Red Cross aims to stay neutral in polarized Venezuela

Hundreds of thousands to get aid from Red Cross in Venezuela

BOGOTA, Colombia – Amid a political standoff in Venezuela, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies managed to deliver a shipment weighing about 24 tons. It included 14 generators, surgery kits, distilled water, water purification tablets and empty plastic jugs.

Through their traditional apolitical approach, Red Cross volunteers in blue vests distributed the first shipment on Tuesday in Caracas, Venezuela. In March, the humanitarian organization announced it was planning to deliver assistance to an estimated 650,000 people.

Mario Villarroel, president of the Venezuelan Red Cross, has said the organization will focus on the medical needs of both private and public hospitals. Hernán Bongioanni, the Red Cross commissioner for the mission, said there is another shipment arriving May 8.

"We achieved this using three principles: impartiality, neutrality and independence," Bongioanni said. 

Bongioanni said the shipments are possible after months and months of negotiations with both sides of the political divide. This is probably why both sides are now taking credit for the arrival of the first shipment Tuesday. 

"Aid is entering because [the Maduro administration] destroyed the health care system. It entered because we demanded it," said Juan Guaidó, the U.S.-recognized interim president who has collected aid that is in storage in Colombia, Brazil and the Dutch Caribbean, but embattled President Nicolás Maduro is blocking its delivery.

While Guaidó used social media to deliver his message, Maduro used state-controlled national television to announce that his administration, including Health Minister Carlos Alvarado, followed "international protocols" to coordinate the delivery of the shipment. 

Earlier this month, The United Nations Children's Fund also committed to "reinforcing essential services -- including health care, nutrition, water and sanitation -- for vulnerable children and families through the provision of emergency power sources and supplies."

In a statement out of Panama, Marisol Quintero, of UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean, said UNICEF provided generators to hospitals in coordination with Venezuelan health officials and Corposalud Táchira, a state entity, to assist 24,000 children. 


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