While Venezuela’s interim President Juan Guaidó and the international community issued public demands to allow the entry of humanitarian aid to Venezuela, embattled leader Nicolás Maduro sent 100 tons of aid to Cuba for the reconstruction of homes damaged by a tornado that struck Havana last week.
“From La Guaira sailed vessel T-91 from the Bolivarian Navy with help for the victims of a strong tornado that hit Havana,” Cuban Ambassador to Venezuela Rogelio Polanco posted in Spanish on Twitter on Friday. “With ministers Néstor Ruiz Reverol and Aristóbulo Istúriz [minister of Education and vice president for social affairs], we said goodbye to the crew. Infinite gratitude for this new gesture of solidarity of the Bolivarian Revolution.“
Reverol, current Minister of the Interior, Justice and Peace and former head of the National Guard, is under sanctions from the U.S. government and the European Union for his role in the humanitarian crisis and human rights violations in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan Vice-Presidency for Social and Territorial Development posted on Facebook that the shipment included 100 tons of machinery and construction materials, including trucks, roof tiles, mortar bags, water tanks, windows and doors.
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Havana was hit by an intense tornado last week that killed six people and damaged 3,513 homes. At the same time, the United States, most members of the Lima Group and several European countries have asked Maduro to allow humanitarian aid to enter Venezuela, where food and medicine is scarce. According to figures from international organizations, 82 percent of the Venezuelan population lives in poverty and 12 percent is undernourished. Outbreaks of diseases that were considered eradicated such as diphtheria and tuberculosis have also been reported.
The aid shipment to Cuba is the latest example that Maduro and his allies are still in control of resources and access to ports, a main obstacle for plans to provide humanitarian aid to Venezuelans.
On Sunday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said that the plans to ship humanitarian aid to Venezuela were part of an attempt at “imperialist intervention.”
“Guaidó announced creation of ‘humanitarian aid’ collection centers in Cúcuta, Brazil and one Caribbean island. Serious provocation in progress as a pretext for military aggression in Venezuela,“ Rodríguez posted in English on Twitter. “Let’s protect Our America from imperialist intervention.“
Sending aid to Cuba, in the midst of Venezuela’s humanitarian and political crisis, also illustrates that the alliance between Maduro and Havana remains strong, despite the growing international support for Guaidó and the warnings from the U.S. government that it could impose more sanctions on the Cuban government.
In Venezuela, the 23,000 Cubans who work on official government missions have received orders to remain at their posts.
According to a report in the official newspaper Juventud Rebelde, Cubans working in government missions sent a message to Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel, the secretary of the Communist Party, Raúl Castro, and Maduro, assuring that “the internationalists of the 11 missions will remain firm, next to the Bolivarian people in any circumstance.“
Rodríguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, has promised the “invariable” support of his government to Maduro and has increased criticism of what he portrays as a “coup d’état” manufactured by Washington. Other Cuban diplomats seem to have obtained authorization to raise the tone even more on their Twitter posts.
Eugenio Martínez, a diplomat in charge of Latin America and the Caribbean affairs at Cuba’s foreign ministry suggested on Twitter that by imposing sanctions on PDVSA, the state oil company controlled by Maduro, the U.S. government intended to steal that money.
“Innocent question: #EEUU @AmbJohnBolton steals $20 billion from #Venezuela from @PDVSA funds and “gives away” 20 million in “humanitarian” aid,” Martínez posted in English. “In one minute, a huge profit @StateDept #EEUU are good businessmen or hypocrites and thieves?“
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres