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US aid arrives at Colombia border despite Maduro rejection | Venezuela News





Cucuta, Colombia – Trucks carrying food and medical supplies from the United States have arrived in Cucuta, on the Colombia-Venezuela border, stoking tensions with the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas.

The arrival of the aid convoy on Thursday, which was organised jointly by the US and Venezuelan opposition leaders, came a day after Venezuela barricaded its own side of the border vowing not to allow entry.

“We are not beggars,” Maduro told the military earlier this week, rejecting the move as a ploy to humiliate Venezuela.

Amid uncertainty over the aid’s fate, demonstrators at the Tienditas bridge entrance welcomed the trucks by blowing horns and calling for a change in crisis-hit Venezuela. Among a media scrum, some shouted, “Maduro out now”.

Members of the Venezuelan opposition have also converged in Cucuta to help plan and execute the delivery of the aid, in a calculated move seen as a test of the Venezuelan military’s loyalty to Maduro.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidothe self-proclaimed interim president who has earned recognition from the US and a number of other countries, requested the international assistance saying it is essential in a country that has been ravaged by shortages of basic food and medicine.

Maduro, who is backed by countries such as China, Russia and Turkey, has repeatedly denied a humanitarian crisis exists in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s socialist economic system has been severely hit following the collapse of world oil prices in 2014. Inflation has skyrocketed, while since 2016, more than three million Venezuelans have fled to neighbouring countries amid a short supply of food and medicine in the country.

Luigi Rivas holds a sign reading ‘humanitarian aid now’ at the Tienditas border bridge [Steven Grattan/Al Jazeera]

At Tienditas bridge, Luigi Rivas, a 31-year-old Venezuelan migrant, brandished a cardboard sign reading “humanitarian aid now”.

“It is a cowardly action he’s made,” Rivas told Al Jazeera, referring to Maduro’s bridge closure.

US officials have also criticised the decision, pledging to move the humanitarian assistance into Venezuela as soon as safety allows. 

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said “Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid” and that “the regime must let aid reach starving people”.

For his part, Maduro has continuously denounced Washington’s interference in Venezuelan affairs.

In an open letter to the White House on Thursday evening, the president said: “Your representatives want to bring the same hate that you sewed in Vietnam to our borders. You want to invade and intervene in Venezuela in the name of democracy and freedom. But that is not the case.”

While it is still unclear what will happen with the planned aid delivery, the Colombian government has said the supplies will not be distributed in Colombia but in Venezuela, urging Venezuelans not to come to Cucuta in search of it.

Venezuelans cross the Simon Bolivar pedestrian bridge into Colombia to buy basic products [Steven Grattan/Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, the flow of Venezuelans entering neighbouring Colombia via the main border crossing to buy basic supplies continued as normal on Thursday.

More than 50,000 people cross into Cucuta, with up to 5,000 staying in Colombia, according to Colombian migration officials. 

Many cross to purchase food and medicine that is unavailable in Venezuela and then return, while others use it as their first port of call as they migrate elsewhere in Colombia or to countries such as Ecuador and Peru. 

Crossing with his wife and brother, Julio Coronel said he made this trip once a week to buy vegetables, flour, eggs and rice.

“It’s indispensable,” the 66-year-old from Tachira state,said, on the need for aid. “We are in an unbelievable crisis, but Maduro keeps saying we aren’t. He’s crazy and what he is doing should be illegal!”

The United Nations has appealed for a cash injection of $738m this year to help Venezuela’s neighbours cope with the mass exodus.

The Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan allocates $315m to Colombia, $117m to Ecuador, $106m to Peru and $56m to Brazil – the countries hosting most Venezuelan migrants.

According to the UN, the appeal has only received $5m so far.


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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling





So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister





Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa





OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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