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It's Unclear How Humanitarian Aid Will Get To Those Who Need It In Venezuela


The U.S., Canada and other countries in the region are vowing to send humanitarian aid to the Venezuelan people. The question is, how will they get supplies into the country? They're trying to help national assembly President Juan Guaido, who's locked in a power struggle with leader Nicolas Maduro. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Mark Green, has been tweeting pictures of food aid meant, he says, for malnourished children in Venezuela. And he's been meeting with Juan Guaido's representatives in Washington to figure out how to bring in what the U.S. is promising will be $20 million in assistance. In Canada today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chaired a meeting of the group of regional countries backing Guaido.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Canada is stepping up and announcing $53 million to address the most pressing needs of Venezuelans on the ground, including the almost 3 million refugees.

KELEMEN: There's been a lot of talk about moving aid into Venezuela from Colombia. That's where Christian Visnes is based for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

CHRISTIAN VISNES: We haven't seen any buildup of aid on the border these last few days. Of course, we have noticed the talk. And there's quite a bit of concern of the impact of that.

KELEMEN: The concern is that a big new aid operation could look too political in a country where there's now essentially two competing presidents, Nicolas Maduro and the one the U.S. is backing, Juan Guaido. Visnes, speaking via Skype, says aid groups need to stay neutral.

VISNES: There is a very tense political situation in the region. We, as humanitarian organizations, we are impartial. We are neutral. And it's important for us that humanitarian aid, assisting people in need, are clearly separated from any political process that is ongoing.

KELEMEN: That concern is echoed by Patricia McIlreavy of InterAction, an umbrella organization of U.S. aid groups. She says it's not clear how the U.S. plans to get aid into Venezuela, and U.S. officials aren't giving details.

PATRICIA MCILREAVY: Well, our call is for us not to politicize the humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian needs from the populations are what we should be keeping at the forefront of our minds and not how we could be using humanitarian assistance to further the interests of one side or another.

KELEMEN: McIlreavy says it's risky for aid workers to be seen as supporting one side, and they need to prepare for the long term.

MCILREAVY: You know, this isn't going to be over in a few months. Even if the crisis - the political crisis - is resolved, the needs of the population will likely be protracted.

KELEMEN: The oil-rich nation is suffering hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine, all problems the U.S. blames on Maduro. Guaido is calling for an aid conference in Washington next week. Michele Kelemen NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.