Red Cross to distribute humanitarian aid in Venezuela next month

Caracas (AFP) –


The Red Cross announced Friday it would begin impartially distributing humanitarian aid in crisis-torn Venezuela in two weeks, saying it would not allow any political "interference" in the operation.

"We estimate that in a period of approximately 15 days we will be ready to offer help," said Francesco Rocca, head of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Rocca told reporters in Caracas the organization would begin distributing aid that President Nicolas Maduro has to date refused to allow into the country -- leaving it stockpiled since mid-February on the borders with Colombia and Brazil.

The Red Cross would act according to its principles of "impartiality, neutrality and independence," he said, "without accepting interference from anyone."

"We hope to help 650,000 people at first," Rocca told a news conference in the Venezuelan capital.

Maduro ordered the border closed to keep out the aid, thwarting a high-profile February 23 operation by US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido to bring badly needed food and medicine into the country.

At least seven people were killed and dozens injured in subsequent rioting at the border.

The socialist leader said aid would be a precursor to a US military incursion.

"That was an issue that was very politicized," said Rocca. "If that help complies with our rules and our protocols, of course we are willing to distribute it."

About 24 percent of Venezuela's population -- seven million people -- are in dire need of humanitarian aid, according to an internal UN report that showed malnutrition and disease were on the rise as living conditions plummet.

The report obtained by AFP on Thursday was presented this week to Maduro's government -- which has blamed US sanctions for Venezuela's economic crisis -- and to his rival Guaido.

"Seven million people -- or about 24 percent of the total population currently living in the country -- are estimated to have urgent priority needs for assistance and protection," said the 45-page report.

More than 94 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2018 including 60 percent who lived in extreme poverty, according to a survey by three universities in Caracas quoted in the report.