Venezuela protestors in Caracas confront state police. Photo credit: Ruben Alfonzo

Venezuela’s Maduro continues to block US aid

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Hostilities between Venezuela and US ramp up in efforts to get food and other supplies to a nation on the brink of collapse. Despite starving citizens, Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, refuses outside intervention from the West.

On Saturday, Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Roselló released a statement reporting that Venezuela responded with aggressive actions at their attempt to deliver humanitarian aid via a shipping vessel.

“We have been informed that the ship from the Venezuelan navy threatened to open fire against #BarcoPuertoRico, a ship that is carrying humanitarian aid to our Venezuelan brothers and sisters in need. This is a direct threat against a humanitarian mission being carried out by American citizens.”

In investigating the incident, a state department spokesperson said, “We are looking into reports of this latest threat by Maduro against persons trying to deliver humanitarian aid to the Venezuelan people. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time.”

Aid to a starving nation: Is it humanitarian or politics?

Venezuela’s response is a continuous rejection of outside aid, and in particular, from countries in support of Juan Guáido, the self-declared interim president. Guáido is gaining support to lead the country until it carries out free and fair elections. All the while, Maduro closed the country’s borders that it shares with Brazil and Columbia.

This weekend, Venezuelan troops blocked a convoy of aid entering the country through Columbia-Venezuela nation lines by setting it on fire.

The Telegraph UK reports 300 injured and four killed in the clashes between military and persons delivering goods in the town of Ureña, which shares a border with Columbia.

Since 2016, Columbia has offered visas to Venezuelans seeking refuge from the country’s humanitarian crisis. Venezuela’s economy has been volatile since the death of former president Hugo Chávez in 2013. The economic crisis rocked the oil-rich country when too much oil extraction caused the global price to drop in 2016.

Venezuela’s depression led to a continual food shortage that left millions hungry and ultimately, experiencing acute malnutrition. Currently, the average adult citizen has lost 20 pounds (9 kg) and infant mortality increases rapidly. Hospitals are do not have bare essentials such as alcohol, bandages and sometimes even lighting.

The statement by Roselló ramps up talks from the White House that they are preparing to take military actions. Last month, a snapshot of a legal notepad belonging to national security advisor, John Bolton, showed possible U.S. plans to send 5,000 troops to Columbia.

Roselló has not provided an explanation detailing how Puerto Rico was able to provide aid when the island still is recovering from severe hurricane damage in 2017. One of the issues was the federal government’s limited support for islanders who went without basic necessities such as lighting and clean water, for almost year.

What has been discovered is that the boat was not owned by Puerto Rico government, but is registered with the South Pacific island-nation of Vanuatu. On the carrier were journalists, crew and civilians. A tweet by one of the passengers shows the flying of three flags: US, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

Perhaps odder than Puerto Rico’s shipment of aid is the charity run by British entrepreneur billionaire Richard Bronson. On February 22 he hosted a live aid concert to provide humanitarian support to Venezuela. According to Bronson, the efforts will go towards food, medical supplies and other items that are scarce. The goal is to raise $100 million dollars in 60 days.

In a post explaining his mission, he recognized Guáido as the president of Venezuela.

UN and American Red Cross disagree with Bronson’s efforts citing issues of involving himself in tense political affairs.

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