U.N. warns against politicizing humanitarian aid in Venezuela

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations warned on Wednesday against using aid as a pawn in Venezuela after the United States sent food and medicine to the country’s border and accused President Nicolas Maduro of blocking its delivery with trucks and shipping containers.

People cross into Venezuela over the Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

U.S. officials said trucks carrying aid had arrived in Colombia for delivery to Venezuela at the request of Juan Guaido, who last month declared himself interim president.

“The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid. The U.S. & other countries are trying to help, but Venezuela’s military under Maduro’s orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted on Twitter on Wednesday, along with a photo of a blocked road.

Maduro’s government has denied that there is a humanitarian crisis, blaming economic problems on sanctions. Venezuela is struggling with hunger, preventable diseases and hyperinflation forecast at 10 million percent in 2019.

Maduro said on Monday that Venezuelans were “not beggars” and he would not let the country be humiliated.

The United States could attempt to seek the approval of the United Nations Security Council to deliver aid without Maduro’s cooperation, but Russia would likely block such a move.

“Humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or other objectives,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

“When we see the present stand-off it becomes even more clear that serious political negotiations between the parties are necessary to find a solution leading to lasting peace for the people of Venezuela,” he said.

Guaido wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month asking for help in tackling the country’s crisis. But Venezuela’s seat at the 193-member world body is held by President Nicolas Maduro’s government and Guterres is unable to ramp up a humanitarian response in Venezuela without Maduro’s approval or U.N. Security Council authorization.

Some 3 million Venezuelans have fled the crisis, the United Nations has said.

“What is important is that humanitarian aid be depoliticized and that the needs of the people should lead in terms of when and how humanitarian aid is used,” Dujarric said.

Most Latin American countries, Canada and about 20 European nations have backed the United States in recognizing Guaido. But these rapid endorsements have triggered angry responses from Russia, China and a few left-leaning Latin American states, and wariness from some African and Caribbean nations.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Lisa Shumaker