US aid for Venezuela arrives in Colombia, but delivery uncertain

US aid for Venezuela arrives in Colombia, but delivery uncertain

Juan Guaidó calls on military to let supplies in, but President Maduro denies any crisis

A US military transport plane carrying humanitarian aid meant for Venezuela has landed in the Colombian border city of Cúcuta, where food and medicine is being stored amid uncertainty over how and where aid will be distributed.

The shipment on Saturday is the second arrival of large-scale US and international aid for Venezuelans, many of whom have scant access to food and medicine, since the opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president last month in defiance of the socialist president, Nicolás Maduro.

Guaidó has said aid will enter Venezuela on 23 February. But it remains unclear whether Maduro, who has called the aid a US-orchestrated show and denies any crisis, will allow the supplies to cross into Venezuela.

The acting US defence secretary, Patrick Shanahan, said on Saturday the US used military aircraft to send aid to the Venezuelan border in Colombia because of the urgency of the humanitarian needs. “It’s a message to Venezuela that we are supporting their humanitarian needs,” Shanahan said, adding the aid was being transported by three C-17 aircraft.

Speaking in the capital, Caracas, to supporters who had volunteered to help with the aid effort, Guaidó said he would announce details on Monday about how he planned to get aid into the country from Colombia, Brazil and Curaçao despite Maduro’s opposition.

“We will organise ourselves into brigades,” Guaidó said, calling on the military to allow the aid through. “The message we have to get through to the armed forces is that they have one week to do the right thing. Will you be on the side of your family and your people or of the usurper who keeps lying?”

Millions of Venezuelans will be travelling to the border to safeguard arriving aid, Lester Toledo, a Guaidó representative, said at a news conference in Cúcuta.

“We are seven days from this being a reality,” Toledo said. “We are going to have the accompaniment of people, of hundreds of thousands, of millions of Venezuelans that our president, Juan Guaidó, has called upon, who we have asked to go to the border dressed in white as a sign of peace.”

A US official told Reuters the aid delivered on Saturday amounted to more than 200 tonnes but a US embassy representative said they had no measurements of the shipment. Toledo said three planes would eventually arrive.

The supplies, including hygiene kits and special products meant for children suffering from malnutrition, are arriving from a US Air Force base in Florida, the US embassy said in a statement. Additional aid flights will take place over the coming days, the statement said, and medical supplies and pharmaceuticals meant for use in hospitals will arrive early next week.

The first aid shipment, which included basic foodstuffs and medical supplies, arrived on 7 February and is being stored in a Cúcuta warehouse.

Two bridges outside Cúcuta that mark the border between the two countries were open as normal on Saturday. A bridge outside Tienditas, Venezuela, which has never been used, remains blocked on the Venezuelan side by shipping containers.

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