US emergency aid for Venezuela to be distributed in Colombia

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BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — U.S.-supplied humanitarian aid that was earmarked for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó will now be distributed in Colombia, officials said Thursday.

Colombia's government said it had reached the decision with the U.S. and representatives of Guaidó because of Nicolás Maduro's continued "blocking" of the aid.

In a statement, the national disaster agency said some of the aid would now be redistributed to some of the 1.2 million Venezuelan migrants who've crossed into Colombia fleeing hyperinflation and shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

Poor Colombians will also benefit, it said.

The U.S. in February airlifted several hundreds of tons of food and hygiene kits to Venezuela's borders with Colombia, Brazil and the Dutch Caribbean in support of Guaidó's campaign to weaken Maduro's grip on power.

The so-called "humanitarian avalanche" ended in chaos as violent clashes broke out on a bridge connecting Venezuela with Colombia, where the bulk of aid is warehoused, as troops loyal to Maduro fired tear gas on opposition activists shielding the aid caravan.

Maduro and his allies Russia and Cuba always saw the opposition's plan to ram the aid across the border as a reckless pretext for ordering a U.S. military intervention.

"We aren't beggars," Maduro said at the time.

Shortly afterward he granted access to the Red Cross, which has mounted a major relief effort in the country comparable to its response to the crisis in Syria.

Colombia's disaster relief agency said it would distribute the aid in undisclosed locations where the need is greatest. It said whatever remaining amounts of aid not distributed inside Colombia or directly controlled by USAID would continue to be stored on behalf of Guaidó, who Colombia, the U.S. and 50 other nations recognize as Venezuela's rightful leader.

"This is the right thing to do," said David Smilde, a Tulane University professor who has spent decades studying Venezuela. "The aid was never all that relevant given the scope of need in Venezuela, and it can help migrants in Colombia."

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