Watchdog: US aid to Venezuela driven by more than just need

FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2019 file photo, charred trucks that were part of a humanitarian aid convoy attempting to cross into Venezuela sit parked on the Francisco de Paula Santander international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia. A new report published on April 16, 2021, by the inspector general at the U.S. Agency for International Development said the deployment of the aid was driven in part to the U.S.' pursuit of regime change rather than just technical analysis of the needs and best ways to help struggling Venezuelans. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2019 file photo, charred trucks that were part of a humanitarian aid convoy attempting to cross into Venezuela sit parked on the Francisco de Paula Santander international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia. A new report published on April 16, 2021, by the inspector general at the U.S. Agency for International Development said the deployment of the aid was driven in part to the U.S.' pursuit of regime change rather than just technical analysis of the needs and best ways to help struggling Venezuelans. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

MIAMI – It was billed as the beginning of the end for Nicolás Maduro. With foreign leaders in tow and the world watching, anti-Maduro activists gathered in Colombia in February 2019 with the aim of pushing entire warehouses worth of aid — flown in on U.S. military cargo planes — across the border into Venezuela.

Instead, the humanitarian convoy was violently blocked by security forces loyal to Maduro — the first in a series of miscalculations in the Trump administration's policy toward Venezuela.

More than two years later, the risky gambit is being questioned by a U.S. government watchdog. A new report by the inspector general at the U.S. Agency for International Development raises doubts about whether the deployment of aid was driven more by the U.S. pursuit of regime change than by technical analysis of needs and the best ways to help struggling Venezuelans.

The findings were published April 16 but have not been previously reported.

The report focuses on the frenzied few months after opposition leader Juan Guaidó rose up to challenge Maduro’s rule, quickly winning recognition as Venezuela’s rightful leader by the U.S. and dozens of allies.

As part of that effort, USAID between January and April 2019 spent $2 million to position 368 tons of emergency supplies on the Caribbean island of Curacao and on the Colombia-Venezuela border.

Under Guaidó’s orders, the aid was supposed to be delivered into Venezuela in defiance of Maduro, who condemned the effort as a veiled coup attempt. But when an opposition-organized caravan that tried to enter Venezuela was blocked at the border, at least one truck caught fire, destroying $34,000 worth of U.S.-supplied aid.

As media attention turned away and Guaido’s fight to unseat Maduro unraveled in the months that followed, the U.S. assistance was quietly repurposed. In the end, only eight tons ever reached Venezuela, with the remaining 360 tons distributed inside Colombia or shipped to Somalia, the report found.