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Ivanka Trump embraces Venezuela migrants as US boosts aid

September 5, 2019
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Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump's daughter and White House adviser, talks to Venezuelan migrant Andry Rodriguez at a migrant shelter in La Parada near Cucuta, Colombia, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. Ivanka Trump is kicking off her trip to South America by promoting women's empowerment. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
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Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump's daughter and White House adviser, talks to Venezuelan migrant Andry Rodriguez at a migrant shelter in La Parada near Cucuta, Colombia, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. Ivanka Trump is kicking off her trip to South America by promoting women's empowerment. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

CUCUTA, Colombia (AP) — Ivanka Trump met with Venezuelan migrants and opposition leaders on Wednesday as the U.S. government announced a new aid package of $120 million for people leaving the crisis-wracked South American nation.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter and special adviser is on a five-day tour of South America aimed at promoting a White House initiative for the economic empowerment of women. But she turned her attention to Venezuela’s political crisis during a brief stop at the Colombian border town of Cucuta, which has been flooded with people fleeing Venezuela.

After meeting with a group of exiled Venezuelan opposition leaders, Trump said she was “inspired” by their efforts to secure free elections in the South American country and moved by their stories of “courage in the face of real brutality and atrocity.”

“The people of Venezuela are not alone” Trump told the political leaders, who face arrest warrants in Venezuela.

She also visited a migrant center run by the Red Cross that is providing food, shelter and legal advice to recently arrived Venezuelans. There she spoke with people who said they left home with almost no money for food and shelter. Many had no permits to work in Colombia.

“I think she was quite moved by the stories she heard here” said Wendy Quevedo a 34-year-old Venezuelan migrant at the shelter whose 12-year-old son suffers from a birth defect that makes it hard for him to walk and control his bladder. Quevedo said she moved to Colombia hoping to get him medical treatment that is unavailable at home.

“Ivanka took down our names and spoke with my son” Quevedo said. “I have faith that she can help me to get an operation for him.”

According to the United Nations, more than 4 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015, escaping food shortages, hyperinflation and what they say is political repression. Opposition leader Juan Guaido has been leading a U.S.-backed campaign to replace socialist President Nicolas Maduro through new elections, but has failed to secure the crucial support of the Venezuelan military.

USAID Administrator Mark Green accompanied Trump on her visit to Cucuta and announced $120 million in funding for programs that help Venezuelan migrants and refugees arriving in South American countries.

Green said the new funds will be used to provide healthcare services and nutrition to vulnerable migrants, bringing U.S. funding for programs that help Venezuelan migrants to a total of $317 million over the past two years.

“We know that humanitarian assistance is a treatment not a cure” for the large exodus of Venezuelans Green said. “The cure comes from restoring liberty dignity and democracy in Venezuela.”

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Rueda reported from Bogota, Colombia.

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