Venezuelan Gov’t Authorizes Expansion of Red Cross Aid

Opposition leader Guaido claimed “victory” but government spokespeople say the move has “nothing to do” with US efforts to force in “humanitarian aid.”

By Lucas Koerner
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The Red Cross has repeatedly criticized efforts to “politicize” humanitarian efforts in the South American country. (Reuters)
The Red Cross has repeatedly criticized efforts to “politicize” humanitarian efforts in the South American country. (Reuters)

Caracas, April 1, 2019 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s Maduro government has reached an agreement with the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) to scale up the humanitarian organization’s activities in the Caribbean country.

On Friday, IFRC President Francesco Rocca announced that in two weeks the body will start distributing vital food and medicine to 650,000 people in coordination with Venezuelan authorities.

"We estimate that in a period of approximately 15 days we will be ready to offer help. We hope to help 650,000 people at first,” Rocca said during a press conference in Caracas.

The IFRC chief also decried what he described as the politicization of aid, compromising the humanitarian commitment to “impartiality, neutrality and independence.”

“The distribution of aid is the responsibility of only the Red Cross,” Rocca stated. “This society is very divided and we cannot jeopardize our mission.”

In February, the Red Cross together with the United Nations voiced similar criticisms vis-a-vis the US government’s efforts to force aid across the Venezuelan-Colombian border on February 23, stating that the operation could not be labeled “humanitarian” given its political motives. In particular, the IFRC vociferously protested the use of its own insignia on the aid trucks operated by Venezuelan opposition militants.

The organization’s local affiliate currently operates eight hospitals in Venezuela and coordinates a network of 2,500 volunteers nationwide. The Red Cross had previously announced plans to bring its 2019 Venezuela budget to around US $18 million in February, before increasing the amount to around $60 million last week.

According to the New York Times, the organization now has a diplomatic waiver necessary to directly deliver medical supplies, which will include power generators for all hospitals whose services have been strained by a recent spate of national blackouts.

Self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaido reacted to the news, claiming the aid delivery as an opposition “victory” in which the government “recognised its failure by accepting the existence of a complex humanitarian emergency.”

The opposition legislator was, however, rebuked by National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello who said the IFRC’s initiative came about as a result of an agreement with the Maduro administration.

“This has nothing to do with them [the opposition] having tried to cross [the border] with some trucks and they burnt them…This has to do with a disposition by the national government together with the Red Cross,” he asserted Saturday, referencing the infamous incident involving torched aid trucks on February 23.

The US government and the opposition had blamed the burning of the trucks, which were attempting to force their way across the Simon Bolivar Bridge connecting Venezuela and Colombia, on Venezuelan state security forces. However, an investigation by the New York Times later revealed that the fire was caused by Molotov cocktail-wielding opposition protesters.

The announcement by the IFRC comes as the Maduro government welcomed the arrival of 65 tons of medicine and medical supplies from China Friday, including antibiotics, analgesics, and key surgical provisions.

The aid comes weeks after the arrival on February 14 of 933 tons of medical supplies from China, Cuba, and Russia as part of agreements signed by the Venezuelan government.

Likewise in November, Caracas signed an accord with the UN’s Central Emergency Resource Fund for US $9.2 million in funding to alleviate the nutritional and health impact of the country’s severe economic crisis.

Edited and with additional reporting by Ricardo Vaz from Caracas.

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