March 29, 2019 / 4:52 PM / 3 months ago

International Red Cross says it will channel aid to Venezuela

CARACAS (Reuters) - The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Friday it was prepared to channel humanitarian aid to Venezuela through an operation that could be similar to one in Syria, potentially helping ease chronic hunger and disease in the South American nation.

Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), attends a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela Mach 29, 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

President Nicolas Maduro in February blocked efforts by political opponents to bring U.S.-backed aid into the country across its borders with neighbouring Colombia and Brazil, and has for years denied the country was suffering a humanitarian crisis.

The involvement of the IFRC could signal that Maduro’s socialist government, which has been subjected to crippling U.S. sanctions, may allow in much-needed food and medicine.

Dozens of nations have recognised Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s rightful leader, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate. Guaido, who invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, led an unsuccessful effort to transport humanitarian aid into Venezuela from neighbouring Colombia and Brazil on Feb. 23.

The IFRC “can count on the legal and technical conditions to work in the country, to gain access to humanitarian aid that is so needed,” the group’s President Francesco Rocca told a press conference. “This obviously will not resolve the problems in Venezuela and nobody should assume this is a complete solution.”

The group within 15 days could begin providing assistance, and expects that it will initially be able to help 650,000 of the most needy citizens in the country of around 30 million inhabitants, he said.

The first supplies would include medical equipment, surgical kits and power generators, Rocca said, following two major blackouts this month.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The country’s hyperinflationary crisis has made food and medicine unaffordable for most citizens, fuelling widespread malnutrition, especially among children, and a rise in diseases that are preventable.

Industries Minister Tareck El Aissami was scheduled to hold a news conference on Friday afternoon at the country’s principal airport to discuss a shipment of medicine arriving from China, according to an email sent by the information ministry on Friday.

The Red Cross said it would not be involved in distributing that medication.

During the opposition’s February effort to bring aid in, troops loyal to Maduro repelled the U.S.-backed convoys, saying they were part of a veiled invasion led by Washington.

China, which has major oil investments in the country, continues to back Maduro and has offered to help his government improve the power supply.

Reporting by Caracas newsroom; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Tom Brown

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