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U.S. Senator Rubio, other officials visit site of Venezuelan aid

U.S. Senator Rubio, other officials visit site of Venezuelan aid
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio visits the Colombia-Venezuela border at the Simon Bolivar International Bridge on the outskirts of Cucuta, Colombia February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez -
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LUISA GONZALEZ(Reuters)
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By Steven Grattan

BOGOTA (Reuters) - A U.S. delegation including Senator Marco Rubio visited the Colombian border city of Cucuta on Sunday, where humanitarian aid is being stockpiled for planned delivery to economically crippled Venezuela next week.

While Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is refusing to allow in the food, medicine and other supplies, opposition leader and self-declared president Juan Guaido has vowed to move hundreds of tonnes of the aid into the country on Feb 23.

Guaido, who argues that Maduro's 2018 re-election was a sham, invoked constitutional provisions to declare himself the country's leader last month.

Most Western countries and many of Venezuela's neighbours have recognised Guaido as the legitimate head of state, but Maduro retains the backing of Russia and China and control of Venezuelan state institutions including the military.

Guaido has said he will announce details of how he plans to get the aid into the country from Colombia, Brazil and Curacao on Monday, despite Maduro's opposition.

The Feb. 23 deadline sets the stage for a showdown with Maduro, who has said the aid is not needed. Maduro calls the aid a U.S.-orchestrated show and denies any crisis despite many Venezuelans' scant access to food and medicine. It is unclear whether the military will allow aid to cross the border.

Rubio of Florida is considered to have played a major role in convincing U.S. President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, to ratchet up pressure on Maduro. The senator has long been a harsh critic of the Venezuelan leader, who he regularly refers to as a dictator on social media, and has urged support for Venezuela's opposition.

Standing near a pedestrian bridge on the border between the two countries as hundreds of anti-Maduro protesters chanted and waved flags, Rubio said the United States and the world would not abandon Venezuelans.

"One thing is to see human suffering, another is to see it up close and personal and to meet the people and hear their stories," he said. "What is happening in Venezuela is a man-made crisis of epic proportions. A criminal regime that is willing to starve and kill its own people before it gives up power."

The delegation, including Carlos Trujillo, the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, visited tents providing medical care to migrants and the warehouse where aid is being stored.

(Reporting by Steven Grattan; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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