Venezuela pledges to keep troops on border to stop ‘violations’

Opposition plans to bring in aid on Saturday as Trump urges Venezuelan military to back Guaidó

 Venezuela’s defence minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez at a news conference in Caracas on Tuesday. Photograph:   Manaure Quintero/Reuters

Venezuela’s defence minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez at a news conference in Caracas on Tuesday. Photograph: Manaure Quintero/Reuters

 

Venezuelan troops will remain stationed along the country’s borders to prevent territorial violations, the defence minister said on Tuesday, ahead of the opposition’s plan to bring in humanitarian aid to alleviate an economic crisis.

President Nicolás Maduro has rejected offers of foreign food and medicine, denying there are widespread shortages and accusing opposition leader Juan Guaidó of using aid to undermine his government in a US-orchestrated bid to oust him.

Mr Guaidó has said that aid will enter Venezuela from neighbouring countries by land and sea on Saturday. The United States has sent tonnes of aid to Colombia’s border with Venezuela, but Mr Maduro has refused to let it in.

In comments broadcast on state TV, defence minister Vladimir Padrino said the opposition would have to pass over “our dead bodies” to impose a new government. Mr Guaidó, who has invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, denounces Mr Maduro as illegitimate and has received backing from some 50 countries.

US president Donald Trump on Monday warned members of Venezuela’s military who remain loyal to Mr Maduro that they would “find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out.”

“You’ll lose everything,” Mr Trump told a crowd of Venezuelan and Cuban immigrants in Miami.

Mr Guaidó has beseeched the armed forces to disavow Mr Maduro, promising them future amnesty, though only a few officers have so far done so.

‘Obedient’

Mr Padrino said it was unacceptable for the military to receive threats from Mr Trump, and said officers and soldiers remained “obedient and subordinate” to Mr Maduro.

“They will never accept orders from any foreign government . . . they will remain deployed and alert along the borders, as our commander in chief has ordered, to avoid any violations of our territory’s integrity,” Mr Padrino said.

“Those that attempt to be president here in Venezuela . . will have to pass over our dead bodies,” he said, referring to what he called Mr Guaidó’s efforts to create a “puppet government”.

Mr Guaidó, addressing those who called him a “puppet”, said on Tuesday that the National Assembly, of which he is head, was making decisions, not any foreign power. “The decision-making is sovereign,” he said, after a meeting with ambassadors from European countries.

Mr Maduro, who won a second term last year in an election that critics denounced as a sham, retains the backing of Russia and China and control of Venezuelan state institutions.

Maritime border

Venezuelan authorities have closed the maritime border with the Dutch Antilles, a regional navy chief told Reuters on Tuesday, preventing boats and aircraft from arriving from the islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire.

Vice-admiral Quintero Martinez did not give a reason for the closure, though Venezuela’s opposition have said they plan to bring humanitarian aid into the country from Curaçao on Saturday, which Mr Maduro’s government has pledged to block.

Leaders of several Latin American nations plan to travel to Colombia’s border with Venezuela on Friday ahead of the delivery of aid, Chile’s president Sebastian Pinera said on Tuesday, adding he had accepted an invitation from Colombian president Ivan Duque.

“We want to show the strong and clear support from all Latin America – almost all Latin America – to a prompt and peaceful solution to Venezuela’s grave crisis,” Mr Pinera told a news conference.

It was not immediately clear which leaders would attend. Most Latin American countries now recognise Mr Guaidó as president, though Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua still support Mr Maduro.

Billionaire Richard Branson is also backing a “Live Aid”-style concert on Friday in the Colombian border city of Cácuta with a fundraising target of $100 million to provide food and medicine for Venezuela. Mr Maduro’s government has announced two rival concerts just across the border. – Reuters