First Red Cross aid arrives in Venezuela

  • 16 Apr 2019

The International Federation of Red Cross confirmed that medicine and supplies to treat patients landed in Caracas after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government gave approval.

In this image taken from video provided by the International Red Cross, airport employees unload the first shipment of humanitarian aid from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia, Venezuela. April 16, 2019. ( AFP )

The first shipment of Red Cross humanitarian aid arrived in crisis-wracked Venezuela on Tuesday following approval from President Nicolas Maduro's government, the organisation confirmed.

"It is with great joy and responsibility that we would like to reveal that right now the first Red Cross humanitarian aid shipment is entering Venezuela," said Mario Villarroel, president of the aid group's Venezuelan branch.

The shipment, which arrived at the airport serving Caracas, includes desperately needed medication, medical supplies, and power units "that will be distributed in various hospitals," added Villarroel.

Venezuela has suffered more than four years of recession marked by shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.

Supplies destined for Venezuela's long-suffering population formed the basis of a stand-off between Maduro and parliament speaker Juan Guaido, who launched a direct challenge to the president's authority in January.

Guaido has since been recognised by more than 50 countries, including the United States, as Venezuela's interim president.

But despite a highly-publicised campaign, he failed to force humanitarian aid stockpiled over the border in Colombia into the country after the military – which remains loyal to Maduro – blockaded a bridge crossing.

Maduro claimed the aid was nothing more than a smokescreen to cover a US-led invasion.

Last week, Maduro and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) came to an agreement to allow in the humanitarian aid.

Cardboard boxes bearing the symbols of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement were loaded by forklift onto trucks at the Maiquetia international airport, according to images shared on social media.

Francisco Valencia, president of the Coalition of Organizations for the Right to Health and Life, voiced concerns that "there is still no clarity over what aid is arriving" and whether or not it would help the "more than 300,000 people in Venezuela with a high-risk condition."

Public hospitals have struggled to treat patients due to shortages of antibiotics, bandages and respiratory equipment.

The government has been unable to import what the country needs due to a lack of liquidity, in part due to a sharp drop in its oil production – around a third of its level from 10 years ago – which accounts for 96 percent of its revenue, as well as US sanctions.

Maduro has repeatedly denied Venezuela is suffering from a humanitarian crisis and blames the US for the oil-rich South American country's economic woes.

Guaido blames government incompetence and corruption for his country's crisis.

Last month, the ICRC announced it would begin in early April the first phase of aid distribution to help 650,000 people.

ICRC president Francesco Rocca had said the operation would be "similar" to a previous one that delivered aid to Syria.

Villarroel urged both sides to avoid "politicising this great achievement."

Guaido ally Hasler Iglesias said that "everything will be distributed by the Red Cross. Neither us nor them [the government] are involved."

In a tweet, US Senator Marco Rubio, an outspoken critic of the Maduro regime, praised Guaido and the National Assembly he leads for the entry of aid.

The UN estimates that 3.7 million Venezuelans are malnourished and 22 percent of children younger than age five suffer from chronic malnourishment.

It also estimates that more than 2.7 million citizens have fled Venezuela since 2015.