The United States is sending food and medical supplies to Colombia's border with Venezuela where it will be stockpiled until it can be delivered to the economically shattered nation, U.S. officials with knowledge of the plan said on Tuesday.
One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the aid would be prepositioned at the main Colombian-Venezuelan border crossing at Cucuta. It is unclear how the aid will get to Venezuela without the blessing of President Nicolas Maduro and cooperation of the Venezuelan military, which has remained loyal to the socialist leader and is stationed on the Venezuelan side of the border.
The U.S. officials said trucks carrying the humanitarian aid were headed to Cucuta at the request of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who last month declared himself to be the South American nation's interim president. Pressure is growing on Maduro to step down after more than a dozen European Union nations, including Britain, Germany and France, on Monday joined the United States, Canada and a group of Latin American countries in recognizing Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate leader.
However Russia, China and Turkey continue to back Maduro, accusing Western nations of meddling in Venezuela's internal affairs. The 35-year-old Guaido, the head of Venezuela's National Assembly, has galvanized the opposition with a hopeful message.
He has repeatedly called on Venezuela's military, which has remained loyal to Maduro, to support a transition to democracy. The United States could attempt to seek the approval of the United Nations Security Council to deliver aid without Maduro's cooperation, but Russia could block such a move.
FLOW OF MIGRANTS
Maduro's government, overseeing an economic collapse that has prompted 3 million Venezuelans to flee the country, lashed out at the EU nations, saying their move would affect relations with Caracas. In a statement, it accused them of submitting to a U.S. "strategy to overthrow the legitimate government" and singled out Spain, which had previously led mediation efforts, for acting "cowardly."
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told an audience in Miami on Friday that the United States was ready to deliver aid to Venezuelans. "The United States of America stands ready to deliver humanitarian aid to the Venezuelan people in Venezuela as well," Pence told a crowd of Venezuelan exiles. "We are prepared to work with the provisional government of Venezuela, the National Assembly and President Guaido."
With almost no information about how aid will be distributed, the Cucuta crossing from Venezuela appeared to be quiet on Tuesday. The largest city along the frontier, Cucuta has borne the brunt of the arriving migrants. Thousands of people cross the pedestrian bridge daily lugging suitcases and plastic bags.
"Maduro doesn't want help," said Carolina Rozo, 20, as she crossed the bridge with a wheeled metal shopping cart. "He wants us to be poor. We have to come to buy food because we cannot even get cooking oil and eggs in Venezuela." Those who settle in Cucuta are often Venezuela's poorest. Others walk and bus hundreds of kilometres to other cities in Colombia, or follow thousands of others to Brazil, Peru, Chile and Argentina.
(With inputs from agencies.)