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US diverts Central America aid to boost Venezuela's Guaido
[WASHINGTON] President Donald Trump's administration is diverting nearly US$42 million in development aid from Guatemala and Honduras to promote Venezuela's opposition chief Juan Guaido, including paying staff salaries, an internal document showed.
In a memo obtained by AFP, the US Agency for International Development called Venezuela's political crisis "a significant, exigent event in the US national interest" that required a switch in US$41.9 million in funds.
The United States and more than 50 other countries recognise Mr Guaido as president of Venezuela, but leftist leader Nicolas Maduro remains in power despite nearly half a year of international efforts.
Mr Trump earlier this year declared that he would end all US aid to Guatemala and Honduras as well as El Salvador, blaming the violence-plagued countries for not stopping their citizens from migrating to the United States.
A State Department official, without confirming the dollar amounts involved, said that the money taken away from Central America would have gone to development, not more urgent humanitarian needs.
"This decision is consistent with the president's direction that the United States will not provide new funds for programs in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras," he said.
"We are investing in good governance, human rights, technical assistance for the Guaido government, independent media, and civil society," he said.
In the memo, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times, the US aid agency said that US$19.4 million in the funding earlier intended for Central America would go to "good governance" in Venezuela.
Among other uses, that portion will go to "interim government staff salaries or stipends, work-related travel and other costs necessary to ensure full deployment of a transparent financial management system and other activities necessary for a democratic transition."
It will also be directed to non-governmental organisations to "create media content and airtime to provide greater reach to Venezuelan citizens," the memo said.
Another US$2 million will go to support diplomatic efforts by Mr Guaido's supporters as they negotiate with Mr Maduro, the memo said.
The two sides have been meeting in Barbados in talks mediated by Norway, although limited progress has been seen.
The US aid agency will also direct US$7.5 million to support independent media to "provide the Venezuelan people with unbiased and unfiltered sources of news and information," the memo said.
The rest of the funds will go to a range of uses including strengthening human rights groups, election monitoring and civil society.
The United States in the 2018 fiscal year allocated nearly US$149 million to Guatemala and US$112 million to Honduras as it sought to improve conditions causing migration.