Venezuela: Troops block border bridge to stop aid from Colombia
Country’s Bolivarian national guard seen on bridge blocked by tanker, shipping containers
An aerial view of the Tienditas Bridge, in the border between Cucuta, Colombia and Tachira, Venezuela, after Venezuelan military forces formed a blockade on February 6th Photograph: Edinson Estupinan/AFP/Getty
Venezuelan troops have barricaded a bridge on the country’s western border with Colombia in an apparent attempt to prevent the entry of humanitarian aid sent by opposition leaders trying to force Nicolas Maduro from power.
On Wednesday lunchtime a fuel tanker and two shipping containers blocked the Tienditas international bridge which connects the two countries and has become a staging ground for the planned relief effort. Members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian national guard could also be seen at the bridge.
Maduro has repeatedly denied his economically devastated country is facing a humanitarian crisis, apparently fearing such an acceptance could be used to justify foreign military intervention.
The attempt by his political rival, Juan Guaido, to push aid in through Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil represents the latest attempt to weaken Maduro’s embattled regime by forcing members of the military to disobey his orders and allow the aid to pass.
“The main goal now is to look to break the military – and the humanitarian aid is basically the Trojan horse to try to do that,” said Maryhen Jimenez Morales, an Oxford University specialist in Venezuelan politics.
Guaido urged Venezuela’s border troops not to stand in the way of humanitarian aid that was intended to help “your family, your sister, your mum, your wife - who surely need these supplies”.
Juan Andres Mejia, a lawmaker from Guaido’s party, Voluntad Popular (People’s Will), told the Guardian that trying to deliver aid across Venezuela’s borders was a double challenge to Maduro’s regime – as well as an effort to alleviate a humanitarian crisis that has seen millions of Venezuelans flee abroad.
“The government has a dilemma. Either they let it in [and look weak] or they refuse it, which I don’t think they will because they are not so stupid, and they will also lose. So it is a win-win situation for us – and for the people.”
Mejia denied that the opposition hoped to provoke a military incident which some fear could be used to justify international intervention to unseat Maduro. “That’s not our goal. That is not what we are looking for. Basically, the strategy is to show people that humanitarian aid is real, [that] it is not only a discourse and it is close and it can be here soon.
“That is basically the message we are sending – not only to Venezuelans who are suffering but also to those supporting Maduro who are also suffering even though they are supporting the regime.”
Mejia added: “We are a non-violent movement. We do not have weapons and we do not want to have them. We are absolutely certain that violence benefits the government and we cannot win a violent struggle against the government.”
‘God would not forgive’
Speaking in Washington, Colombia’s foreign minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, told reporters: “Stopping humanitarian aid getting into Venezuela is a crime. Stopping humanitarian aid getting into Venezuela harms the Venezuelan people. Stopping humanitarian aid getting into Venezuela is something that God would not forgive.”
A Congressman from Cucuta, Juan Capacho, told the Guardian the blockade was a “tyrannical irresponsibility that we will get over”, and that the aid will “help give Venezuela liberty”.
However, Maduro and members of his inner circle have remained publicly adamant that the aid will not be allowed in.
“With this show of humanitarian aid they are trying to send a message: ‘Venezuela has to go begging to the world!’ And Venezuela will not beg for anything from anyone in this world,” Maduro said on Monday.
On Tuesday, Diosdado Cabello, another top chavista, depicted the aid effort as part of a hostile foreign military intervention that would be rebuffed.
“Our territory must be respected. As our brother President Nicolas Maduro has said: any military unit that tries to penetrate our territory will be repelled and our Bolivarian national armed forces will defend our territory.
“There should be no doubt about it.” – Guardian News and Media 2019