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US diverts Central America aid to boost Venezuela's Guaido

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Washington (AFP)

President Donald Trump's administration is diverting nearly $42 million intended for development aid in Guatemala and Honduras to support Venezuela's opposition chief Juan Guaido, including 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 $41.9 million in funds.

The United States and more than 50 other countries recognize Guaido as president of Venezuela, but leftist leader Nicolas Maduro remains in power despite nearly half a year of international efforts.

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.

The US aid agency said that $19.4 million in funding intended for Central America would support "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 organizations to "create media content and airtime to provide greater reach to Venezuelan citizens," the memo said.

Another $2 million will go to support diplomatic efforts by Guaido's supporters as they negotiate with 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 $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 State Department did not immediately offer comment when asked about the funding diversion, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The United States in the 2018 fiscal year allocated nearly $149 million to Guatemala and $112 million to Honduras as it sought to improve conditions causing migration.

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