First shipment of Red Cross aid arrives in Venezuela

April 16, 2019 - 11:56 am

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The first shipment of humanitarian aid from the Red Cross arrived in Venezuela on Tuesday, delivering medicine and supplies for needy patients in a country whose president has long denied the existence of a humanitarian crisis.

Workers in blue vests helped load boxes with the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies emblem onto trucks while leaders with the organization pleaded for officials to keep the aid out of the nation's political dispute.

"It will be distributed in conformance with the fundamental principles of our movement, especially neutrality, impartiality and independence," said Mario Villarroel, president of the Venezuelan Red Cross. "Don't allow the politicization of this great achievement."

The delivery of international humanitarian aid has become a focal point in Venezuela's power struggle, now in its third month after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president. Both the opposition and the government have been accused of politicizing the nation's crisis, which rights groups say continues to cost lives as hospitals struggle to provide even basic care.

Guaido has rallied the international community and collected several hundred tons of aid, primarily from the United States, at the border in Colombia. But President Nicolas Maduro previously refused to allow the aid. In February, state security forces blocked border bridges and repressed opposition leaders trying to deliver the aid.

In late March, the Red Cross federation announced it would soon begin delivering assistance to an estimated 650,000 people and vowed that it would not accept interference from either side of the polarized country.

Nonetheless, Guaido quickly claimed credit for the effort, saying after the announcement that it marked a victory for "our struggle." Meanwhile, Maduro is now framing the delivery of aid from both the Red Cross and allies like China as a necessary measure to confront punishing U.S. economic sanctions.

The delivery of the aid marks a tacit recognition by Maduro that his country is indeed in the throes of a humanitarian crisis. He has long refuted the existence of such a crisis, likening it to a propaganda measure by the opposition.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded Venezuela's health system is in "utter collapse." It cited increased levels of maternal and infant mortality, the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and high levels of child malnutrition.

Villarroel said the aid delivered Tuesday consist of medicine and supplies including generators, which have become vital as the nation suffers from consistent blackouts that advocates say have resulted in dozens of deaths.

He said the aid will be distributed to various hospitals around the country and thanked both state and private institutions for helping get the aid in, while reiterating the organization's call to keep politics out.

"Our mandate is to help save lives," he said.

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