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Venezuelans are going hungry. Why won't the country accept aid?

Jim Wyss, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

BOGOTA, Colombia -- As Colombia took additional steps Thursday to control the growing exodus of Venezuelans pouring across the border, President Juan Manuel Santos asked his Venezuelan counterpart to do the one thing that might help stem the flow: accept food and medicine.

Speaking in the border city of Cucuta, where Venezuelans have been sleeping in the streets and overwhelming hospitals, Santos said the chaos was being created by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

"This is the result of your policies; it's not the fault of us Colombians," Santos said. "And this is (also) the result of your refusal to accept help, humanitarian aid, which we have offered in every way possible -- and it's not just us, but the international community as well."

Trapped in an economic crisis that includes hyperinflation, and food and medicine shortages, hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years. In neighboring Colombia alone, authorities estimate that there are anywhere from 560,000 to 700,000 Venezuelans.

And yet the socialist administration in Caracas won't acknowledge that it has a crisis on its hands, refusing offers of food and medicine from its neighbors and aid agencies, including the Catholic Church.

On Thursday, several dozens of people marched in Venezuela's capital demanding access to basic medicine and medical treatment, waving banners that read, "We don't want to die."

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Gaby Arellano, an opposition deputy in Venezuela, has been lobbying for "humanitarian corridors" that might allow the free flow of food and medicine from Colombia and Brazil.

She said Maduro and his allies are opposing the idea because "they would have to acknowledge that their (socialist) political model has failed."

"They'd have to acknowledge that they've stolen all of our resources," she added.

Venezuela is sitting on the world's largest oil reserves and was once one of the hemisphere's wealthiest nations. But 19 years of economic missteps and corruption -- first under Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, and now under Maduro -- have turned the nation into the region's economic basket case. Hunger and disease are now rampant.

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