A new flashpoint in Venezuela: U.S. plan to ship aid ‘for the people’

People gather in Caracas, Venezuela, to support opposition leader Juan Guaido on Jan. 30, 2019. The sign reads: "Enough with hunger and death! For the people while the corrupt squander. Humanitarian aid. No to the violation of human rights."
(Adriana Loureiro Fernandez / For The Times)

A U.S. decision to send humanitarian aid to Venezuela in coordination with the country’s opposition could test the loyalty of the Latin nation’s armed forces.

The military’s top brass has pledged allegiance to the government of President Nicolas Maduro, who has rejected receiving aid from a country that he accuses of mounting a “coup” against him.

But opposition leader Juan Guaido, who requested the assistance, has urged the military to allow the aid in, a sentiment backed by U.S. policymakers.


“Military & police leaders in #Venezuela must now decide to either help food & medicine reach people, or help #Maduro instead,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote Sunday on Twitter. Rubio has been deeply involved in the Trump administration’s Venezuela policy.

Despite its vast oil wealth, Venezuela has long suffered from food and medicine shortages —a problem that the opposition attributes to what it calls the incompetence and corruption of Maduro’s government, while Maduro blames a U.S.-led “economic war” and “blockade.”

Guaido, the opposition lawmaker whom the Trump administration last month recognized as the country’s “interim” president, told a rally Saturday that U.S. aid would be arriving “in the coming days” via three nations, neighboring Colombia and Brazil and an unspecified Caribbean country. But Guaido’s self-proclaimed acting government controls no territory or government institutions.

“You soldier[s] will have in your hands the possibility that this humanitarian aid enter into the country,” Guaido said Saturday at a mass opposition demonstration, during which he also called on the armed forces to switch loyalties to his acting government.

Maduro—whose authority Washington says it no longer recognizes-- has denounced the idea of U.S. aid as hypocritical.

“Venezuela is not a country of beggars,” Maduro told supporters at a pro-government rally here Saturday, calling Venezuela a “country of dignity and honor.” The opposition “has sought humanitarian aid when the United States’ blockade is the reason that [Venezuela] cannot acquire medicines and food,” Maduro said.


In a Twitter message on Friday, John Bolton, the U.S. national security advisor, said that Washington would be sending medicine, surgical supplies and nutritional supplements “for the people of Venezuela.”

On Saturday, Mark Green, who heads the U.S. Agency for International Development, posted on Twitter photos of stacked boxes of aid, including “tons of Ready-to-Use Supplementary Foods (RUSF) for malnourished children.”

Jorge Arreaza, the Venezuelan foreign minister, dismissed the U.S. aid plan as “inhuman” and “cynical” in a Twitter response [link in Spanish].

Mogollon is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell contributed to this report.