The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has said it is poised to deliver aid to Venezuela, warning that it will not accept any interference from president Nicolas Maduro or opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Federation president Francesco Rocca said at a news conference in the capital of Caracas that the humanitarian network could start distributing assistance to an estimated 650,000 people in the South American country in around 15 days.
The Red Cross “can never accept interference from other actors”, Mr Rocca added, saying that Venezuela was a deeply polarised country and it was vital that no one took advantage of the aid.
On Twitter, however, Mr Guaido almost immediately claimed credit for the effort, saying the announcement amounted to a victory for “our struggle”.
He also said medical aid would be coming into Venezuela in a matter of days, reiterating a promise that he was forced to renege on in February after security forces blocked US-backed assistance from entering the country and clashed with protesters.
Mr Guaido said Venezuelans should stay vigilant to make sure incoming aid was not diverted for “corrupt” purposes, but did not explain the logistics of aid shipments or say whether any agreement had been made with Mr Maduro to let them in.
The leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly has previously rejected the idea of negotiations with Mr Maduro, saying his embattled adversary must resign immediately so that elections can be held.
Mr Maduro, who has previously denied that Venezuela was suffering a humanitarian crisis, did not immediately comment on the Red Cross initiative.
A Chinese plane, meanwhile, arrived at the country’s main airport, carrying what Venezuelan officials said was a 65-ton cargo of medical supplies.
The latest announcement comes as dire conditions in Venezuela force millions to leave the country and make lives elsewhere.
Many who have stayed behind struggle to afford supplies of food and medicine, while nationwide power outages this month have exacerbated widespread misery.
A new blackout struck Venezuela on Friday evening, plunging much of the nation again into darkness.
Netblocks, a non-government group based in Europe that monitors internet censorship, said the latest outage left just 10% of Venezuela’s telecommunications infrastructure online.
Mr Rocca said he could not accept the idea of children dying because of a lack of electricity, and said Red Cross workers would focus on the medical needs of hospitals, regardless of whether they are state-run or not.
“The distribution has to be neutral,” he said.
Mr Rocca added that the Red Cross would consider delivering aid currently being stored on the Colombian and Brazilian sides of the border with Venezuela, as long as it meets the protocols of the humanitarian organisation.
On February 23, Mr Guaido attempted to deliver that aid, much of which was provided by the United States in a direct challenge to the rule of Mr Maduro. But Mr Maduro said the shipments were part of a coup attempt against him, and armed forces blockaded the assistance.