Venezuela: Pres Maduro shuts border with Brazil as opposition leader Guaido goes in search of aid

CARACAS, Feb 22 (NNN-AGENCIES) – President Nicolas Maduro ordered the
closure of Venezuela’s border with Brazil on Thursday in an increasingly
fraught power struggle with Juan Guaido, the opposition leader spearheading efforts to bring humanitarian aid into the country despite a military blockade.

Guaido set out in a convoy of vehicles to personally pick up US aid being
stockpiled on the other side of the Colombian border, defying Maduro’s
military to stop him.

Recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries, he left the
capital Caracas for the Colombian border in a convoy of several vehicles for
the 900-kilometer trip.

Embattled Maduro has dismissed Guaido’s humanitarian caravan as a “cheap show” and slammed aid as a precursor for a US military intervention in the oil-rich but crippled Latin American country.

The 35-year-old leader of the Venezuelan legislature proclaimed himself
acting president Jan 23 and wants to oust Maduro, set up a transitional
government and hold new elections.

A separate caravan of buses and trucks containing opposition lawmakers had earlier left eastern Caracas bound for the border.

Several of the trucks were stopped by security forces and their drivers
forced to get out, but the rest of the caravan was allowed to continue,
lawmakers said.

“We know that the regime is going to put all obstacles to prevent us from
reaching the border, but nothing is stopping us, we are going to continue,”
said opposition lawmaker Yanet Fermin.

Guaido scored important symbolic boosts Thursday as 11 Venezuelan diplomats based in the US declared their support for him.

Hugo Carvajal, a retired general and former military intelligence chief to
Hugo Chavez, also recognized the opposition leader and called upon the armed forces to break from Maduro.

Signaling his growing disquiet, Maduro announced Thursday that the border with Brazil — which along with Colombia is one of the main potential avenues for aid delivery — would be “completely and absolutely” closed from 8:00 pm until further notice.

Maria Teresa Belandria, Guaido’s designated ambassador in Brazil, said aid
deliveries would go ahead nonetheless. “The operation goes on. There’s no
going back,” Belandria said.

She said 100 tons of food, medicines and emergency kits were waiting to be
trucked from Boa Vista to Pacaraima on the Venezuelan border.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced that the land border with Brazil will be closed, speaking at a televised address from Caracas on Thursday. “From 20:00, Thursday on February 21 [00:00 GMT on Friday] we are closing in a total and absolute manner the land border with Brazil. It’s better to prevent than regret [a situation]. We are taking all safety measures to protect our people,” said Maduro. The announcement comes two days before February 23, the day which opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido claims that US humanitarian aid will reach Venezuela. Photo courtesy AVN

Maduro also warned Thursday he was considering “a total closure of the
border with Colombia” to Venezuela’s west.

He has already ordered the military to barricade a major border bridge to
prevent supplies from entering the country from Cucuta, Colombia, where tons of humanitarian aid are being stockpiled, most of it from the United States.

Meanwhile, Maduro — mirroring Guaido’s move in an attempt to show his
socialist government was able to look after its people — ordered a shipment
of thousands of food boxes to be distributed to the needy along the Colombian border.

He also announced on Thursday the arrival of another 7.5 tons of medicine
and medical supplies from Russia.

Shipments of food and medicine for the crisis-stricken population have
become a key focus of the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido.

Guaido, who says 300,000 people could die without an influx of aid, says he
aims to rally a million volunteers to start bringing it in by Saturday.

It remained unclear how he proposed to do so if the blockade continues, but
experts have pointed to the notoriously porous 2,200 kilometer (1,360-mile)
border, which is perforated by well-worn drug trafficking and contraband

Guaido said the planned entry points for aid were the Brazilian and
Colombian borders, the island of Curacao and the seaports of Puerto Cabello and La Guaira.

Venezuela’s vice-president Delcy Rodriguez said the government was shutting down air and sea links between Curacao and Venezuela. — NNN-AGENCIES