Virgin's Branson plans humanitarian aid concert on Venezuela border

CARACAS (Reuters) - Richard Branson is organizing a concert to raise funds for a humanitarian aid effort for crisis-stricken Venezuela to be held in the Colombian border city of Cucuta next week, the British billionaire said in a video on social media.

FILE PHOTO: Sir Richard Branson listens to a question at the unveiling of the Virgin Voyages ship in New York, U.S., February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

President Nicolas Maduro is resisting foreign efforts to send food and medicine to the hyperinflationary country suffering from rising hunger. An aid convoy supplied by the United States and Colombia arrived in Cucuta last week, where it is being held in warehouses.

“Nicolas Maduro’s regime, which is responsible for this crisis, is currently refusing to allow any humanitarian aid into the country,” Branson said in the video.

“We must break this impasse or soon, many Venezuelans will be on the verge of starvation or death,” he said, adding the effort aimed to raise $100 million in 60 days.

The concert is scheduled for Feb. 22 and will feature a “wonderful line-up of regional and international artists,” Branson said, without providing details.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has invoked articles of the constitution to assume the presidency, says humanitarian aid will begin to flow across the border the next day.

The Virgin Group, which handles media inquiries for Branson, said the video was genuine and that it would provide more information soon.

Dozens of countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Maduro has refused to step down and warned that Guaido will face justice.

Venezuela’s annual inflation has topped 2 million percent and chronic shortages of food and medicine have driven a spike in malnutrition and preventable diseases.

The Trump administration in January levied sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry that are meant to starve Maduro’s government of revenue. Maduro says the sanctions are illegal and accuses Washington of meddling in Venezuela’s affairs.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth, additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Editing by Tom Brown and Sonya Hepinstall