The bishop of a Colombian diocese bordering Venezuela has said that “we can't be still” in face of the Venezuelan people's suffering, and noted that the Church has responded to the humanitarian crisis from its beginning.
Under the administration of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval, with severe shortages and hyperinflation leading millions of Venezuelans to emigrate.
Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president of Venezuela last month, has been recognized as Venezuelan president by the US, Canada, much of the European Union, and several Latin American nations.
In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency, Bishop Victor Manuel Ochoa Cadavid of Cúcuta said that when Maduro's government began deporting Colombians in August 2015, the Church in Cúcuta “began its services to the brothers experiencing hardship.”
Since then the Diocese of Cúcuta has been daily serving thousands of people crossing the border through several initiatives, such as the Divine Providence House of Transit.
Bishop Ochoa pointed out that Cúcuta has Colombia's highest unemployment rate: “more than 21 percent unemployment, and almost 75 percent of those employed are poorly paid, under the table." However, “the Church is intervening with humanitarian assistance.”
“We have been helping with this crisis for the last three years. We're doing it, we're helping many institutions in Venezuela. Also with the aid of the U.S. government. We have a medical clinic that serves almost 800 people a day. We're distributing food, we're helping people who are migrating,” he said.
“The emergency has been created, but we've already been helping as a Church,” he told ACI Prensa.
The bishop said that since mid 2015 they have distributed “a million good quality warm servings without counting emergency servings.”
“When the food allotted for the day runs out we distribute tuna and pasta, or tuna and rice and a loaf of bread so no pregnant woman goes without eating, no child goes without eating, no elderly person goes without eating,” he said.
The bishop said that the Divine Providence House of Transit distributes 5,000 servings a day. Another 5,000 meals are delivered to eight parishes.
“It's the charity of the Church that we try to live out here with great fidelity to the Lord: 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,'” said Bishop Ochoa, expressing the desire of the faithful to be able to do more for the migrants.
The prelate highlighted the commitment of nearly 800 volunteers from parishes and ecclesial movements who are also joined by priests and nuns.
For several days aid shipments, arranged by Guaidó, have been sitting in Cúcuta, awaiting permission from Maduro to enter Venezuela.
A tanker truck and a cargo container, placed there by the Venezuelan military, are currently blocking the Tienditas bridge which connects Cúcuta to Urena, Venezuela.
Caritas Venezuela has been asking for three years that humanitarian aid be allowed into the country.
Maduro told the BBC Feb. 12 that the aid is being blocked because “it's a show, that the United States government has set up with the compliance of the Colombian government to humiliate the Venezuelans. Venezuela is a country that has the capacity to satisfy all the necessities of our people.”
“Venezuela is a country that has dignity, and the United States has intended to create a humanitarian crisis in order to justify a military intervention - 'humanitarian'. And this is part of that show,” Maduro said. “That's the reason that we, with dignity, tell them that the minuscule crumbs that they intend to bring with toxic food, with leftovers that they have, we tell them no - Venezuela has dignity, Venezuela produces and works and our people do not to beg from anyone.”
It was reported Feb. 11 that Brazil has also agreed to set up a staging area for humanitarian aid intended for Venezuela.
Bishop Ochoa expressed his desire that the aid enter Venezuela, saying, “Not to permit access is a political problem. We want the Venezuelan people to have all they need.”
Lester Toledo, Guaidó's coordinator of humanitarian aid, said Feb. 11 that besides the United States “there are dozens of countries in the region, from the Lima Group and from Europe, that are willing to bring in the initial tons of aid, medical supplies, food.”
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.