After Years of Denial, Venezuela’s President Allows Aid to Enter

After Years of Denial, Venezuela’s President Allows Aid to Enter

CARACAS, Venezuela — After denying for years that Venezuelans were suffering a humanitarian crisis, the government allowed the Red Cross to send in 24 tons of medical equipment on Tuesday, marking the beginning of a large-scale relief campaign intended to ease malnutrition and the spread of disease in the crisis-stricken country.

An airplane landed in Caracas’s international airport transporting the first in a series of planned shipments of medical supplies and power generators for hospitals that are intended to eventually help 650,000 Venezuelans, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The material is expected to be distributed in the coming days.

Despite the enormity of the population’s need, the delivery of humanitarian aid has become a political battle between the president, Nicolás Maduro, and Venezuela’s opposition.

On Tuesday, the president of the Red Cross in Venezuela said the aid should not become embroiled in a political dispute, and asked for the cooperation of politicians.

“It will be distributed in conformance with the fundamental principles of our movement, especially neutrality, impartiality and independence,” Mario Villarroel, president of the Venezuelan Red Cross, said of the supplies. “Don’t allow the politicization of this great achievement.”

The agency estimates its Venezuelan campaign could become its biggest relief effort since the beginning of civil war in Syria.

A recent United Nations report found about a quarter of the country’s population is in dire need of food and basic supplies — and the need is expected to grow. The International Monetary Fund estimates the Venezuelan economy will shrink by 25 percent this year as infrastructure continues to crumble.

Around 5,500 Venezuelans flee the country daily in what has become one of the world’s biggest refugee crises, according to the United Nations.

Mr. Maduro’s decision to accept the Red Cross aid has hobbled this parallel effort to deliver supplies that was mounted by the opposition. Still, it was celebrated by Mr. Maduro’s opponents as a victory brought about by their persistence.

“Today, the first shipment of humanitarian aid arrived for our people,” Henrique Capriles, a leading figure of the opposition, posted on Twitter. “It’s a reality thanks to the pressure of Venezuelans and the support of our interim president Juan Guaidó and the legitimate National Assembly.”

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