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story.lead_photo.caption A truck hauling humanitarian aid from the U.S. to Venezuela arrives Thursday at the International Bridge Tienditas near Cucuta, Colombia, at the Venezuela border.

CUCUTA, Colombia -- For Anahis Alvarado, whose battle with kidney failure has become more desperate as Venezuela sinks deeper into crisis, the prospect of emergency medical and food supplies arriving can't come soon enough.

She's watched five fellow patients in her dialysis group die over the past few years because of inadequate care. Only a quarter of the dialysis machines where she receives treatment at a government-run clinic in Caracas still work.

And last week, she had to spend almost a third of her family's monthly income buying basic supplies like surgical gloves and syringes that President Nicolas Maduro's bankrupt government is no longer able to provide.

"We're losing time," the 32-year-old Alvarado said.

She hopes relief will soon be on its way.

Some 620 miles away, in the Colombian border city of Cucuta, opponents of Maduro are hastily putting together plans with U.S. officials to open a "humanitarian corridor" to deliver desperately needed food and medicine.

The aid convoy is seen as a key test for opposition leader Juan Guaido who declared himself interim president in a high-risk challenge to Maduro's authority -- a move that has the backing of almost 40 countries around the world.

But getting the food into Venezuela is no easy task.

On Wednesday, a large tanker, mangled fencing and a shipping container were scattered across a bridge connecting the two countries, a makeshift barricade reflecting Maduro's longstanding rejection of outside assistance.

"We aren't beggars," the embattled socialist said Monday in a speech to troops.

The standoff has troubled international relief organizations, many who say the issue of humanitarian aid is being used as a political weapon by both sides.

Maduro's government has steadfastly denied the existence of a humanitarian crisis that has forced some 3 million Venezuelans to flee in recent years, even while handing out heavily subsidized food staples to rally support among the poor, especially ahead of elections.

Meanwhile, the opposition is vowing to proceed with its aid plan at all costs to break the military's strong support for Maduro.

"You have a clear choice," Miguel Pizarro, a lawmaker coordinating the relief effort, said in pointed remarks Tuesday to members of the armed forces. "Either you are part of the problem, or you put yourself on the side of the people who are in need."

The International Committee of the Red Cross is among groups that have warned about the quickly escalating rhetoric. On Tuesday, it repeated an offer to distribute humanitarian assistance but only if authorities agree to guarantee the aid safely reaches those in need and isn't politicized.

"Right now, both sides are comparing muscles to see who is stronger," said Daniel Almeida, an advocacy adviser for the Switzerland-based humanitarian agency CARE. "But for the person who really needs the assistance, they don't care where it comes from."

President Donald Trump's administration has pledged $20 million in humanitarian assistance to Guaido's government in addition to the more than $140 million it has already made available to South American countries absorbing the exodus of Venezuelan migrants. Canada has pledged another $53 million to Guaido.

National security adviser John Bolton last week tweeted a picture of hundreds of boxes of ready-to-use meals for "malnourished children," each printed with an American flag, that he said were ready to be delivered.

The show of bravado alarmed some international relief organizations that worry that the real intention is to lay bare Maduro's obstinacy and build the case for military intervention on humanitarian grounds -- a worst-case scenario that would pile on even more hardships.

Bolton said he was responding to a request from Guaido, who announced at a rally last weekend that he was setting up three collection points -- in Cucuta, as well as others in Brazil and the Caribbean -- to receive the aid.

The 30 to 40 tons of aid includes baby formula and high-protein biscuits, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the plans.

Cucuta has become the top destination for Venezuelans who travel long distances to the city in a desperate search for food and medicine.

Volunteers have been on standby for days in Cucuta to help with the aid's arrival but have been given no indication of how the aid will get into Venezuela.

"It's creating huge expectations," said Francisco Valencia, a director of CODEVIDA, a coalition of Venezuelan health advocacy groups. "If the transition doesn't take place soon, we're not going to receive the real humanitarian aid we need."

A Section on 02/08/2019

Print Headline: As Venezuela's need rises, aid bogs down

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