Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

A dentist at a medical camp set up by volunteers in Caracas on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 19 February 2019
0

Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

  • Volunteer groups have begun meeting in ‘humanitarian camps’

CARACAS: Venezuela has expelled five visiting European lawmakers, an act opposition leader Juan Guaido branded “irrational” as his showdown with President Nicolas Maduro over the arrival of international aid intensifies.
The members of the European Parliament were being tossed out with no explanation, said Spanish MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons, who led the group.
“We are being expelled from Venezuela. Our passports have been seized. They have not informed us of the reason for the expulsion,” Pons said.
The incident on Sunday is the latest point of tension between the international community and Maduro, who is in the grip of a power struggle with Guaido, the head of the National Assembly who proclaimed himself interim president last month.
Guaido has the backing of more than 50 countries including 30 in Europe.
Pons’ fellow Spaniards Jose Ignacio Salafranca and Gabriel Mato Adrover, as well as Esther de Lange of the Netherlands and Paulo Rangel of Portugal, were also expelled. All are members of the conservative European People’s Party (PPE).
Writing on Twitter, Guaido said the MEPs were being “deported by an isolated and increasingly irrational regime.”
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the Europeans had “conspiratorial aims” and were sent back from the country’s main Maiquetia airport.
Earlier Sunday, Guaido set a goal of enlisting a million volunteers within a week to confront a government blockade that has kept tons of humanitarian aid, most of it from the US, from flowing into the country where residents can’t get enough food and say they are dying because of a shortage of medicines.
Guaido has given next Saturday — one month to the day after he proclaimed himself acting president — as the date for a showdown with Maduro over the aid.
Food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements have been stockpiled near the Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia.
Additional storage centers are supposed to open this week in Brazil and Curacao, a Dutch island off Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coast.
“Our principal task is to reach a million volunteers by February 23,” Guaido said in a message to the 600,000 supporters who have signed up so far for the push to bring aid in.
Caravans of buses are being planned to carry volunteers to border entry points to meet and transport arriving cargo. Guaido has kept to himself how he plans to overcome the border barriers put up by the Venezuelan military, on Maduro’s orders.
Volunteer groups have begun meeting in “humanitarian camps” in several Venezuelan states to organize and prepare for the aid arrival.
They have started to identify the most vulnerable and have begun caring for the needy in accordance with Guaido’s promises.
Sometimes working under awnings or tents, doctors, nurses, dentists and pediatricians have attended to local residents who can receive donated medications.
Patients arrive with respiratory, skin or other ailments, and suffering from malnutrition.
An imploding economy has driven an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans to migrate from the oil-rich country. Those who remain have been punished by hyperinflation that has put scarce food and medicine out of reach for many.
Andrea Hernandez, a physical therapy student whose mother is a pediatric nurse, is among those offering her help. Hernandez said her mother often “cried from seeing her patients die from lack of medicine.”
Yorger Maita, a helper from the aid group Rescate Venezuela, said that if foreign aid does not enter “other people will continue to die.”
Maduro, who denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, dismisses the opposition moves as a “political show” and a cover for a US invasion.
US Senator Marco Rubio arrived Sunday in Cucuta for a first-hand look at the aid operations.
“Whoever prevents the entry of humanitarian aid is condemned to spend the rest of their lives fleeing international justice, because that is an international crime,” Rubio said in Spanish.
Three US military cargo planes delivered several dozen more tons of food assistance to Cucuta on Saturday.
Another US aircraft is due in Curacao from Miami on Tuesday, and a collection center for Brazilian aid will open Monday on the border, Guaido’s team said.
Venezuelans based in Miami held their own drive, putting together 1,000 crates of food to send to their homeland.
On Friday, Maduro instructed his army to prepare a “special deployment plan” for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.
Guaido appealed for the military to let the aid pass.
Maduro has dismissed the humanitarian assistance as “crumbs” and “rotten and contaminated food” while blaming shortages of food and medicine on US sanctions.


Indian election fever wins tourism vote from around the world

Updated 18 min 15 sec ago
0

Indian election fever wins tourism vote from around the world

  • General elections in India take on something of a festival feel
  • More than 35 tour companies in India are hoping to cash in on the election tourism trade

NEW DELHI: Tourists to India are being given the chance to elect for a package holiday with a difference when the country goes to the polls next month.

Travel operators are offering all-in breaks which include taking part in election rallies, attending polls and joining key political figures on campaign trails.

More than 1,600 holidaymakers from around the world have already booked six-day and two-week package deals costing between $600 and $2,000.

Minal Jain, from Indian agency Akshar Travels, said: “We want to showcase Indian democracy to the world. But not just in one state. We want to take people to different parts of India and expose them to different cultures and show how this diverse country comes together to operate democracy.”

General elections in India take on something of a festival feel, and more than 900 million people are expected to head to the polls when voting gets underway on April 11. The result of what is expected to be a tightly fought contest will be announced on May 23.

And more than 35 tour companies in India are hoping to cash in on the election tourism trade.

Akshar Travels, based in the Gujarat state capital of Ahmedabad, has several packages available on its website www.electiontourismindia.com.

Jain said that most of their customers were students, researchers and elderly people interested in Indian culture, history and politics.

As well as hundreds of confirmed bookings, agents had received more than 3,500 other enquiries from around the world about election breaks, Jain added.

The concept of election tourism began in Mexico in 2005 and gained traction a year later at a major international tourism conference in London attended by more than 100 travel operators.

It was first trialed in India during the 2012 Gujarat elections, and gained momentum in the general elections of 2014 when more than 5,200 tourists from countries including China, Nepal, the US, the UAE, Australia, Ukraine, Japan, Germany and France signed up for package deals.

Nimisha Limbachia, a non-resident Indian (NRI) based in Britain, took an Indian election holiday in 2014. “I was really curious to witness the elections after the anti-corruption movement in 2014 that galvanized the whole nation,” she said.

“It was a wonderful experience to see the huge rallies and electrifying crowds that gathered to hear Narendra Modi (current Indian Prime Minister),” the marketing professional told Arab News.

Limbachia intends to return this year too, along with hundreds of other trippers from Britain and throughout Europe.

“People in Britain and Europe are not exposed to big open rallies,” she added. “Thousands of people jostling with each other in the harsh sun to listen to speeches is something unheard of in Britain but there are many who want to experience that.”