US Planes Land Near Venezuela With Aid 02/17 10:12
CUCUTA, Colombia (AP) -- 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.
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 told The Associated Press on 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."
Saturday's 180-ton shipment includes high-energy food products or hygiene
kids 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
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, and its own food programs,
The U.S. has placed Venezuela's U.S. assets, including oil company Citgo,
under Guaido's control and bans financial transactions by Maduro-controlled
entities. Scores of Venezuelan officials also face personal financial sanctions
in the United States.