US to shift Central America aid funds to Venezuela’s opposition

US to shift Central America aid funds to Venezuela’s opposition

Washington confirms money will be diverted from humanitarian projects to support Juan Guaidó

The US government has confirmed it will divert money away from humanitarian aid programmes in Central America and channel it towards the Venezuelan opposition led by Juan Guaidó.

The move follows Donald Trump’s decision earlier this year to suspend all future humanitarian aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras until they do more to stop migrants heading north to the US border.

Washington said at the time the money would be used to fund “other foreign policy priorities” without giving details.

Now the US Agency for International Development has confirmed that some of the funding “will be used in support of the legitimately elected Venezuelan national assembly and interim president Juan Guaidó”.

Mr Guaidó has been trying to unseat Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro since the start of this year. He has the backing of the US and about 50 other countries. The Maduro regime often derides him as “a US puppet” financed by Washington.

A USAID spokesperson said the diverted funding would be used in Venezuela “to expand good governance efforts, to promote independent media and the freedom of information, for civil society assistance, and to support human rights organisations”.

The aid story first surfaced in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. The newspaper quoted an unnamed congressional aide saying the US was “essentially taking the money that would help poor Central American children and giving it to pay the salaries of Guaidó and his officials and employees”.

But Mr Guaidó’s aides deny that. They say they are supported by donations and often out of their own pockets.

Speaking in the Ecuadorean city of Guayaquil where he was attending a meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank, Ricardo Hausmann, Mr Guaidó’s representative at the IDB, said funding for the opposition comes from “the effort of people working pro bono, civil society, donations”.

“There’s nothing secret, nothing hidden,” he said.

When Mr Guaidó first launched his campaign to topple Mr Maduro in January it looked like it might bear fruit within weeks, but six months on the president remains in power and there is political stalemate in Caracas.

That has left the Guaidó team funding a network of representatives around the world. The longer the deadlock continues, the larger the bill.

Carlos Vecchio, Mr Guaidó’s envoy to Washington, has recovered ownership of the dilapidated Venezuelan embassy building with US support but said he lacks the funds to renovate it. Last month he was working from a temporary space in a think-tank.

Vanessa Neumann, Mr Guaido’s representative to the UK, told the Financial Times she has spent tens of thousands of pounds from her own pocket in order to operate.

Gustave Tarre, Mr Guaidó’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, acknowledges that no one expected the stand-off in Venezuela to drag on so long.

“We have to say this with all honesty — we thought Maduro would leave within a relatively short period of time,” he told reporters at a recent OAS meeting in Colombia. “Until now our work has basically been voluntary and it hasn’t been easy. We are and will continue to be the worst-paid ambassadors in the world.”

Despite the difficulties, he made light of the lack of cash.

“When we’re at a meeting in Washington and we all leave together, the other representatives look for their drivers and their cars while we wait for an Uber or a taxi,” Mr Tarre said.

“I’ve sometimes thought about using a scooter.”

Michael Stott y Gideon Long