USAID stockpiling supplies on Colombian border to help blockaded Venezuela

Boxes containing humanitarian aid for Venezuela are seen at a warehouse near the Tienditas cross-border bridge between Colombia and Venezuela in Cúcuta, Colombia. Photo by: REUTERS / Luisa Gonzalez

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Agency for International Development is stockpiling supplies at the Colombian border in expectation of delivering aid to Venezuela, the agency’s Latin America and the Caribbean bureau head said Wednesday.

Steve Olive, USAID’s acting assistant administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, told U.S. lawmakers in a hearing that his agency is in daily communication with Venezuela’s interim president Juan Guaidó regarding the logistics of delivering humanitarian aid to the economically collapsed nation.

“There are many scenarios being put forth. We are overturning every stone to see what is possible ... Daily we are trying to find a way to get this assistance to the people who need it most,” Olive told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “We are also committed to prepositioning goods and supplies in other parts if that’s necessary. We also are looking at scenarios of flying things in as the situation permits.”

Guaidó, whom the U.S. and dozens of other countries in the Western Hemisphere and Europe have recognized as the legitimate head of Venezuela, has called for aid to be let into the country. Basic food and medical supplies are scarce inside the formerly rich petrostate, but Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president the U.S. considers illegitimate, has insisted there is no humanitarian crisis inside the country.

USAID announced last week it was prepositioning aid in Cúcuta on the Colombian side of the border, which was blocked by the Venezuelan military with oil tankers to prevent any humanitarian supplies from entering. On Tuesday, Guaidó said that aid will enter Venezuela on Feb. 23 and that he would issue a “direct order” to the Venezuelan military to allow supplies in.

Maduro remains in control of armed forces, but Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative for Venezuela, said during the House hearing that they were “hearing a lot of discontent from the military” and that dissatisfaction with Maduro was spreading. He refused to rule out the use of U.S. military force in Venezuela as several Democratic members of the committee said they would not support U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. Several Republican members said it was important for the U.S. not to publicly rule out the use of military force.

Aid groups have expressed concern that the battle over humanitarian assistance for Venezuela is being politicized and said that they will maintain a strictly neutral stance when it becomes possible to get aid into the country.

The U.S. has been coordinating closely with the Colombian government on humanitarian efforts to address the situation in Venezuela and the border region, and USAID Administrator Mark Green will meet with Colombian President Iván Duque in Washington on Thursday. Duque met Wednesday with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and with President Donald Trump at the White House.

Olive said during the hearing that humanitarian assistance from USAID must be distributed in coordination with the host government, and that conditions on the ground must support its safe and efficient delivery.

“Those provisions need to be in place for us to be effective in delivering assistance to the Venezuelan people,” Olive said. “Right now, today, the Maduro regime is not allowing access and we do hope that diplomatic efforts we’re making and internal efforts by interim president Guaidó and his team will change that scenario shortly.”

Update, Feb. 14: The headline and text of this story has been updated to clarify that USAID is prepositioning supplies in Colombia.

About the author

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    Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh is a Reporter with Devex based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa wrote about Latin America from McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She worked as a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.