Guaido boosted by Europe backing in standoff

Venezuela's opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido attends a session of the National Assembly in Caracas, on Feb. 5, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 05 February 2019

Guaido boosted by Europe backing in standoff

  • Despite Guaido's pleas for their support, the armed forces — the country's key power — have remained loyal to Maduro
  • Britain, France and Spain were among 19 EU nations to side with Guaido, following in the footsteps of key regional powers

CARACAS: International clamor for snap elections in Venezuela intensified as European powers recognized opposition chief Juan Guaido as interim leader, after President Nicolas Maduro rejected an ultimatum to call early voting.

Britain, France and Spain were among 19 EU nations to side with Guaido, following in the footsteps of key regional powers and the US, which has refused to rule out a military intervention in the crisis-wracked country.

But key Maduro ally Russia slammed what it called interference in the oil-rich but now poor Latin American country, saying it was an attempt to “legitimize usurped power.”

Guaido thanked each EU country in turn on Twitter “for supporting all Venezuelans in this struggle we undertake to rescue our nation’s democracy, freedom and justice.”
Claiming his legitimacy from the constitution, the 35-year-old National Assembly leader stunned the world when he proclaimed himself interim president on January 23, setting up a tense standoff with Maduro — with both men heading rival massive street rallies in Caracas on Saturday.
Guaido is trying to force from power the socialist leader — labeled a dictator by the West and his Latin American neighbors after presiding over Venezuela's economic collapse — aiming to set up a transitional government and hold new presidential elections.
Despite Guaido's pleas for their support, the armed forces — the country's key power — have remained loyal to Maduro. But the opposition leader has expressed confidence he will win over senior officers after a top air force general publicly sided with him on Saturday.
Guaido lost no time in building on broadened international support, with his fledgling alternative administration announcing February 14 talks in Washington on responding to "the largest hemispheric humanitarian crisis in modern history."
The opposition leader says up to 300,000 people are at risk of death from malnutrition and illness after years of shortages of basic food and medicines.
The US and other countries have already pledged humanitarian aid for Guaido's administration, though it remains to be seen where and how it can enter the country without the military's support.
The young lawmaker accused the military of planning to divert aid being stockpiled in Colombia, Brazil and an unidentified Caribbean island, in order to distribute it through the socialist government's subsidized food program for supporters.
Guaido appealed to the military's "conscience" to let the aid reach those most in need.
It remained unclear how Guaido could fund and operate an interim presidency with Maduro refusing to budge.
He accused Maduro of trying to illicitly transfer up to $1.2 billion from public coffers to a bank in Uruguay.
Guaido also said Maduro was seeking to move the money from the Venezuelan Economic and Social Development Bank to its branch in Uruguay and urged the Montevideo government "not to lend itself to stealing."
France, Germany, Britain, Portugal, Austria, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg also recognized Guaido. Ten EU countries have yet to announce their position.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the European states' recognition of Guaido, and urged others to follow suit.
The cascade of support from EU countries came after the passing of a Sunday deadline for Maduro to call presidential elections.
Maduro flatly rejected the demands in an interview with Spanish television, insisting he would not "cave in to pressure."
Venezuela's foreign ministry announced a "review" of its diplomatic relations with EU states over their recognition of Guaido, saying they were effectively supporting plans for a coup.
Maduro began a new term in office last month after 2018 elections branded illegitimate by the opposition.
In the interview, he supported plans for a meeting of Latin American and EU states in a "Contact Group" in Montevideo on Thursday, saying it would lead to "dialogue."
Maduro has rejected all offers of aid, dismissing it as the thin edge of a wedge of US military involvement.
Under Maduro's stewardship, oil-dependent Venezuela has plunged into an economic crisis, suffering from hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.
On Monday, oil prices rose to their highest level yet this year on European markets on the back of the crisis in Venezuela.
Consultancy Eurasia warned that US oil sanctions are "set to have a broad impact" with the government facing "the prospect of running out of gasoline, which could serve as another social catalyst."
Forty people were killed in clashes with security forces in a week of protests coinciding with Guaido's self-proclamation as acting leader, according to the United Nations.
Local NGO Foro Penal said almost 1,000 people were detained between January 21 and 31.
It said Venezuela now has its "largest number of political prisoners" in 18 years, including 82 members of the armed forces.

Millions malnourished in Pakistan despite abundance of food

Updated 25 min 20 sec ago

Millions malnourished in Pakistan despite abundance of food

KARACHI: A frantic mother cradling her seven-month-old baby rushes toward the special paediatric ward in a desolate Pakistan town, his eyes are blank and he is smaller than most newborns.
He is starving in a country that has no shortage of food, but which has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and where malnutrition is rife.
The infant weighs just 2.5 kilograms — the average for a healthy child of that age is almost three times that.
His case is not unique for the doctors at the Mithi Civil Hospital in hunger-stricken Sindh province where millions survive on less than $1 a day.
Of the 150-250 patients who come in each day, roughly one fifth are suffering from malnutrition, Dr. Dilip Kumar, head of the paediatric department, tells AFP.
Inside the ward, nine other malnourished infants are crying inside glass incubators. A young mother, Nazeeran, clutches the hand of her toddler.
“Her weight is dropping, even though we consulted many doctors,” the 25-year-old says.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a poverty and hunger watchdog, estimates around one in five of Pakistan’s more than 200 million people are malnourished.
And yet, the nation is not short of food — in fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture, it is projected to export 500,000 tons of wheat from May 2018 until April 2019, and 7.4 million tons of rice in the same period.
Dawn, the English-language daily newspaper, even reported a potato glut earlier this month.

The issues, experts say, are socio-economic — that is, just because food is available, does not mean people can access it.
“There are four key pillars of food security in Pakistan: The first is availability, then accessibility, utilization and stability,” says Dr. Ambreen Fatima, senior research economist at the Applied Economic Research Center of the Karachi University.
In Tharparkar, where Mithi Civil Hospital is, all four are lacking, she explains, adding that in other parts of the country they are present only to varying degrees.
“Pakistan is quite well off in wheat production,” comments Dr. Kaiser Bengali, a veteran economist, who has done field research on poverty and hunger in the country, but adds that much of it is sold for export.
This means ordinary people in the country may not have access to it, and if they do they may not have the resources to pay for it.
“Affordability is the biggest challenge here in Pakistan,” he says.
Karachi is Pakistan’s financial capital, but Bengali says he has seen alarming examples of poverty and deprivation there.
“In our surveys we came across the kids who had never eaten an apple, and when we offered him an apple he was reluctant to take the bite wondering whether it was an edible thing or not,” Bengali reveals.
“In another case a family had never had eggs in their whole lives,” he adds.
A survey of the state-run Planning Division in 2017 found that 40 percent of Pakistan’s population lives in multi-dimensional poverty.
That means they are not just short of money, but are also facing a shortage of basic needs, including health, clean water, and electricity, among other factors — all of which can impact their access to food.

“Poor physical infrastructure, particularly in the remote rural areas throughout Pakistan is also a limitation on access to food and influences market prices,” according to a recent statement from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“This is also linked to inadequate water and sanitation, education and health service delivery, which together with the lack of awareness of appropriate dietary intake contributes to greater food insecurity and malnutrition.”
Tharparkar district is frequently highlighted in Pakistan’s media because of its high rate of child deaths, with politicians blaming the situation on drought — but economists and physicians say that is not the sole explanation.
“Causes of malnutrition are multiple pregnancies, young-aged marriage, iron deficiency in mothers, (lack) of breastfeeding, weak immunization, and early weaning,” Dr. Kumar insists.
Bearing large numbers of children from a young age takes its toll on women’s health, but also impacts the well-being of the fetus and ability to breastfeed a newborn.
In Pakistan, only 38 percent of babies are fed breast milk exclusively during their first six months in line with UN recommendations.
This low figure is blamed on local traditions, the heavy workloads of mothers and powerful marketing by the milk industry.
Many mothers are told to feed their newborns tea, herbs, which can stunt growth. Some are unnecessarily persuaded to use formula instead of breastmilk by doctors.
This can introduce health problems if the water use to make it is unclean, or if poor families scrimp on the amount of powder to create the drink.
Sindh’s high number of child deaths are the result of a vicious poverty cycle that begins with malnourished mothers, agrees Bengali.
He adds: “An infant is not fed with wheat or solid food.”