US military planes carrying aid arrive near Venezuelan border

US military planes carrying aid arrive near Venezuelan border
US military planes carrying aid arrive near Venezuelan border. picture-alliance/AP Photo/F. Vergara
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Two US Air Force cargo planes landed in the Colombian city of Cucuta on Saturday. The shipment is part of self-declared interim President Juan Guaido's plan to deliver humanitarian assistance to the country. He said aid deliveries would begin on February 23.

Cucuta, a border city that has been near the epicenter of Venezuela's migrant crisis, has been designated as one of several collection points in the opposition's aid strategy.

The humanitarian aid strategy is the most recent battleground in the ongoing power struggle between Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro and Guaido, who has been recognized by the US, Germany and a wide range of other nations as Venezuela's legitimate president.

Read more: Venezuela's humanitarian crisis sets stage for political showdown

"This wasn't the first, and it won't be the last," Mark Green, administrator of USAID, said of the aid in Cucuta. "More is on the way."

Lester Toledo, an exiled politician appointed by Guaido to coordinate the aid effort, was with Green. "We are saving lives with these airplanes," Toledo said.

Saturday's shipment included 180 tons of basic-needs items, such as high-energy food products, soap, toothpaste and other goods for more than 25,000 people.

Read more: 'Time running out for Nicolas Maduro,' Venezuela's Juan Guaido tells DW

New volunteer initiative

Guaido spoke to a crowd of supporters in eastern Caracas on Saturday and touted the humanitarian support, encouraging citizens to participate in the efforts.

His interim government has sought to coordinate the incoming humanitarian efforts through a program called "Volunteers for Venezuela." The plan allows people to help in various ways, from helping disseminate information on social media to participating in delivery operations on the ground.

On Twitter, Guaido said 600,000 people had so far signed up for his volunteer program, though he did not specify in what capacity.

"The entire country calls on the Venezuelan army to side with the people, to let the humanitarian aid get through, because this is also for them, for their families. Help us save lives!" Guaido wrote, in one of a series of tweets on the subject.

Read more: How long can Maduro hold on?

Maduro: 'We are not beggars'

Maduro held a rally on Friday to announce his own aid efforts, saying that 6 million families had received subsidized food boxes. The embattled leader said he bought 933 tons of medicines and supplies from China, Cuba and Russia, three nations that currently back his regime.

"We paid for it with our own money because we're beggars to no one," Maduro said.

Read more: Opinion: A new Cold War in Venezuela?

In lieu of Guaido's humanitarian push, Maduro has asked the military to reinforce the border and denounced the aid as a "booby trap" and a cover for a planned US military invasion.

"They hang us, steal our money and then say 'here, grab these crumbs' and make a global show out of it," Maduro told The Associated Press on Thursday, in reference to how the US has hurt his government financially.

The White House has placed Venezuela's US assets, including oil company Citgo, under Guaido's control and has banned financial transactions by Maduro-controlled entities. A large number of Venezuelan officials have also faced personal financial sanctions in the US.

jcg/sms (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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