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U.N. aid coordinator halts Venezuela cash transfer programs

GlobalJan 20, 2021 20:00
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2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro delivers his annual state of the nation speech in Caracas 2/2

CARACAS (Reuters) - The United Nations Office for Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs said on Wednesday it has halted programs in Venezuela that provide cash transfers to the poor via local nonprofit organizations.

The U.N. office known as OCHA is asking the government of President Nicolas Maduro to establish clear rules regarding cash transfers.

"We're working with pertinent authorities so that the (cash transfer programs) are in line with the country's financial/banking regulatory framework with the aim of reactivating them, guaranteeing the safety of humanitarian workers and continuing to support ... vulnerable people," OCHA said in an email.

It added that the suspension does not affect other humanitarian activities in its portfolio, and that it is seeking to provide other types of benefits to those who have been receiving cash transfers.

Venezuela's information ministry did not reply to requests for comment.

The decision follows Venezuela's detention of five members of HIV-prevention organization Blue Positive who now face charges including criminal association and money laundering, according to local media reports.

Blue Positive was not part of the OCHA cash transfer programs, according to the sources.

But the detentions followed a spate of police raids on nonprofit organizations, which the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights described as "disconcerting" in a statement earlier this month that called on Venezuela to stop harassing aid workers.

In its 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan, OCHA said it expected to provide $57.8 million to 32 Venezuelan organizations for distribution via cash transfers, seeking to provide relief for the country's ongoing humanitarian and economic crises.

Relief organizations worldwide are moving toward cash transfers to help poor citizens meet basic needs such as acquiring food while cutting costs associated with delivering supplies themselves.

But Maduro's government has been suspicious of foreign aid.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido last year created a program that made several monthly deposits of $100 to a group of health workers using funds seized in the United States, angering ruling Socialist Party officials.

Local minimum wage for most of 2020 was around $1 per month.

U.N. aid coordinator halts Venezuela cash transfer programs

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