By Humeyra Pamuk
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Friday pledged more than $171 million in humanitarian assistance and development funding at a donor conference to help Venezuelans impacted by the South American country’s economic and political crisis.
Some 7 million people have fled as a result of the crisis in Venezuela in recent years, and most are now scattered around Latin America and the Caribbean, according to figures from the United Nations. Many face difficulty accessing basic services, food, and formal employment.
“This new funding will help provide food, health care, emergency shelter, and access to legal and protection services,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said virtually at the conference in Brussels.
In a statement, the USAID said $84 million of the funding will be allocated to humanitarian assistance, providing direct relief to Venezuelans who remain in the country, while $31 million of it will be used to help the economic integration of Venezuelans who have fled to Colombia and Ecuador.
The remaining $56 million will support a number of humanitarian programs for Venezuelans and their host communities, covering emergency shelter, access to health care and protection of vulnerable groups, the USAID said.
The funding followed Washington’s announcement in September that it would provide nearly $376 million in humanitarian aid to Venezuelans.
The U.S. backs Venezuela’s opposition, recognizing its parallel legislature and decrying what it says is socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship.
Under former President Donald Trump’s administration, the United States intensified its sanctions against the South American country. It froze and seized Venezuelan government funds at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and then used the funds to support opposition lawmakers who oppose Maduro.
The Venezuelan opposition has complained that the U.S. clearance process needed to replace its previous point person for distribution of funds, former interim president Juan Guaido, is stretching on. They say the funds will also help humanitarian efforts.
Maduro’s government opposes what it says is U.S. foreign interference in its politics and has said the opposition stole funds that could be used for social and medical support.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Susan Heavey, Mark Porter and Paul Simao)