Children at a makeshift clinic in Venezuela’s capital Caracas are having their arms measured to estimate how malnourished they have become.
They are among dozens who lined up to receive medical attention by volunteers in the capital this Sunday, as the government continues to block foreign aid desperately needed to help a starving population and depleted hospitals.
President Nicolas Maduro is still refusing to allow a warehouse full of emergency food and medicine in the Colombian border-town of Cucuta to enter the country, as he believes it is art of a US coup to topple him.
A volunteer of the ‘Aid and Freedom Coalition’ movement takes a child’s measurements during a medical attention camp in the Macarao neighbourhood in Caracas
Crisis: The Venezuelan population is starving amid hyperinflation and a lack of necessities
Maduro has refused all economic assistance, denying there is a crisis in Venezuela.
Just yards away from the Tienditas bridge leading to Cucuta, desperate Venezuelan doctors and nurses are holding protests, demanding that Maduro allows in humanitarian aid.
‘Right now it’s a critical situation, it’s terrible because we have nothing: no gloves, no dressings, no medicines,’ Francis Duran, a 34-year-old nurse at the San Antonio hospital in the border town of Urena, told AFP.
Duran says the aid is ‘necessary.’ She says an 11-year-old girl had to be transfered urgently to Cucuta a few days ago for a transfusion because there wasn’t any available blood in Venezuela.
Duran has to send her patients to buy their own medicines in Colombia, but those can be unaffordable due to hyperinflation in Venezuela that has left the national currency practically worthless.
For example, a can of milk for a newborn baby currently costs as much as 70,000 bolivar – nearly four times the monthly minimum wage in Venezuela.
A girl receives respiratory therapy at the medical attention camp in the Macarao neighbourhood in Caracas on Sunday
Suffering: A girl is carried by a volunteer after starving at the makeshift clinic
A volunteer of the ‘Aid and Freedom Coalition’ movement takes a man’s measurements during a medical attention camp in Caracas
Venezuela is short of 85 percent of the medicines it needs, according to human rights organizations that are highly critical the the government, which blames the problems on tough US economic sanctions, although those mostly target regime individuals.
On Sunday, US Senator Marco Rubio visited Cucuta, and warned soldiers loyal to Maduro that it will be a ‘crime against humanity’ if they continue to block entry of the goods.
An enthusiastic throng of Venezuelan migrants, some chanting ‘Rubio! Liberty,’ met the Florida Republican as he visited Cucuta and held a news conference in sight of the Tienditas border bridge.
The U.S. has used military and civilian aircraft to fly in food and personal care aid in an effort meant to undermine Maduro and dramatize his government’s inability to overcome shortages of food and medicine.
The aid is supposed to be moved into Venezuela on February 23 by supporters of congressional leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized the U.S. and dozens of other countries as Venezuela’s legitimate president.
Venezuelans shout ‘freedom’ during the visit of US senator Marco Rubio at the Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, border with San Antonio de Tachira, Venezuela
Venezuelan migrant Yanela Aleman cries as she sings her national anthem in La Parada, near Cucuta, Colombia, on the border with Venezuela
Venezuelans shout slogans against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in La Parada, near Cucuta, Colombia, on the border with Venezuela
Rubio warned Venezuelan soldiers that blocking aid would be an international ‘crime against humanity.’
He said in Spanish that soldiers who keep aid shipments from entering would spend ‘the rest of their lives hiding from justice.’
But those who renounce Maduro have been promised amnesty by Guaido and the opposition-dominated congress, although few soldiers have accepted that promised.
Rubio, who has been an influential voice in advocating U.S measures against Maduro, noted that about 50 nations have declared Guaido the constitutional president of Venezuela, based on arguments that Maduro’s re-election last year was fraudulent, and consider other government-stacked institutions such as the supreme court to have no legal authority.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., greets Venezuelan migrants near the Simon Bolivar International Bridge, which connects Colombia with Venezuela, where one holds up Venezuelan flag in La Parada, near Cucuta, Colombia
While Russia, China, Turkey and a large number of Asian and African countries still back Maduro, Rubio dismissed them, saying in English: ‘The countries that support Maduro do not surprise us. All of them are corrupt and none of them is a democracy and many of them are owed billions of dollars that they want to get paid by the corrupt regime.’
Rubio said the issue is ‘a humanitarian crisis, of human beings who have nothing to do with politics.’
He said Venezuelans ‘are being denied medicine, food and aid needed to live while those people who are at the head of that regime are living like multimillionaires.’
While Rubio was on the border in Colombia, a delegation of five members of the European Parliament was barred entry into Venezuela after arriving at Caracas’ airport Sunday night.
One of the visitors, Esteban Gonzalez Pons of Spain, said in a posted on social media that the group was invited by the National Assembly and was going to be the first foreign mission to meet with congress leader Juan Guaido, who the European Parliament and a majority of the European Union members recognize as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
‘It is not about not letting us in, but about not letting interim president Juan Guaido see any personality from outside Venezuela,’ Gonzalez Pons said.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Maduro’s government had sent word through diplomatic channels several days ago that the European lawmakers would not be allowed into the country to pursue ‘conspiratorial’ purposes.
‘The constitutional government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will not allow right-wing European extremists to disturb the peace and stability of the country with another one of their nasty interventions,’ Arreaza wrote on social media.