Venezuela's Authoritarian President Maduro Continues Blockade Of U.S. Aid U.S. food and medical aid for Venezuelans is sitting at the border, unable to move into the country because embattled President Nicolás Maduro has blocked the roads.
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Venezuela's Authoritarian President Maduro Continues Blockade Of U.S. Aid

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Venezuela's Authoritarian President Maduro Continues Blockade Of U.S. Aid

Venezuela's Authoritarian President Maduro Continues Blockade Of U.S. Aid

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Venezuela-Colombia border - humanitarian aid from the U.S. sits on the Colombian side of that border, although it's intended for people inside Venezuela. If they were to receive it, that would boost opposition leader Juan Guaido. The U.S., among other countries, says he is Venezuela's legitimate head of state. But Venezuela's authoritarian president, Nicolas Maduro, still controls the country, and as John Otis reports, he's blocking the aid.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Tons of food and medicine from the U.S. government sit in a warehouse near a bridge connecting Colombia and Venezuela. The warehouse now holds nearly $100 million of rice, flour, baby formula, diapers and emergency medical kits. As he toured the site on Friday, Kevin Whitaker, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, suggested that much more will be coming.

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KEVIN WHITAKER: What you see here is the first shipments of what we hope will be a great flood of humanitarian relief for the people of Venezuela.

OTIS: But President Maduro is having none of it. Hyperinflation and chronic shortages of food and medicine have prompted more than 3 million Venezuelans to flee the country, yet Maduro denies there's a problem.

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PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: At a news conference, he said the humanitarian crisis was invented by Washington to justify an invasion of Venezuela.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Unintelligible).

OTIS: To stop the aid from getting across the frontier, Venezuelan soldiers have blocked all six lanes of the border bridge with shipping containers and a tanker truck. Now the area around the bridge has become a rallying point for angry Venezuelans like these doctors.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: They chant, what do we want? Humanitarian aid. Why? Because our patients are dying.

One of the protesters, Dayana Delgado, is an immunologist from the Venezuelan city of San Cristobal.

DAYANA DELGADO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: She says, "if we have to, we will form a human chain and pass the aid box by box so it reaches the people who need it." But humanitarian aid is also being used for hardball politics. Juan Guaido and his U.S. backers are hoping to put the powerful Venezuelan armed forces on the spot. Blocking the aid is infuriating average Venezuelans, but Whitaker, the U.S. ambassador, is urging military officers to turn against Maduro and allow the aid to flow. And that could be a major step towards regime change.

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WHITAKER: This is an opportunity for the Venezuelan armed forces to take part in an admirable humanitarian campaign. The choice that they make now is going to be recorded by their families, by their country and by the entire world from here on out.

OTIS: Meanwhile, Guaido is calling for more street protests on Tuesday. He's also signing up volunteers to help distribute the U.S. aid.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUAN GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: On Sunday, Guaido told reporters, our responsibility is to create enough political social and international pressure so that the aid is allowed in. But so far, the Venezuelan military remains loyal to Maduro. The border bridge remains blocked, and the supplies remain untouched in the warehouse. For NPR News, I'm John Otis on the Venezuela-Colombia border.

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