efe-epaCaracas

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) will be able to bring humanitarian aid into crisis-hit Venezuela within 15 days, the organization's president said Friday.

"After having held meetings with government institutions and social, humanitarian and political organizations in Venezuela, I can say the IFRC will have the legal and technical conditions to work in the country," Francesco Rocca said.

In a press conference in Caracas, he said that he expected an initial mission would provide assistance to some 650,000 vulnerable Venezuelans but that the goal is to expand that aid to more needy people in the near future.

Rocca said the IFRC would issue an international call for donations and that the aid would be exclusively coordinated by entities within the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, adding that outside interference would not be accepted.

"As far as distribution, it must be neutral and based on our ... assessment of the most needy," he added.

Venezuela's opposition says the country is mired in a complex humanitarian crisis marked by severe shortages of food and medicine and has appealed for donations from the international community to alleviate the emergency.

Some of that aid is being stored in border towns in Colombia and Brazil, but leftist President Nicolas Maduro blocked the opposition's attempt on Feb. 23 to move it across the frontier.

Maduro said at the time that the aid was a Trojan horse and that he would be paving the way for a US-led military intervention if he allowed it to enter.

The speaker of Venezuela's opposition-led but toothless National Assembly (unicameral legislature), Juan Guaido, led that unsuccessful effort to deliver humanitarian aid.

Guaido, who says Maduro's re-election victory last year was fraudulent, proclaimed himself to be Venezuela's interim president in late January and subsequently won the recognition of the United States and around 50 other countries.

China, Russia and India are among the dozens of countries that continue to support Maduro.

"This is an issue that has been very politicized, and clearly we're going to see what's in the aid, if that aid complies with our rules, with our protocols," Rocca said.

He also said IFRC professionals would offer counseling to avoid deaths due to power outages at hospitals in Venezuela, which has been hit by two major blackouts this month.

Guaido for his part said Friday that shipments of "medical assistance" would be arriving in the coming days but made no reference to the IFRC's announcement.

Separately, a shipment of 65 tons of pharmaceutical and medical products arrived Friday in Venezuela from China, Venezuela's vice president for the economic area, Tareck El Aissami, said.

He said that aid delivery re-affirmed Venezuela's sovereignty amid harsh sanctions imposed by the US, including crippling sanctions on the South American nation's vital oil industry

"This is an exercise in sovereignty, independence, dignity. We're defeating the intended siege and blockade undertaken by American imperialism" against Venezuela, El Aissami said at the Maiquetia international airport, which serves Caracas.

"We thank (Chinese President) Xi Jinping for this gesture of solidarity," he added.

rgc/mc