cited President Trump’s comment that “no option is off the table.”
U.S. and opposition officials also called on other countries to send donations, which they hoped could be carried into Venezuela at several border points in the coming days and weeks.
“We will put points like this all around the Venezuelan border,” Jose Olivares, a Venezuelan opposition congressman, said in Cúcuta as he pointed to a warehouse storing food and other products. “As soon as possible.”
Nonprofit organizations in Venezuela say a lot more foreign assistance will be needed to help people survive in an economy that has contracted by nearly half since Mr. Maduro took office in 2013.
“This help is welcome but it isn’t going to alleviate the crisis in Venezuela,” said Francisco Valencia, director of Caracas-based health-sector watchdog Codevida. “Venezuela will need a lot more help.”
At the warehouse, Venezuelan volunteers and Colombian government workers packed the items into thousands of plastic sacks, each meant to feed a family of five for one week.
The U.S. said it had enough locally bought food—flour, rice, oil, and lentils—to feed 5,000 Venezuelans for 10 days, and enough hygiene supplies for 7,500 Venezuelans for 10 days. It also brought special supplements for malnourished children and emergency medical kits, while saying more supplies were ready to be delivered from Miami and Houston.
Omaira Perez, a 44-year-old former cook from Venezuela’s second city of Valencia, joined protesters in Cúcuta upset that Mr. Maduro is blocking aid.
“I don’t even have words for him. How can a person be so unreasonable,” she said. “Our families there are suffering from hunger.”
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