Head of Venezuela parliament calls on pope to pressure Maduro

Venezuela's legislative speaker called on Pope Francis on Thursday to plead with President Nicolas Maduro to allow food aid to reach the country's destitute.

"Reality forces us to address you for the purpose of encouraging you to make an urgent call for the immediate opening of the humanitarian channel" by which food and medicines can be distributed to the neediest cases, Julio Borges said in a letter addressed to Francis. 

Borges also asked the pontiff to call for "a cessation of political persecution" against opponents and for human rights to be respected, according to the letter dated August 28 but made public Thursday. 

"Every week four children die of malnutrition, the rate of shortage of medicines exceeds 90 percent and millions of Venezuelans cross our borders, fleeing the tragedy," the head of the opposition-majority parliament said. 

He noted that donations sent to Venezuela in recent months by organizations such as Caritas Chile have not been accepted by the Maduro government. 

Borges's press office said the letter had been sent to Francis to coincide with his September 6-10 visit to neighboring Colombia.