Venezuela's Guaido heads to Colombian border to receive aid
Members of Venezeula's opposition-controlled National Assembly, Jose Manuel Olivares (second from left) and Gaby Arellano (center) take part in a press conference, in Cucuta, Colombia, on Feb. 21, 2019, to discuss plans to shift humanitarian aid stockpiled in that city to their crisis-racked homeland. EPA-EFE/Ernesto Guzman Jr.
The office of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro provided this photo of the head of state accompanied by military officers during a meeting in Caracas on Thursday, Feb. 21. EFE-EPA/Prensa Miraflores/EDITORIAL USE ONLY
A view of buses carrying members of the opposition-led National Assembly on the Francisco Fajardo highway in Caracas, Venezuela, on Feb. 21, 2019, as they head to the western border state Tachira to receive humanitarian aid stockpiled in Cucuta, Colombia. EPA-EFE/Miguel Gutierrez
Caracas, Feb 21 (efe-epa).- Venezuela's self-proclaimed acting president, Juan Guaido, went to his country's border with Colombia on Thursday to organize the entry of humanitarian aid that incumbent Nicolas Maduro rejects as a plot to create a pretext for US military intervention.
Opposition leaders told EFE that Guaido reached the border and was awaiting a caravan of buses transporting numerous other allied lawmakers.
That information came after spokespersons for Guaido had said the National Assembly speaker was riding in one of the buses that left Caracas on Thursday morning bound for the border city of San Cristobal.
Videos uploaded to social media showed members of Venezuela's National Guard blocking the caravan and the opposition lawmakers stepping off the buses.
The footage showed tear gas being fired and a brief confrontation between the legislators and the guardsmen at the La Cabrera tunnel that links the central states of Aragua and Carabobo.
Other videos showed the lawmakers making their way through the tunnel on foot, though later the buses could be seen driving around the roadblock and one of the legislators, Miguel Pizarro, tweeted Thursday evening that he and his colleagues had reached their destinations.
Oil-rich Venezuela is contending with hyperinflation and suffers from shortages of basic goods.
Guaido has said that the humanitarian aid being stored at border points in Colombia and Brazil, as well as on the island of Curaçao, would be brought into the country on Saturday.
The aid is being provided by the United States and several other of the roughly 50 countries that have recognized Guaido as acting president in the weeks following his Jan. 23 proclamation.
Two days ago, Maduro's government suspended all maritime and air travel between Venezuela and Curaçao, a self-governing part of the Netherlands, whose government backs Guaido's claim to the presidency.
Maduro said Thursday that he was shutting the border with Brazil and might also seal the frontier with Colombia.
"I've decided (that) ... starting at 8 pm on Thursday, Feb. 21, the land border with Brazil will be completely and entirely closed until further notice," the leftist head of state said during a meeting with senior officers at the Fuerte Tiuna military base in Caracas.
Donations of food and medicine have been stockpiled in the northwestern Brazilian state of Roraima.
The Venezuelan leader says the humanitarian aid initiative is a ruse and that the opposition's ultimate goal is a military invasion aimed at ending 20 years of leftist rule.
Maduro announced Thursday the arrival of 7.5 tons of medical supplies from Russia.
"The medicines we need, they are arriving in Venezuela every week on a permanent basis," he said.
Three years ago, the National Assembly declared a state of emergency in response to chronic shortages of medical supplies and the deterioration of health-care infrastructure.
The latest results of the latest National Survey of Hospitals, released Thursday, show that 1,557 patients died due to a lack of medicines or other vital supplies.
"It's humanitarian assistance, humanitarian support because it is defeating a blockade. But we Venezuelans, I reaffirm, are not anyone's beggars. We Venezuelans pay all of our obligations," Maduro said of Thursday's delivery.
Maduro uses the term "blockade" to refer to Washington's sanctions on the Venezuelan government, which began under Barack Obama but have been sharply escalated by Donald Trump and now constitute a virtual financial quarantine of Caracas.
Days after recognizing Guaido as acting president, the Trump administration blocked the Maduro administration from receiving proceeds from the sale of Venezuelan oil to the US.
The United Kingdom, which likewise recognizes Guaido, has refused Maduro's request to repatriate Venezuelan gold reserves kept in London.
The Colombian aid depot is in Cucuta, which is linked to the Venezuelan city of San Cristobal by the Tienditas bridge, a modern span completed in 2016 that has never been opened to traffic amid ongoing quarrels between Bogota and Caracas over migration, smuggling and cross-border crime.
As the US shipments began to arrive in Cucuta, the Venezuelan army parked large vehicles on their side of Tienditas, which was already bisected by mental fencing.
British billionaire Richard Branson is staging a concert Friday in Cucuta aimed at raising $100 million in donations to fund humanitarian assistance in Venezuela.
Latin American musical icons such as Juanes and Mana are scheduled to perform at the "Venezuela Aid Live" event, which organizers expect to attract as many as 300,000 people.
Soon after Branson announced the concert, the Maduro administration countered by saying it would hold a "Hands Off Venezuela" music festival, accompanied by an effort to provide food and medical care to needy Colombians who cross the border to attend.