As a showdown looms over humanitarian aid destined for Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro closed off his country’s border with Brazil, vowing on Thursday to block the emergency food and medicine that has rallied his opponents and which he claims is part of a US-led coup plot.
Amid the mounting tensions, opposition leader Juan Guaido set off in a cross-country caravan for the border with Colombia, where much of the US-supplied aid is warehoused and where he has called on thousands of ordinary Venezuelans to assemble Saturday to help bring it across.
A group of lawmakers also headed to the Colombian border were stopped a few hours outside Caracas by national guardsmen in anti-riot gear who positioned a trailer truck in front of a tunnel, blocking the highway westward. A shouting match and scuffle ensued, with the guardsmen firing tear gas before the lawmakers eventually forced their way through and resumed their journey.
Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez’s longtime spy chief became the latest and perhaps most-influential military figure to declare his loyalty to Guaido.
Maduro’s decision to close the vast, jungle border with Brazil came a day after he blocked air and sea travel between Venezuela and the nearby Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, where the first cargo of relief supplies arrived Thursday, sent by the large Venezuelan exile community in Miami.
Maduro said he was also weighing whether to shut the border with Colombia, where the bulk of aid is being stockpiled and exiled leaders have been gathering ahead of a fundraising concert Friday organized by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, in which several major Latin American pop artists will perform.
“They are committing an international crime because they are endorsing a military invasion,” Maduro said of the US, speaking Thursday on state TV flanked by his top military commanders. “They wanted to generate a great national commotion, but they didn’t achieve it.”
Saturday’s aid showdown comes exactly a month after Guaido declared himself interim president in a mass rally, immediately drawing the support of the US and 50 other countries.