The Pentagon is now publicizing its first military airlift of Venezuelan aid delivered to the Colombian town of Cucuta on Saturday, which sits on the border shared by the two countries, despite embattled President Nicolas Maduro vowing to keep such "unauthorized" aid out by stationing troops along the border.
Washington is using aid delivery to undermine the socialist Maduro government in Caracas, which has blasted US-led attempts to foment coup and fuel unrest.
AP photographs and video confirmed that two of three scheduled Air Force C-17 cargo planes that left Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida landed at the border city on Saturday. The town has become a staging ground of sorts for aid that supporters of US-backed opposition head Juan Guaido say they intend to distribute.
“This wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last,” USAID Administrator Mark Green told the AP while on the tarmac in Cucuta receiving the aid. “More is on the way,” he promised.
According to the AP it's certainly not the first shipment of official US humanitarian aid; however, it is the first highly significant and symbolic moment it was brought in on massive US Air Force cargo planes.
04-4134 & two other #USAF C-17As transported over 200 tons of #USAID consisted of nutritional supplements for 3,500 children, and hygiene kits for 25,000 people for 2 months. They flew from Homestead AFB, #Miami, #Florida to Cúcuta, #Colombia close to the border with #Venezuela. pic.twitter.com/5NJvvvNx7d— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) February 16, 2019
The AP noted:
Commercial planes had been used for earlier shipments of aid, which is aimed at dramatizing the economic crisis — including hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine — gripping Venezuela. Critics say last year’s re-election was fraudulent, making Maduro’s second term illegal.
“We are saving lives with these airplanes,” an exiled politician said to be coordinating the international aid effort for Guaido, Lestor Toledo, told the AP. However, interestingly the report itself highlighted that Washington is seeking to exploit the optics of Venezuela's economic collapse overseen by an inept regime through the humanitarian shipments.
#BREAKING: The first out of three C-17As of #USAF carrying medical & food aids for people of #Venezuela arrived #Columbia at 17:30Z. The C-17A with 04-4134 serial number (RCH382 call-sign) had departed Homestead AFB, #Miami at 14:15Z.Its cargo can feed 3,500 children for 2 months pic.twitter.com/UPhYLz10vw— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) February 16, 2019
Maduro, meanwhile, has slammed the "political show" surrounding the issue of aid delivery. “They hang us, steal our money and then say ‘here, grab these crumbs’ and make a global show out of it,” Maduro told reporters on Thursday. “With dignity we say ‘No to the global show.’ Whoever wants to help Venezuela is welcome, but we have enough capacity to pay for everything that we need.”
Saturday's military flights are reported have "tons" of cargo which includes high-energy food items and hygiene kits, and medical supplies — enough for 25,000 people according to the AP.
Reuters reported earlier this week that US humanitarian supplies and cargo are currently amassing along a Colombian border town, but there doesn't appear to be confirmation that any of it has entered Venezuela:
Senior U.S. officials last week heralded their country’s efforts to move aid to Venezuela’s doorstep, after U.S. supplies were among those delivered to the first collection point established, in the Colombian border town of Cucuta.
There has been no sign of the aid that is being stockpiled in Cucuta leaving the warehouse.
Brazil is also reportedly being used as an aid transit point, however, Brazilian authorities have yet to comment on any specific shipping points.
Guaido has over the past week personally appealed to the military to allow the aid in, while also issuing a general amnesty order for any military officer who defects from Maduro, something which the opposition currently doesn't have the power to enforce.