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US Planes Land Near Venezuela With Aid 02/17 10:12

   CUCUTA, Colombia (AP) -- The U.S. military airlifted tons of humanitarian 
aid to a Colombian town on the Venezuelan border Saturday as part of an effort 
meant to undermine socialist President Nicolas Maduro and back his rival for 
the leadership of the South American nation.

   Three scheduled Air Force C-17 cargo planes that took off from Homestead Air 
Reserve Base in Florida had landed in Cucuta. That border city, swollen by a 
flood of migrants from Venezuela, is a collection point for aid that's supposed 
to be distributed by supporters of Juan Guaido, the congressional leader who is 
recognized by the U.S. and many other nations as Venezuela's legitimate 
president. He has called for the aid.

   "This wasn't the first, and it won't be the last," said USAID Administrator 
Mark Green, standing on the tarmac in Cucuta at a ceremony to receive the aid. 
"More is on the way."

   Commercial planes had been used for earlier shipments of aid, which is aimed 
at dramatizing the economic crisis --- including hyperinflation and shortages 
of food and medicine --- gripping Venezuela. Critics say last year's 
re-election was fraudulent, making Maduro's second term illegal.

   "We are saving lives with these airplanes," said Lestor Toledo, an exiled 
politician who is coordinating the international aid effort for Guaido.

   Maduro has been using the military, which remains loyal, to help him block 
the aid from entering Venezuela, describing it as "crumbs" from a U.S. 
government whose restrictions have  stripped his administration of control over 
many of its most valuable assets.

   "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. 
"With dignity we say 'No to the global show.' Whoever wants to help Venezuela 
is welcome, but we have enough capacity to pay for everything that we need."

   His vice president has alleged, without evidence, that the aid packages are 
contaminated. Green on Saturday called the allegations "absurd."

   Saturday's 180-ton shipment includes high-energy food products or hygiene 
kids of soap, toothpaste and other goods for more than 25,000 people.

   Guaido spoke to a crowd of supporters gathered in eastern Caracas on 
Saturday and vowed to form caravans of activists to reach the border and bring 
in aid on Jan. 23. He also called for people to gather in cities across the 
country to receive the aid --- and called for the armed forces to allow it into 
the country.

   In the crowd was Anibrez Peroza, a 40-year-old nurse, who said she was ready 
if necessary to go to Cucuta in a caravan to bring in the aid.

   "We have to do something to save so many people who are suffering and dying 
for lack of medicine," she said. Peroza wept as she described a dehydrated 
child dying in her arms for lack of a catheter to rehydrate him.

   The U.S. and widespread European recognition of Guaido complicates Maduro's 
efforts to find funds to keep his government, and its own food programs, 
running.

   The U.S. has placed Venezuela's U.S. assets, including oil company Citgo, 
under Guaido's control and bans financial transactions by Maduro-controlled 
entities. Scores of Venezuelan officials also face personal financial sanctions 
in the United States.


(KA)

 
 
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