Who is behind Venezuela aid caravan?
The US scored a propaganda coup against besieged Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro last week, sending planeloads of "humanitarian aid" to Colombia, where it was dispatched in a "caravan" toward the border. The aid was welcomed by the US-backed pretender to the presidency, Juan Guaidó, but rejected by Maduro, who thundered that Venezuelans are "not beggars." Maduro was put in the no-win situation of either having to turn away aid at a time of deprivation or accept assistance sent by a government that does not recognize him but recognizes his opposition. He opted for the prior, mobilizing troops to the border and blocking the three lanes of the international bridge between the two countries with a fuel tanker and shipping containers. The caravan is currently stalled at Cúcuta, the nearest city on the Colombia side. (The Guardian, AP) While the affair has occasioned much media bloviation either against Maduro for blocking the caravan or against Trump for politicizing aid, there has been an alarming paucity of information about who actually organized the caravan...
Some reports in the Colombian press reveal that the group behind the caravan is the Coalición Ayuda y Libertad Venezuela (Venezuela Aid and Freedom Coalition), which has been recruiting among Venezuelan migrants and exiles in Colombia. Bogotá's El Tiempo informs us that this non-profit, now working directly with USAID, is led by exiled Venezuelan opposition figure Lester Toledo, who calls it a "citizen platform to recover democracy." The caravan of some 500 trucks has been accompanied by Colombian army troops, mobilized through the country's National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD).
Toledo was Zulia state leader of Guaidó's Voluntad Popular party who went into Colombian exile in 2016, after orders were issued for his arrest on "financing terrorism" charges related to local protests. With the aid stalled in Cúcuta, he this week traveled to Brasilia to meet with representatives of Jair Bolsonaro's government, which is also apparently backing the project. (La Opinión, Cúcuta)
To further emphasize the political nature of this endeavor, Guaidó is claiming that his followers have now received some of the aid. "Today we delivered the first donation, or the first cargo of humanitarian aid, albeit on a small scale, because you know they have blocked the border for the time being," he said in televised remarks in Caracas Feb. 11. He offered no other details, and did not say how the aid had crossed the border. (EuroNews)
The caravan has been explicitly disavowed by bona fide international humanitarian agencies. The head of the Colombia delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Christoph Harnisch, said of the caravan: "We are not participating in what for us is not humanitarian aid." He said it is the position of the ICRC that the term "humanitarian" should be reserved for aid endeavors that conform to the organization's principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality. (Apporea) A UN spokesman likewise told reporters in New York: "Humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or other objectives... 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." (Al Jazeera)
Meanwhile, as aid for the hungry becomes a political football and the world focuses on the caravan spectacle, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that at least 40 were killed and some 850 detained amid protests in Venezuela over last month. (Global News) Rival pro- and anti-Maduro demonstrations are again mobilizing, marking the 20th anniversary of the coming to power of Hugo Chávez, threatening further escalation. (BBC News)