Venezuelans take to streets to demand aid as crisis deepens

President Nicolás Maduro is refusing to let food and medicines shipment into the country

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country’s rightful interim ruler. PhotographL Reuters/Manaure Quintero

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country’s rightful interim ruler. PhotographL Reuters/Manaure Quintero

 

Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets nationwide on Tuesday to demand that the country’s military let a humanitarian aid shipment organised by the opposition and the United States to enter the country.

The populist Chavista regime of President Nicolás Maduro, which held a counter-demonstration to celebrate the country’s Youth Day, is refusing to let the food and medicines into the country despite a deepening humanitarian crisis that has already caused three million people to flee the country.

Mr Maduro has dismissed the aid effort as a pretext for a US military intervention in support of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president last month and has since been recognised by more than 40 countries.

At a rally in Caracas, Mr Guaidó said the opposition, which has already registered more than 100,000 volunteers to receive and distribute the aid, would attempt to bring it across the frontier from Colombia on February 23rd.

Addressing the country’s military he said: “Generals, coronels, sergeants, naval police, this is an order for you, let the humanitarian aid in, and once and for all let the repression cease.”

He has warned the military that blocking the aid’s entry would make them complicit in what he termed genocide.

There were reports of an increased police presence at the Caracas rally compared to recent demonstrations in the city, amid signs of a gathering crackdown by forces loyal to Maduro as Chavismo seeks to ride out this latest political crisis. On the eve of the protests the Chavista-controlled state comptroller said it was opening an audit of Mr Guaidó’s wealth in a move that could see the regime attempt to bar him from holding public office for 15 years.

Venezuelan refugees and exiles in the Colombian city of Cúcuta, where the USAid shipment is stored while waiting to be carried over the border, said relatives had reported that armed pro-regime paramilitaries known as coletivos spent Monday night warning residents of the border city of Ureña not to attend yesterday’s opposition rally.

‘Dying of hunger’

“My mother said they were circulating in our neighbourhood shouting for the people not to leave their houses today. This is how they operate now,” said Andreina García, as she prepared to cross the Santander Bridge back into Venezuela with food for her family.

Opposition activists also showed video footage of Chavista supporters mounting a rally on the Venezuelan end of the Tienditas International Bridge, over which the opposition is hoping to transfer the aid into Venezuela. The rally seemed designed to prevent any opposition attempt to march from Ureña on to the bridge, which has been blockaded by Venezuelan security forces.

Opposition supporters held a small rally on the Colombian side of the bridge in support of letting the aid in. “People are dying of hunger in Venezuela. They need this aid. Our families need it,” said activist Luigi Rivas. As he spoke others in the crowd shouted “Death to Maduro!”

Finished in 2016, the Tienditas Bridge between Venezuela and the Colombian city of Cúcuta stands as another example of the failures of the Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chávez.

He came to power in 1999 advocating greater regional integration and launched a string of ambitious projects to achieve that goal. But in 2015 his successor, Nicolás Maduro, closed much of the frontier with Colombia in response to increasing internal chaos amidst the slow implosion of the oil-rich nation’s economy which has now almost halved in size since he became president in 2013 on Chávez’s death.

As a result the Tienditas Bridge was never inaugurated with traffic between the two countries at Cúcuta now restricted to pedestrians only on two older neighbouring bridges.