WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is providing $2.5 million for emergency food and medicine assistance to Venezuelan migrants in Colombia in the U.S.’ first action to alleviate a burgeoning humanitarian crisis reverberating across Latin America.
Most of the aid will be directed toward the border city of Cucuta, which has been overwhelmed in recent months by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing hunger and economic turmoil.
The U.S. Agency for International Development said in a statement Tuesday it will channel the funding through the Pan-American Health Organization and the United Nations’ World Food Program.
The move comes as the Trump administration is clamping down on President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government. On Monday, it banned Americans from engaging in transactions with the government’s new cryptocurrency, the petro, and it repeated a threat that more-damaging oil sanctions could be in the works if the government doesn’t free political prisoners and provide guarantees that an upcoming presidential election will be free and fair.
“Unfortunately, even as people are suffering every day from hunger, lack of basic necessities, and preventable diseases, the Maduro regime continues to deny fundamental freedoms and access to basic humanitarian needs to the people of Venezuela,” said USAID Administrator Mark Green. “These delusional and inhumane policies by the Maduro regime have exacerbated an avoidable humanitarian crisis.”
The U.S. relief effort comes a day after finance ministers from the world’s 20 biggest economies agreed at a G-20 summit in Buenos Aires to ask the IMF for resources to assist Venezuelan migrants.
As hyperinflation and widespread shortages of food and medicine batter Venezuela, rising numbers of its people are joining in an exodus that has set off alarms across Latin America. Independent groups estimate as many as 3 million to 4 million Venezuelans have abandoned their homeland in recent years, with several hundred thousand departing in 2017 alone.
Since the end of last year, the Rome-based World Food Program has helped feed almost 2,000 people in Colombia, working mainly with Roman Catholic charities. Last week, the agency’s director, David Beasley, visited Cucuta as part of his effort to help Colombia develop a more robust response to the influx of migrants.
Maduro has repeatedly refused to accept humanitarian aid, considering it a veiled attempt by the U.S. to destabilize the country.